“Come on, Gigi!” pleaded Viviane du Lac, looking at her baby sister hopefully. “Touch your nose!”
Gigi smiled cheerfully at her big sister--then grabbed Viviane’s nose. “Bibaibabali!” Gigi declared. “Pfffft!” Viviane sighed. She really shouldn’t expect much. Gigi was only just barely two, after all. Not a big girl like Viviane, who was eleven.
The two sisters were playing in the gardens of Chateau du Lac, one of their favorite pastimes. Well, it was one of Viviane’s favorite pastimes, but Gigi definitely seemed to enjoy it, and Viviane was reasonably certain that if Gigi could answer questions in an intelligible manner, she would also identify it as one of her favorite pastimes. Right after trying to eat bugs.
As Viviane tried to get her little sister to release her nose, a quiet laugh came to her ears. Turning, the young girl found herself suppressing a gulp. Her grandmother, the Badb, sat nearby, looking at her descendents. Ygraine du Lac was a stately and beautiful woman, her long grey hair done in a braid. Her eyes looked at Viviane and Gigi with a strange mixture of love and sadness. “Enjoying yourself, my dears?”
Viviane nodded eagerly, as Gigi released her nose. “Yes, Badb.” She felt an obligation to be formal and on her best behavior. Grandmother Ygraine was not a commonly seen sight in the gardens--not to Viviane’s mind. She kept to herself these days, and had ever since the affair with Viviane‘s aunts, Lyonors and Lynette. She’d been a different woman before then, one that could laugh, smile, and joke. She spent most of her time at the Dolmens now, staring at graves and sighing, a shadow of what she’d once been. At least, that was what Viviane’s mother said. To Viviane, her grandmother had always been a grand, sad presence, seldom seen and strangely intimidating, with a quiet sense of tragedy about her.
Ygraine’s eyes flickered at Viviane’s address. “Please, dear, call me ‘Grandma’.” She glanced at Gigi, who responded to her gaze by hiding behind Viviane. “Practicing being a mother, I see.”
“No,” said Viviane, patting Gigi’s head fondly. “Just a big sister.” She smiled at Gigi, who now stared up at her with big blackish-brown eyes filled with adoration. “‘Cause I’m going to be one for the rest of my life!”
Ygraine smiled fondly. “Are you really now?” she said, and then gave a laugh. “Yes, yes, I suppose you are. But one day, you’ll be a mother, as well. With a husband. A quiet man, fond of animals, children, and all things that grow…”
Viviane frowned. Her grandmother was not merely the Badb--she was a Badb of extraordinary reputation, and when she said things like that, they generally came to pass. And yet--Viviane was a du Lac, and would one day be the Nemain, and after that, hopefully, the Badb, and it seemed to her she did NOT want a husband who sounded--rather dull. And so she stiffened, and declared grandly, “That’s what you think, Grandmother. My husband shall be a Prince! The grandest Dark Lord in the Lands of Night, with the greatest Castle in the Land! All shall respect his power!” And with that she stamped her foot on the ground, hoping to get across that this was absolutely true.
The slightly amused look on Ygraine’s face suggested she may not have succeeded. “Well, if you say so, my dear, it must be so.” Her smile took on just a hint of sadness. “For you are a daughter of House du Lac, and we are a family woven into the tangled skein of fate. We are moved where we need to go. That is the price we pay for power.” Ygraine was silent for a while, then glanced at Gigi again. “And what about you, Gigi? Any thoughts to share?”
Gigi peeked shyly at her grandmother from behind Viviane. The youngest du Lac seemed about to say something when a familiar voice declared, “So there you are, Mother.” Gigi immediately went back to hiding behind her sister, as Viviane turned to look at the one woman who terrified even more than her grandmother--her mother, the Nemain, Elaine du Lac, called Elaine Blanchebras for her delicate white hands, had entered the garden from the Southern Gate. She walked forward with a sigh, moving a strand of her silky blonde hair out of her face. As she did so, her gaze fell on her daughters. She smiled at them, and leaned forward to pinch Gigi’s cheek. “Hello, my darlings.”
Gigi pulled away from her mother, and began to cling even tighter to Viviane’s leg. “Vivi! Vivi! Helf!” she whimpered.
Elaine Blanchebras raised an eyebrow. “She’s tired,” explained Viviane, picking her sister up.
“How long has she been saying…?” began her mother.
“Two weeks,” said Viviane, betraying a certain amount of pride. “She’s so clever.” Gigi nuzzled her neck, every now and then shooting a terrified glance at her mother. “But shy.”
Elaine Blanchebras nodded, and then turned back to Ygraine. “You two should probably--go elsewhere. I’ve--business to discuss with the Badb.”
Viviane turned to go, Gigi clinging tightly to her shirt, when her grandmother declared, “I don’t see why they have to go. How imp--”
“Shaddad Cthonique is invading the Frontier,” said her daughter flatly, her eyes narrowed.
“What?” said Ygraine with a start. “Im--Impossible. Not even he could be so mad…”
“Apparently, he can,” said Elaine Blanchebras. “He has.”
Ygraine frowned and gave a nod. “Yes. Yes. You two should be along.”
Viviane began to walk away, singing softly to her sister. “Golden slumbers kiss your eyes, smiles awake you when you rise…”
“I tell you, Elaine, there must be some mistake!” came their grandmother’s voice. “Lord Shaddad swore…”
“You think he cares about oaths?” said their mother, her voice bitter. “House Maganza could tell you about that. You ignored me for years on this one, and now…”
“Sleep, pretty wanton, do not cry, and I will sing a lullaby,” continued Viviane. “Rock her, rock her, lullaby…”
“Bbbianbii, blu” said Gigi looking at her big sister worriedly. “Pffft.”
That brief conversation remained impressed upon Viviane for the rest of her life, because it was the last time she saw her grandmother. Ygraine du Lac died shortly after that, in the violence that engulfed the Accursed Marsh when Shaddad Cthonique and his forces streamed over the border.