When Augusta invited her son to the solar for a talk, alarms rang inside Jaune's mind. Crap, ooohshit, by Oum's holy balls, please tell me she didn't find those photos.

When I reached the solar, mother dearest was sipping tea and no servant was in sight.

She only drinks chamomile when ...this is bad.

I took a seat in the carved ironwood chair and saw a rolled parchment by mom's teacup. It bore a wax seal with the snowflake of house Schnee.

-"A year has passed, my son."

How time flies. A pang of guilt tore at me when I forgot dad's final breath was a year ago.

Mom's expression was bittersweet.

-"As perfect as Mistralian's clocks, the vultures are upon us. I deflected several marriage proposals." Then she gulped the contents of her cup. "But Jacques is a canny man. He didn't ask for my hand, but to join houses. With. Our. Children's. Marriage."

Hooooo booooy. I bit my lips. Don't mess with mama bear.

-"If he asks nicely, we could dump Saffron onto them." Then I adopted a thinking pose, not unlike the statue in our piazza. "But that poor Whitley. Saff will be the death of him."

Mom paused, lifted a perfectly manicured eyebrow, and gave me the most deadpan of stares.

-"Do you see any of your sisters here?"

-"Huh?" Sometimes I'm not on top of my game, sue me. "No. No no nonoooooo..."

She handed me the Monty be damned scroll.

I read it.

I handed it back.

-"Long and short, he has us by the short and curly, doesn't he?"

A fan struck me.

-"Lieutenant Jaune Frederick Von Arc, languaje!"

After I looked sufficiently chastened, she added. "You are not entirely wrong."

She paused and pressed her fan to her lips. "Were we to pay for the bride price he asks, we would be in dire circumstances. Were we to refuse, our influence will suffer. Your father…"

At this, we grasped each other's hands. Mom's eyes were misty, but the matriarch of the Arc household was made of sterner stuff.

-"Your father would have found a way to have them indebted to us. As the scion of Karl, it behooves to you to show Remnant the special brand of ...creativity that we possess."

I sucked in air between my teeth.

-"Gimmie." And made grabbing motions for the parchment.

.

..

-"What happens if my intended refuses me?"

Mom's shoulders shook and she failed to contain the full belly laughter that came forth.

-"She would be a fool!" She started counting. "You are an officer in Valean Ranger's Corps. You have been tutored in realpolitik before you could ride a horse. Lord Monty above, you dueled Winchester's eldest son without aura."

She paused to take a taste of brandy.

Brandy? Where did the bottle come from?

She continued.

"To say nothing on all the perks of the family. There is a seat with your name reserved in each's kingdom's court. Any banker would take an Arc's promise over all the Schnee's vaults of lien. Any child she could bear would have an automatic spot on Beacon, no questions asked. The -"

I stopped her tirade.

-"But what if...she refuses?"

She reclined herself, even tipping the chair a bit. A habit she was fond of when deep in thought. She harrumphed and bit her nails.

-"If, and only if, she refuses you. She would have to refuse you thrice for it to be binding."

-"Annnnddd?"

She held her palm up.

-"If she does it while in the presence of witnesses, can't be any common folk. Must be at least one house of renown."

-"Aaaaaaaaaaaannndddd?"

I could almost smell it.

-"Then she wasted our time. it would be an insult upon us, to ask…"

Mom's gaze zeroed into my own.

I didn't fight the smile that threatened to split my face in half.

-"Deceive the heavens…"

And mom completed the verse with a not little amount of motherly pride.

"...to cross the sea."