Alessia stepped down from her personal carriage and looked up towards the grand mansion of house Varnesi. She hoped she would find an answer from the family. There were rumours, both good and bad, but within rumours there was always grain of truth. She glanced at her guard who were on horses, they were members of a Knight Chapter who swore fealty to House Asros. It was rare to have the personal service of knights, she guessed it was due to the influence of her husband. She narrowed her eyes at the both of them, their silver armour was glinting due to the light of Hysh. ‘Remain here, I will proceed alone.’
The knight at the front was about to protest but with a single hand raise he closed his mouth. Alessia smiled and faced the mansion again, she proceeded onwards.
Entering the courtyard she spotted the gardeners, some were pale skinned and others were dark in colouration. Yet what held all of them together was that tattoo’s that marked their faces or arms. That meant they were Reclaimed, when the houses both major and small arrived to liberate this land in the distant past the Reclaimed were but slaves. The Houses bought civilisation, culture and had the means to defend against the Archenemy. The issue was that none of them understood this, they looked upon the Houses with contempt. She found it strange how House Varnesi had so many Reclaimed workers. In her experience she found them ungrateful and normally cannot hold down any job.
Alessia tried not to stare as she made her way to the front door and knocked. She waited for a few moments and the door opened to reveal another Reclaimed who was a maid. Her brown hair was tied in a bun and the mark on her face was shaped like a horned animal. The maid smiled ‘Lady Alessia, what can I do for you?’
Alessia smiled back, there was no warmth in it. ‘Is Lady Yasmin at home?’
The maid nodded, she stepped aside while opening up the door wider so she could be let in ‘Yes please come in, I will let her know you are here.’
Alessia kept her smile and walked inside. She has never visited before but she had to admit she was impressed with foyer. It was incredibly lavish, silks lined the walls, portraits rendering the Varnesi family and the holy stormcasts dotted the lobby. Her breath was taken by the pieces of art. The very carpets lining the stairs leading to the second level was extravagant as well. It was only when the door was closed her attention snapped back to the maid. She came forward and bowed. ‘I shall go and get the mistress.’ The maid then walked up the steps and took the left path.
Alessia was left alone, she stood near the door and waited until after ten minutes a side door on the ground floor opened and a child stepped out. She was a holding a small shortsword which was bloody. The child had coppery skin and green eyes, she looked no more than five or four years old. She could only assume the child belonged to house Varnesi, she would greet her but the bloodied sword had her slightly worried. The child frowned at her. ‘You’re here to see mother?’ her voice was light and firm. She couldn’t believe she sounded so mature at her age.
‘Yes I am.’ Alessia slowly walked over and knelt slightly ‘I am Lady Alessia Asros of House Asros. What is your name?’
The child cocked her head slightly, her green eyes bored into her. It was like the child could see right through her. ‘Do you think...Mother could give you what you want?’
The question made Alessia grasp her stomach in reflex ‘I-I-I…’ she stammered.
The child shook her head. ‘You should leave, you seem nice.’
‘Zahra, don’t trouble our guest.’
Alessia looked up to see Lady Yasmin walking down the steps with the maid from before. Yasmin’s dress put her simple white gown to shame. Jewelry threaded it and she wore a brooch on her collar that displayed the sigil of their house which was a goat with slightly curved horns. Alessia stood up right and faced the Lady of the house. ‘Thank you for seeing me.’ said Alessia. She couldn’t hide the desperation in her voice, but she didn’t care.
When Yasmin reached the bottom of the steps, she gestured to have the maid escort the child away. When they were alone the Lady of House Varnesi smiled at her. ‘Apologies my daughter is quite blunt. Afterall she will be inheriting our House after her father passes.’
Alessia returned her smile ‘I see, so you are having her trained now?’
‘Of course, the Knight chapters are quite strict on who they will take into their ranks. I aim for her to lead one some day. Anyway, enough about Zahra what can I do for you Lady Alessia?’
Alessia straightened her dress, her eyes darted around the lobby to check if anyone was around. When she confirmed they were alone she nodded. ‘I need your help.’
Yasmin raised her eyebrow ‘my help? What on earth would you need from me? After all our..reputation for being...’
‘I’m aware of your reputation. Yet your family has a seat on the round table, no matter if House Varnesi chooses marriage partners from the Reclaimed. I don’t care about that, I need your expertise.’
‘Very well Lady Alessia, what can I help with?’
Alessia Placed her hand on her stomach, she frowned heavily. ‘I need a child.’
‘Yes, a child. I’ve tried many times with my husband Albrecht, yet nothing. I’ve visited the wizards of the collegiate and I’ve spoken with the priests of Sigmar and Alarielle. They cannot solve my problem.’
