Martin Armstrong had come to Darien with his grandparents, Lady and Lord Armstrong, and assorted other relatives, including his reluctant, highly introverted parents, to celebrate the twentieth wedding anniversary of the King and Queen. Her Majesty Melany was the daughter of the Armstrongs, and Lord Merritt Armstrong's twin sister, which was the only reason Merritt had consented to be dragged half-way round the world for parties; Lady Merritt, the shy and lovely Melissa, had only come because Merritt had. Both of them were planning to be seen as little as possible and be on their way home the day after the great anniversary ball. But Martin was in high fettle, enjoying himself to the hilt, and his grandmother Kirsten was more than happy to keep him with them for the whole length of their stay. It was the usual run of things, after all; for all Martin and his parents loved each other, he simply exhausted them.
Martin was as extroverted a young man as his parents were not, and loved little as well as meeting new friends. An entire city, nay a country, of people he hadn't met before charged him to a high pitch of excitement, and he was up first thing in the morning of their first day in Lionred, coaxing two of the guards to accompany him on a before-breakfast ride in the park across from the palace wing where the queen's family was accomodated.
He reined in his borrowed horse and stared longingly at length of green grass stretching invitingly before him. "Alexi," he asked wistfully, "do you suppose anyone ever rides neck-or-nothing here?"
"You don't ride neck-or-nothing anywhere, young sir," answered Alexi repressively; the tone and the address were mostly a joke, but Martin nodded ruefully. Company manners, and one didn't gallop in public parks--
Unless one was a redhead mounted on a big bay, apparently, as just such a person swept past Martin, head bent low over his Canton's neck as they flew through the dawn mist on the grass. Martin couldn't resist: when in Sith Alba after all.
Martin was royally mounted, but he nearly couldn't catch the redhead; when he did, it was because the young man had reined in anyway and then, hearing Martin and the guards coming up, turned to take their measure and waited for them. "Lovely horse," said Martin, curbing his mettlesome grey, "and lovely riding, too!"
"Thanks," the young man said, ducking his head with Darya good manners at compliments, "that's Averyanid you're on, you must be one of Her Majesty's family?"
"Good guess," Martin said, taking an appraising look. What he saw was very nice: that shaggy Darya hairstyle, dark red and tumbled around a high-cheekboned face, deep blue eyes, straight nose, long neck fading into good shoulders revealed by the casual open-necked shirt, big hands and long legs... very, very nice. And then the young man smiled a charmingly crooked smile, and Martin lost his heart as well as the rest of his body.
"No great stretch," he said, ducking his head again, and Martin realized that the blush was from more than shyness or modesty, "we've heard her brother married a--a tammie?--and there aren't any living here."
"True enough; that's me, Martin Armstrong; my father's her brother." Martin was serenely aware that he was being covertly looked over, and that he was worth looking at; he wasn't vain but he did have a mirror. What he didn't realize was that the Darya weren't used to tammies, to their subtle aura of sexiness, and that more than Martin's own blue eyes and blond hair and slim, well-built body were the cause of the confusion in the young man's eyes. "And you're--?"
"Oh, sorry; Bryan Brevard, of Daystar," said the Darya, and then, as if he had suddenly made up his mind, he said, "So you don't know Lionred? Let me show around ... unless you have someplace to be?"
"Me? Where could I have to be? I just got here," smiled Martin, completely missing the glance Jenna gave Alexi at the coupling of the names 'Brevard' and 'Daystar'. Martin was blissfully unaware that his innamorato was highly unlikely to leave the country, he only knew that he'd fallen harder than he'd thought he ever would, since that night that Vandy's brother had flattened him on the front porch of Dawnfires for trifling with his little brother's heart.
