They first met in New Stetvon when Noleski formally awarded the party with their titles of baron. He was not what Svetlana had been expecting – younger, more relatable, much more attractive – and she wanted to know him better. She’d had crushes before, but the feeling as their eyes met was something much more powerful: almost intimidating in its intensity.
When the rest of the party left for their inaugural diplomatic tour, Svetlana stayed behind for a week or so. This was officially so a member of the party would be able to learn about looking after a barony (with representatives of the various other new baronies), but she offered herself for this task because she wanted the opportunity to spend more time with him*.
Noleski attended more of the meetings and talks than his presence was strictly necessary for, but if his advisors ever pointed this out to him, he didn’t tell Svetlana. She was always pleased to see him when he was there, and they would each find ways to be close to the other whilst trying not to draw attention to their desire to do so. Little things – eye contact across a room, brushing fingers when passing documents, letting legs or arms touch when they managed to sit together – mattered to her.
They shared their first kiss by a stream running through some of the woodland on the New Stetvon Royal Estate. She had been studying the genealogy of some of the established noble families – not something she was particularly interested in, but it occurred to her that if she knew how the families were related it may assist her in understanding the power politics she was just becoming aware of – when he came to find her and invited her for a walk: it was an invitation she was keen to accept. As they walked further from the usual paths, she slipped her arm through his and they talked of nothing. Once they reached the stream and stopped, they let the moment linger but both knew where it was headed. They walked back peacefully.
It was shortly after this that Svetlana had to head out to join the rest of her party in Pitax. She put her disappointment at leaving Noleski behind and focused on the excitement of travel.
It felt a long time before she was back in New Stetvon but in truth it was only a few weeks until his coronation, an event they were expected to attend. This visit reinforced how much he meant to her, but also bothered her: he was now a king, she a baron. If she were still a peasant, it wouldn’t matter if they continued the affair with no repercussions. As a baron(ess), if/when they were finally caught, there would be more expectation. She has probably become high enough rank, now, that they could not keep it as a simple affair due to scandal, but she really was not ready to be married and especially not to a king because she has no desire to be a queen – worries, in fact, that she would be a spectacularly bad queen. She doesn’t have the self-discipline** required and, frankly, it looks boring. Anyway, she’s young and wants to explore the world some more.
She knew that as king he would need to get married and produce an heir and, as much as she wasn’t ready to get married, she didn’t want him to marry someone else. The other woman might resent her or, worse, he might love the other woman more and Svetlana wouldn’t be able to see him any more.
They vaguely discussed this but not in any detail and left it to be worried about later: they didn’t have enough time together and wanted to spend it talking of nicer things.
This visit was when Svetlana realised it was love and not simple infatuation, but life is fickle and it wasn’t long before Svetlana had to leave to continue her new duties as baroness and this time it was months before they could see each other again.
When the opportunity came for the party to travel to Absalom, Svetlana was surprised the party did not realise her eagerness for the journey stemmed not just from the desire to help a friend but also from the excitement at knowing Noleski was already there and would still be there for some time after they arrived. But they didn’t seem to notice and she caught control of herself again.
She couldn’t get to him to begin with, but once she’d worked out where he was staying it wasn’t difficult for her (even with the enhanced security, which worried her more than she let on) to shimmy up the wall and to tap on his window. He let her in, as pleased to see her as she him, but not before she overheard him talking with Malliard about the difficulties his sister is presenting. Malliard’s speech is magically muffled so she can only hear Noleski’s side, but she gathers Natalya is trying to force Noleski into a marriage with a woman of her choosing; someone she could control.
After that, she made efforts to come see him during the day with official-sounding excuses.
After Absalom went into lockdown and Svetlana learnt that an attempt really had been made on Noleski’s life she became very anxious for his safety. The assassin proper may not have been after him, but that didn’t mean it wouldn’t be another time. Once the lockdown was lifted, she spent as much time with him as she could without drawing attention.
She didn’t want to leave him, but still wasn’t ready to talk about forever, and that meant going once Vlad was free. She knew she would see him again, and soon, and she wasn’t ready for her companions to know – it was still too complicated in her young head.
They were indeed summoned to New Stetvon for their promotion within a matter of weeks. After, the party sat with Noleski. He asked if he could see her later and she assented readily, and the discussion turned to various political concerns that, it seemed to Svetlana, her companions could only see resolved by marrying Noleski off to strangers. She leant back away so that she could message Noleski without drawing the attention of the others.
“I think I know where this is going” she whispered “It frightens me, but I understand.” His response reassured her that he wasn’t going to ask anyone before her and she realised that since Absalom there was only one answer she could give – that since Absalom it didn’t frighten her any more.
The others returned to the party in their honour, but Svetlana accompanied Noleski to his study where he apologised for the lack of romance but would she consent to being his wife. Smiling, she agreed. He apologised again – did not want her to think this was a political move on his part, wanted her to understand that this was always something he wanted to do. She knew, she reassured him. He wanted to ask her mother’s blessing – she kissed him and ran off to find Natasha at the party.
If Natasha was surprised at the request, she hid it well and, knowing her daughter well enough to see how important he was to her and seeing the way he looked at her, she consented readily.
The engagement ring was ruby-encrusted and Svetlana could feel the protective magic emanating from it. He gave her also a private means of contacting him, knowing she would still need to oversee her lands and knowing he could not stop her from adventuring. Knowing she would insist on being part of the forthcoming Crusade.
Together they walked back to the party to formally announce the engagement. She found it surprisingly liberating to be able to touch him in public – to physically lay claim to him in front of others.
The wedding was set for 3 weeks time. It might not be much time to prepare, but she would be leaving for the World Wound Crusade just 2 weeks after that.
*Mostly she stayed behind because I as player had to miss a couple of sessions with Real Life commitments. Worked out quite well, though, because this sub-plot didn’t get made official until more recently – it started out as a bit of a running joke but I thought we could run with it and it worked out quite well!
**Svetlana has pretty good willpower but I always imagine it comes from strong self-belief rather than discipline. My dice seem to agree, too – she’s far less likely to succeed willpower tests when it comes to denying herself something she wants than when it comes to preventing someone else having some kind of control over her.