She watched Yasmin nod in understanding ‘I see, so you assume because of the background of the Reclaimed you are making the assumption that we have some sort of potion or…’
‘I’m not saying you’re heretics, but it's essentially an open secret that you keep some aspects of the old ways alive. Your family was already fighting when the other Houses arrived to liberate this land.’
Alessia stared intently at Yasmin, she was searching her face to see if she was willing to help her. The Lady of House Varnsei gave her a warm smile. ‘I may have something. Follow me.’
Alessia clutched her stomach, Yasmin then lead her down the side hallway they stopped at the end of the hall. Yasmin then reached for the candle nestled on the wall and turned it. The wall itself slowly rose revealing a staircase leading into darkness. The Lady of House Varnsei continued on down the steps, Alessia felt a wave of apprehension flush through her, but the thought not having a child spurred her on.
When she reached the bottom of the steps with Yasmin her eyes wided. There were rows upon rows of shelves stacked with oddly coloured liquid. Yasmin flashed her a smile. ‘Some of the rumours were true.’ she said softly.
Alessia slowly nodded ‘I can see that, but...why would you show this to me?’
‘Well I assume you don’t want news of you being barren to spread? My servants and several of your own have seen you come to my home. We both have one over each other, so I feel quite assured that you won’t speak of my house’s...little collection.’
She was aware that Yasmin was threatening her, most think that she hasn’t gotten around to the deed with her husband, but the fact there has been no child in years has caused rumours to fly around the city. Since she was from a minor house Albrecht would have cause to divorce her which would shame her entire family, but her husband was such a man that he wouldn’t care. He actually doesn’t care at all that she couldn’t give him a child.
That fact pained her, Alessia could not help but feel she was causing her husband trouble and grief. Her Albrecht always keeps his troubles behind a smile, she always hated it. She hated seeing him suffer. She could feel her resolve strengthening, her apprehension was dissolving rapidly. ‘So what among your collection will help me Yasmin?’
The Lady of House Varnesi bought her hands together and kept up her previous smile. ‘Follow me.’
She was lead to a nearby shelf, Yasmin then picked a small vial filled with red liquid off the shelf. She handed it to her. ‘This will allow you to have a child.’ said Yasmin
‘How? What is this?’
‘The potion will react to your desire, which in turn will make your body produce the child of your dreams. When you next do the deed with Albrecht a child will be conceived.’
‘Just like that?’
‘Just like that.’ Yasmin repeated.
Alessia stared at the bottle for a moment, she then uncorked it without hesitation and drank the potion. It tasted sweet, she expected the concoction to taste bitter like all potions. When the vial came away from her lips she felt something in her stomach. She wiped her mouth slightly and handed the vial back to Yasmin. ‘So if I go to a priest after six weeks or more will they tell me what I want to hear?’ said Alessia.
‘Yes they will.’ Yasmin said confidently.
Alessia clutched her stomach as Yasmin replied. The apprehension came crawling back but it was pushed away as she thought of her child.
Albrecht found round table meetings emotionally draining, Balehold was ruled by a small council of the major Houses who liberated the land from the Archenemy. The conclave hall itself was dotted with the founders of the city, they were all leaders of Knight Chapters. They had no aid from the stormcasts in taking the lands so they had no presence, he liked to keep it that way.
He brushed his house sigil molded upon his armour, it was that of the unicorn. Strangely enough it was only his house that could ride the majestic beasts. His gaze then shifted to the three other individuals sitting at the table. There was Lady Valeris Delmont of House Delmont. Her sigil was that of a wolf, sitting at her left was Lord Alec Marax of House Maraz, his house sigil was a demigryph. They were both friends and rivals, Alec’s dark skin was lined with scars showing his history with warfare. He imagined his wife gives him an earful whenever he leaves for war.
Lastly sitting at Valeris’ right was Lord Ervin Varnesi. He disliked staring at his sigil, there was nothing inherently “wrong” with it. He just finds it strange how the Houses pick animals with strong and noble characteristics yet the Varnesi went the other way. The Goat had too many negative connections in his mind. He tended to even call his fellows by the animal associated with their House.
He sighed and decided to focus on today’s matter. He spoke up first. ‘So what do we do with those coming to our city?’
‘I say we should let them in.’ Ervin announced.
Eyes shifted to the the Varnesi head, his coppery coloured skin appeared oiled. Albrecht detested his vanity, he was about to speak but Alec interjected first. ‘They could be a danger to our city Ervin.’
Ervin scoffed ‘how can outsiders be dangerous? To make a grand city we need people, Balehold is underpopulated.’
‘They could be heretics.’ Valeris added.
‘Valeris is right.’ said Albrecht. ‘Think about it, the heretics who wish to ruin our city is having poor luck toppling Haven considering who watches over it. I imagine they would aim to set up here viewing us as softer target.’