That night had been the most confusing of his young life, and all his grandmother's attempts to explain it to him hadn't really cleared it up for him. He had been at his cousin Sandra's birthday ball, in a nook with his girlfriend Pamela Rockford, when Vandy had come looking for him, wanting to take a walk in the garden. Startling Martin and Pammy out of the shadows, he had blurted out a betrayed "Martin -- how could you!" and run out of the ball, followed by a distraught Martin. Which had been the mistake, he realized, as soon as he turned and saw that Pammy, her face frozen and her eyes hurt, had gone to her older brother's side. When Martin had attempted to explain, she had said, as clichéd as Vandy, "How dare you!" and slapped his face so hard he'd thought his jaw was dislocated; he did hit the floor, it was so unexpected. And while he sprawled (though gracefully, as he did everything) on the parquet, her brother Will had told him never to darken their door again or even attempt to speak to Pammy. Martin had gone home in injured puzzlement, and met with the crowning cliché: Vandy's older brother Stefan had called, waited for Martin to come to the door, and then flattened him with a single punch in front of Yvon's horrified gaze, thereupon informing him that "Vandy has enough problems without being trifled with by the likes of you, young lordship." Stefan had taken himself off then, while Martin had scrambled to his feet to hold back Kirsten's retainers, and then, unable to meet even their gaze, he had gone to his grandmother for refuge, as he always had since early childhood.
He had sought out his grandmother for explanation, his heart hurting worse than his face. After Kirsten had gotten Val to look at her favorite (if she had had a favorite, which of course she didn't) grandson's injuries, she had sat him down to talk to him. "Sweetheart, they felt betrayed..."
"But Gammy--" he'd protested, feeling betrayed himself and tearing at her heart, "they both knew I was seeing someone else! I never said different!"
"Darling, they didn't know you were seeing someone quite so else," Kirsten had said to him. "I'm sure Pammy thought you were seeing another girl--"
"I never told her so!"
"I know," Kirsten said gently. "But it's only normal that she'd think it. And Vandy, too. Not many people date both sexes, you know."
"But I like both. I like both of them, Gammy ... I miss them already." Martin's voice trembled and Kirsten gathered his slim young body into her arms and hugged him.
She felt slightly guilty about this; if she'd really thought, if there hadn't been so much else going on in her life, Nick's arrest, Nigel, Malcolm's life with Bedwen disintegrating, Rhys and Andy's quarrel, new students, her cousin Castaran's troubles, Ember's long-distance love affair, Alvian... Martin seemed so capable of taking care of himself, so joyously involved in life, she hadn't really paid attention to him.
And Martin had been happy: he had responded to young Vandy's tentative pass with enthusiasm, and, when Pammy Rockford, with one eye on Martin's blond tammie beauty and the other on his deep Armstrong pockets, had made her move, he had taken up with her just as willingly. Kirsten had thought he'd see through Pammy himself, and that was all she'd really had time to think; it hadn't occurred to her that her affectionate grandson was riding for the proverbial fall. And now she had to pick him up and bandage his broken heart and get him back in the saddle...well, actually, that he was probably willing to do. What she needed to do was keep him from breaking his figurative neck.
So she'd gotten him to promise to back away from intense relationships, in fact, she'd made him admit he could live without sex for a year while he sorted his life out. And he'd talked with his father, who'd told him, he said, "that I'll have to choose. He says if I don't get married, I won't be able to really have a good relationship, 'cause, well, I'll have to hang out with casual people. And if I do marry, I can't cheat, 'cause that's not right. So I have to choose someone, anyway, he says. I want both, but he says that's too much... and he thinks I should choose a woman, 'cause my choices will be better, most men aren't and most women are ... interested in men, he means, but mostly he wants me to choose a woman 'cause it'll be easier on me, and he wants that."
"Sweetheart, your father loves you..."
"Oh, I know that," he'd said, like it went without saying, proceding obliviously to trouble Kirsten by adding, "he's not like Granther, he doesn't mind if I marry a man--"
"Martin, your grandfather loves you whether you're bent or not, just like he loves Rhys," she said firmly.
"I know, Gammy, but you know he does care, he'd much rather I wasn't. But ... I'm not, am I? I mean, Uncle Rhys never... "
"No, sweetheart, you're not bent, precisely. You're unique," she'd said, and he was, in more ways than one. And she'd intended, no matter what Merritt said, to make sure that Martin didn't have to do without if it was possible. After all, in Darien troika-marriage was legal, if rare, and Martin happy if far away was better than Martin close to hand and unhappy.
So Kirsten had brought Martin to Darien with ulterior motives, though Martin didn't know them, and now he was in love.
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