"No Likon, I don't think we're cursed. Or at least I don't think you are. I on the other hand have to spend the next four hours of guard duty listening to your drivel, so maybe I am cursed after all."
"We could be though. Do you think we'd know? Can you feel a curse?" Viccimir could not tell if Likon was being serious or not.
"And who would have any reason to curse either of us, hm? We mean nothing to no one, and I'd like to keep it that way."
The Keep of House Wistillaux loomed over them in the darkness. It was more of a chateau in reality, the overgrown garden and smatterings of boarded up windows telling the story of the house's fall from grace far more eloquently than any history book. The night sky whistled as the two men observed their post with a resentful sense of duty. All was still, and the soft night air remained undisturbed save for the rustling of hedgerows and the occasional chirping of a cricket.
The scream came from inside the chateau.
Barely a moment passed before the two men were sprinting towards the front door, careening over gravel and grass before grasping desperately at the handle and forcing their way inside. They did not have to travel far to find the cause of the commotion. Viccimir and Likon shared a single look as they gazed down at the body of their Patriarch, Matoro Wistillaux, his blood gathering on the wooden floor.
The funeral was a rather dull affair, Francas thought. He had never been particularly fond of his grandfather, and that had been no secret. His Trovhedan heritage made him... difficult to get on with. As a child, Francas had often suffered the consequences of his Patriarch's views on child rearing. Still, Matoro had been his grandfather, and they had shared moments of joy together... probably, he thought, wracking his brain. Regardless, he watched the proceedings with a vague sense of loss. The Wind Horns were blown, the candles lit and sent with their sails into the sky, and the ceremony closed. He lingered at the resting spot, looking out across the scene. The guests were filtering out slowly. Plenty of high society types, other Patriarchs, Matriarch and Exarchs, a smattering of Orator Princes, and some foreign dignitaries. Then there was the family of course, Matoro's other children, his remaining siblings, his relatives from Trovheda, and his friends too, if one could say that Matoro had friends.
"It's a shame, really, though unexpected." The voice surprised Francas, and he wheeled around to find its source. A tall woman, wrinkles etched into her face stood behind him. He bowed his head in respect at the Orator Prince.
"Lady Alfia, always a pleasure."
Lady Alfia did not return the pleasantries.
"I suppose this is it for Wistillaux now." She said with the faintest trace of a smirk. "It's been in decline for some time now, as I'm sure you'll know. Or - pardon my bluntness - do you? I would not put it past Matoro to entrust a boy with the secrets of his house, but whether or not you were able to... absorb them, is another matter."
Francas gritted his teeth, and did not deign her with a response.
"I will leave you to your mourning, Francas. Do say hello to your father for me, will you?"
The journey back to the chateau seemed to take an age. On the carriage trundled past fields and woodland, Aloreh's scenery visible beyond the window. It was a beautiful sight, in truth. He had visited other nations, and none had the same appeal, the same serenity. They seemed too polarised, Ar-Selukk with its arid deserts, Vrovona with its icy tundras, whilst Aloreh sat with contentment, in its place, and firm.
Francas noticed that something was wrong the moment he arrived at the house. The guards that usually stood before the gate were no longer present, and had instead been replaced by soldiers - Alor soldiers, armed and waiting. He took leave of the carriage, and strode up to the new guards. They regarded him with a look of suspicion.
"We have been ordered to permit no one, my lord." One of them spoke, casting a downward glance towards Francas. They held one another's gaze for a moment in tense silence.
"Let me pass." Francas spoke calmly. The two guards glanced at one another before moving aside. The walk from the gates to the door seemed longer than the entire carriage ride. The gravel crunched underfoot, the noise deafening as he wondered what might await him inside. The last time guards from the city had arrived, they were there to examine the body of his grandfather. Inside spoke of a different story. The scene was difficult to absorb at first, a great tumult of bodies moving this way and that, one voice attempting to out shout another.
Atop the stairs he spotted the source of the commotion. Two men, seemingly boiling over with rage.
"It's over Antoine! Matoro is gone, and Wistillaux with him - it's time to come back into the fold." Francas did not recognise the man screaming at his father, but his thick accent told him more than enough.
"I'll see this whole house crash to the ground before I move us back west, do you understand me? I am the Patriarch now, and by Thesse's will I will not see our family collapse into obscurity!"
"Then you damn yourself, nephew." The man stood two steps below Francas's father, locked in one another's fury. "When I return, I will not do so offering sanctuary. Consider yourself warned."
His father was not given a chance to respond. The Trovhedan descended the stairs, and was out of the door in an instant. The reception hall seemed to chill. It was not calmer, necessarily, merely... quieter. The weight of the altercation hung heavily in the air, its thickness working its way from one person to the next. A robin chirped from beyond the open front door. The Wistillaux estate stilled.