Elyana coughed into her kerchief, staining it slightly red. She wiped her mouth, closed her eyes and tried to fight the tickle in her chest. She would not let a cough come between her and her future. Maester Llewellyn had found some rather effective remedies to keep it at bay most of the day, but morning was rough. She usually spent the waking hours alone, or with only those very closest to her any more. She sucked on some of the bark the maester had left for her, helping to numb the sensation that triggered the fits.
It would be easy to dwell on the fact this cold was lingering a bit too long, but Elyana wouldn’t allow herself. She searched for distractions when her mind went there. Today, she decided to focus her attention and sympathies not on herself, but on her cousin. Andros hadn’t been looking well himself lately. She had noticed he’s taken to his room for lengthy periods of time this week and his eyes looked hallowed as though he hadn’t been sleeping. Was he sick like her, or troubled? There had been a lot of rumors circulating, and knowing her cousin as she did, she hadn’t put much stock into them. But watching Andros this past week, she started to reconsider that position. Maybe there was something to it, something keeping him up at nights.
Stopping by the kitchen, Elyana picked up two cups of tea and carried them to Andros’ room. It was late in the morning and he had yet to emerge from his chambers. She stood in front of the door, hands full, and kicked it several times to simulate a knock. “Andros?”
The door opened slowly as Andros tried to make out who was disturbing his recovery. “Elyana, what can I do for you?” He was still in his bed clothes, though his face suggested he hadn’t slept.
“I’ve been worried about you, Andros. I haven’t seen much of you around this week, and when I have, you’ve looked like a shadow of yourself. You’ve barely taken meals with the family and I’m afraid you’re not eating. Sit down. I brought you some tea.” Elyana ushered him to a chair and put one of the cups into his hands, sensing his resistance to her visit.
“I’m quite alright, cousin. Nothing for you to trouble yourself over. Thank you for stopping by.” Andros said, attempting to wave Elyana off.
“Don’t be absurd, Andros.” Elyana grabbed a blanket and draped it over her cousin’s shoulders, “You need to take care of yourself. And if you won’t take care of yourself, then I will.”
“Really, Elyana, I appreciate your concern, but I’m just fine. I have a lot to do today, so if you don’t mind,” Andros stood up, discarding the blanket to the floor as he reached to take Elyana’s hand, fulling intending to lead her out of the room.
Turning to avoid his clutch, Elyana pulled another chair near him and sat down. “Andros, I can tell things are weighing on you. I’ve seen the tension between you and Gwendolyn growing. And now these terrible rumors about you and that Fowler girl are circulating. It’s obviously all taking a toll on you. You shouldn’t carry this burden to yourself. Let me help. Talk to me.”
Andros’s massaged his eyes with the hand not occupied with a cup of tea, “There is nothing to tell. Please let these go of these childish rumors. We don’t need to fabricate trouble where none exists. We have enough serious matters to deal with.” He seemed fidgety and uncomfortable with the turn the conversation had taken.
“I would love nothing more than to put this out of my head. I know you always put the house first, as I do. Then I see Charlotte saddling up to Gwendolyn, the gods only know what that’s all about. It’s getting harder to know who we can trust around here, so I can only imagine the weight on your shoulders. I wanted to make sure you know you are not alone. We are Oakdowns. And just maybe I could help you with your situation if I knew what it was.”
Andros sighed, and set his tea down on the table next to her. He then took a seat, leaned forward, and took Elyana’s hands in his own, “Dear cousin, I assure you. I have never done anything to endanger our house. Every decision I have ever made has been made with the welfare of our family firmly in my mind.”
“I know, my dear. I know. I’m not suggesting anything else. I can’t imagine your burden.”
At last, frustration seemed to overcome her cousin. “Elyana, how could you imagine it? I have done nothing but serve this house, and with that has come great sacrifice. Have you ever loved someone? Have you ever been so utterly completed by another person that you felt like you need never want again?”
He paused for a moment, eyes shining with emotion…. More emotion than Elyana had ever seen him show. Elyana responded, “I have seen the kind of love you speak of, but you are right I have not held it in my hands, I do not know it. What I do know is this secret you’re harboring will destroy you, and possibly the Oakdowns, if it isn’t tended to properly. It is plainly clear you need help uprooting these rumors before they spread beyond your control. I am here to help you weed them out. So, it’s true, you are in love with the Fowler girl…”
“Yes. I loved her. I fell deeply in love with her when I was still not yet a man grown. A young man of 15 years. But it was not Jeyne, as the rumors would have you believe. No, the woman I’ve loved was Jennelyn. But it did not stop me from doing what was right, cousin. I have always done my duty. Our Lady Grandmother saw to it that I would not be tempted, and quickly arranged what she viewed to be a suitable marriage. By the year’s end I was engaged to a daughter of House Dayne – our dearest Gwendolyn.”
Elyana nodded, reassuringly. She wasn’t pleased with this news, but she had meant what she said. She would do whatever was needed to help him, and the house, survive these rumors.
“This was my crime, cousin. I loved. But I have served my sentence and done my duty. I wed Lady Gwendolyn, united our families, and consummated our marriage just as custom demands. I have done all that has been asked of me and never have I faltered.”
“You are in a precarious situation, Andros. You have my sympathies and admiration. I know it is not easy to put duty before yourself. Now is not a time we can afford for the family to be vulnerable. We stand on the brink of a war we cannot win – not yet. Should this news come to light, it would spark a fire that will consume us all. As you have sacrificed for the family, now let me do my part.”