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As Time Goes By | Closed

long have I waited
The Dower House - Herevan Hold - Herevan, Galidraan​
The sleek, elegant cut of the Allegro-class Stealth Transport Corvette cast a stiletto shadow over the grounds of Herevan Hold, flying low across the ruins of the main house before sailing above one of the only standing structures on the estate -- the mausoleum -- towards another: the Dower House. It was late afternoon; the sun cast the house in a golden light, making an ancient house seem somehow more antique. The Dower House, so named because it was the house traditionally occupied by the widowed mother of the current Earl -- the Dowager Countess -- was older than Herevan Hold had been; it had once been the grandest house in the county, but it was dwarfed in comparison to Herevan Hold had been.

The house had stood empty for fifteen years since Natasi Fortan's grandmother had passed away. The house had always reminded Natasi of the old woman, a malevolent, chain-smoking shrew who would sit at the head of her dining room table hour hours, drinking bourbon and smoking and cursing the servants. Natasi had always viewed her as a harsh woman -- the architect of [member="Fiolette Yvarro"]'s banishment from the family and polite society, and a dragon who had had to be slain in order to allow her parents to marry. Grandmama had always hated her son's wife, viewing her as a peculiarity. In sum, it was not a happy family life when the old woman was involved.

Natasi didn't visit often after childhood. She didn't return when her grandmother died.

The exiled Grand Moff sat at the controls of her ship, navigating it smoothly down to land on the lawn opposite the front door, just clear of the circular drive. She looked out the windows of the ship at the mansion, its brickwork long neglected to give the house a careworn feel. It was the last place Natasi wanted to be. But it was her only option. She stood up after a moment, her eyes squeezing shut for a moment, and then pushed away from the controls and walked towards the exit. Banks was there, cradling George. Also present was Hendersmith, the family butler, and perhaps the only man alive Natasi could trust. He was making funny faces at the baby over Banks' shoulder; Natasi was grateful that he seemed to entertain George. She was not up to it these days; her face felt frozen in an icy frown.

Natasi perched a black hat atop her chestnut locks, adjusted the angle, and then worked black gloves onto her fingers. "Let's get this over with," she said gravely, and when she pushed the button to lower the ramp she was at once greeted by the sweet smell of Galidraani wildflowers on the breeze. It was early spring on this part of the planet, ripe for rain that brought the multicolored miniature flowers popping up along country lanes. It smelled like home.

"It doesn't look too bad, milady," said Banks quietly as they emerged from the ship. Natasi didn't respond or acknowledge her maid. She rounded the overgrown flowerbed in the center of the circular drive and climbed the stairs to the entry door. She pushed an old key into an old lock and twisted it, causing the lock to tumble. She eased the door open and stepped inside, drawing her black cloak tighter around her slender frame.

"What a ghastly old mausoleum," she whispered, looking around at the dusty rooms and cloth-covered furniture.
long have I waited
After spending a few hours setting a few of the rooms of the house in order, the party had gone to bed -- Natasi in one of the guest rooms, Hendersmith in the butler's quarters, and Banks in the nursery with George. For its age, the house was still solid, and its security systems still in place. What kept Natasi awake wasn't fear for their safety. It was true that the First Order could come after her, even here, but she wagered that the last thing the First Order needed was a slapfight with one of the other galactic superpowers -- a tentative ally, no less -- over one relatively unimportant, unextraordinary woman. True, Natasi Fortan had commanded armies, led navies, conquered systems, and rallied millions with her rhetoric, but that was the old Natasi Fortan. The new Natasi was an underweight, exhausted shell of her former self, as likely to conquer a planet as to lift a Star Destroyer single-handed.

She was tired.

She was beaten.

Perhaps forever. Perhaps... not.

She slept fitfully for a few hours, woke up to check on George briefly before she bathed and brewed some tea. Hendersmith found her in the library at 6:30, behind the large desk with her computer. "Good morning, Milady."

"Good morning, Hendersmith," said Natasi without looking up. "We need staff. Local people, if possible. People who will remember you, and me, and my father. Loyal people," she reiterated, lifting her teacup to take a sip. Finally, she looked up at Hendersmith. "Footmen. At least two. Housemaids, the same. Cook, kitchen staff, do you think three total will be enough there? A groom for the stable, but that can wait. Once that's settled and the Dower House is cleaned, we'll need to arrange to hire a contractor."

"Yes, milady. For renovations?"

Natasi pulled her glasses off. "No, for Herevan. I'm going to rebuild it. I imagine I'll need to bulldoze the lot of it, but I want to see a contractor about it first. See if there's anything we can salvage."

"I thought you would be spending time at Foxfield, milady? As overseer until the Duke comes of age."

The one-time Grand Moff inclined her head. Even though she was George's guardian, and George was Duke of Foxfield, she was not a welcome presence at Foxfield. Talbot's mother still lived in the Dower House, and the malevolent presence of Thaddeus Vitalis in the main house made living there impossible. He blamed her for Talbot's death. He was, perhaps, not incorrect.

"No," Natasi said simply. "Herevan is our future. The Vitalises can't keep me from running the estate remotely -- it's the law as George's guardian. And when I die, George will be Earl of Herevan, uniting the titles. But until then -- or until something changes at Foxfield -- we need to focus our efforts on Herevan."

"Understood, milady," said Hendersmith. "I'll go into the village after breakfast and put out the feelers."

"Thank you. Do you think you could manage some bacon and toast for me while I research contractors?"

"Of course. Here, or in the dining room?"

Natasi cocked her head to one side. "Let's say... here. Just this once."

Hendersmith offered his employer an indulgent smile. "I won't tell if you won't."