‘Prosperous!’ Ervin spat. ‘All of you are jumping at shadows that aren’t there. All I see is distaste among you all, you simply don’t want any outsiders in the city. After all look at how you treat your own people.’
Albrecht scowled at the blasted goat. ‘Tell me how many of the Reclaimed have sided with cults whenever they pop up!? If they wish to be trusted and respected they should earn it!’
‘How!?’ Ervin barked back.
‘By serving the Knight Chapters!’
‘You mean serving as fodder so those who are mounted can steal all the glory. Do you even glance at those who are dead in the mud whenever we battle against the Archenemy?’
‘They are doing a service for all.’ Valeris said firmly.
Albrecht gave a nod in the Wolf’s direction, she returned it. He then addressed the blasted Goat. ‘None of them can ever hold a job down no matter what we do, what do you expect from us?’
‘So how come I don’t have any problems with them?’ The head of Varnesi’s eyes darted to each of them. ‘Tell me, are the Reclaimed who work me unproductive?’
Albrecht grunted ‘well considering….’
'Considering what!? That my family are heretics!? That we spent centuries fighting the Golden Legion while your Houses ran away to Ayzr at the first opportunity!? Look, we had to do things to survive, we learned things that many of you will deem unsavoury but I tell you now that my house aren’t heretics!’
The Goat’s outburst surprised him. Albrecht stroked his chin ‘we had...No choice.’
Ervin laughed at his response ‘tell that to all those that died trying to hold this piece of land together while your families supped on wine in Ayzr for centuries. Hurry up and cast your votes I know the answer to discussion already.’
He couldn’t help but feel defeated in the argument after that last statement, yet his option on the outsiders haven’t changed. ‘Let’s move to the vote.’ said Albrecht. ‘All those in favour of refusing the outsiders raise your hand.’
He raised his hand in favour, unsurprisingly Lord Alec and Lady Valeris did the same. All Ervin could do was scowl at the decision.
Alessia slowly ate her meal, she was lucky that she arrived home before her husband. The table was already set and ready for the evening meal when she entered the dining hall. Ulgu was slowly reaching its zenith and it’s darkness was already starting to crawl across the city. She was glad to be home, the Asros manor was far more modest and displayed the house’s piety towards Sigmar and the Everqueen. That modesty now made her think that the Varnesi house was actually quite tacky.
She then sighed slightly, her thoughts then moved to the issue of how would she approach the subject of trying again? Her husband was sat at the other end of the table, he was picking at his food. I should ask him about his day. She thought. Alessia put on a smile and said. ‘So tell me dear how was the round table meeting?’
Her husband gaze fell upon her, he gave his signature thin smile. ‘It was fine.’
Liar. Alessia said to herself. ‘That’s good, I don’t want you to stress yourself. So tell me how have the minor houses reacted to the meeting?’
‘Well...When the outcome was made known to the other nobles they were happy save those who are aligned with Varnesi.’
At the mention of the Varnesi she put on her best scowl ‘of course they would be upset. We have to be careful.’
‘My thoughts exactly.’ her husband said firmly. ‘It’s unfortunate that Ervin can’t see the risk. I’ve seen great men fall, people who I would never think would bow to the Archenemy. Cardoc’s betrayal is a fresh memory for many.’
She was aware of her husband’s cousin, during the middle of battle with the enemy he joined them. It was a stain that was terribly hard to remove, the Asros house lost support of several Knight Chapters. It took time to regain that trust but she wasn’t surprised that her husband would be weary of people after such a betrayal. She could see how tired he was, his blue eyes completely betrayed what he was thinking despite the smile he was trying to put on. ‘You made the correct decision, all of you did.’ she said warmly.
Her husband gave an actual smile, they then ate in silence for a moment. Alessia decided to move to the subject of an heir. Albrecht was now in a good mood. ‘So...About your heir. Wh-’
Her husband raised his hand to stop her speaking. ‘It’s fine, I’m thinking of sponsoring a son or daughter of one my many cousins. The nice thing about the Houses our families are quite large.’
‘What about your reputation?’ Alessia found her voice straining as she spoke.
‘There is no choice is there?’
‘You could divorce me and find another wife.’
‘Then that would shame you, I won’t have that. Your...Predicament isn’t your fault Alessia.’
She now saw the opportunity, it was obvious her husband was at his rope’s end on the issue. She took a deep breath as she said ‘one last time before you sponsor someone.’
‘No, it’s fine. Pleas-
Alessia shot up from her seat and walked over to her husband, she placed her hand on his. ‘Please.’ she pleaded. Her husband’s smile was now cracking, she hoped it would break completely. Her Albrecht frowned heavily and oddly it made her smile.
‘One...Last time.’ He said slowly.
‘Yes, this will be the last time.’ She replied.