How do I manage a fic on the trope 'raising children' for a childless couple? By talking around the issue at length.
There were murmurings, of course, when as late as twenty years after Tristan Thorne took the throne his wife had borne no child. There were scholars of history who considered the implications of an empty throne - a possibility a hundred years away, but in Stormhold there were many men who had lost fortunes and lives by not considering events a hundred years away - and medicine-men and healers who came offering to heal the queen's barrenness. When the chamberlain turned the thirty-seventh such away from the citadel's kitchen gate, she slammed it in his face. The kitchen gate was on the eastern flank and surrounded by scraggly evergreens which grew strange berries, and it was from there the twenty-fifth Lord had thrown the Meganster Yeth over the cliff, dashing it into five pieces on the rocks below, which were later made into the five bags of endless meat the twenty-seventh Lord used to end the famine of Sanarad and drive its sultan to madness and suicide. The chamberlain was a tall woman with golden fur on her hands and a tendency to squint. "Bleeding opportunists," she told the scullery maid, who had come to dump out a tub of water. "Another doctor. If they wanted a doctor they'd send for one."
"About the royal heirs?" The scullery maid frowned. "It's not right, though. I mean, the old Lord, when his first wife didn't bear, he sent her off to the fastness. It's not right. What'll happen when he gets old?"
"She's bewitched him somehow, I think." The chamberlain sighed. "But medicine's no cure for bewitchments. Nay, perhaps he'll break it himself and take another wife, someone not so haughty -"
"Haughty?" They turned, startled, at the sudden intrusion of a voice, and the scullery maid squaked as the dishwater spalshed her apron. "I'll thank you not to speak so carelessly of the Lady Yvaine, my son's beloved wife."
The chamberlain hastily bowed. "Lady Una! I mean to disrepect, I swear! I shall not speak such things again."
Lady Una smiled. It was a soft and fond smile, but not particularly nice. "Of course. And you shall turn away each quack who comes here wishing to solve what my son has not found to be a problem."
Una and Yvaine could not eat together, for Yvaine did not eat as mortals did, but most evenings after the Lady Una had dined (as was her custom, alone in her chambers) they went walking together through the mosaic gallery, and spoke of the land and all that happened within it. They spoke of disputes Tristan arbitrated, and unrest in the lands surrounding (although in truth they were the lands beneath, as Mount Huon towered over the rest of its range), and things that they had seen, or heard. "There was another doctor today," Una told Yvaine. "The chamberlain sent him away before I could."
Yvaine sighed. "How long will it be, do you suppose, before they give up and go away?"
"Years." Una reached out a hand to brush her fingertips over a statue of a small songbird, done in smooth blue crystal. It cheeped and pecked at her thumb. "I am afraid that the good citizens of Stormhold rarely allow an idea to leave their heads, once it has found a home. They think you will someday bear children, if the proper actions are taken. They desire it. They do not consider otherwise."
Yvaine shook her head. "They don't know who I am. Tristan - he's a mortal man, and I'm - not a mortal woman. Sometimes that doesn't matter, but it does for us."
"Did you want children?" Una said gently. "Appearances are important, you know. I could find some orphan infant who had a bit of the family looks, and smuggle him in, and declare him yours. I might even find a child of the bloodline. The eightieth lord had a few bastard daughters, it's said. The records were burnt, of course, but I might find one of their descendants nontheless."
For a moment the two women stood side by side in the doorway of the Emerald Room. They did not look much alike, but there was something in their pose, and the way Yvaine laid a comforting hand on Una's elbow, that would have reminded an observer of sisters. Una smiled, and tossed her hair back. "It might be a very good thing."
"No," Yvaine whispered, and looked aside. "We - talked it over. It's just as well we have no children. What would I do when he died, then? It wouldn't be right to live here as a dowager while our children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren tried to get on with their lives, but I would not wish to go wandering the world again, alone."
"There are worse fates that being a dowager. Or a grandmother - I should suppose, but then I shall never know, I expect?"
"Yes. I'm sorry." Yvaine let her hand drop, and they walked on, side by side.
It was no coldness between the couple that left them barren; that much was acknowledged. They went everywhere together, held hands in public; whenever there was some public celebration begun with a dance (and there were many, for the people of Stormhold were a joyous and eager people) they would dance, despite the Lady Yvaine's limp, in measured circles with their arms tight around each other. Yvaine kept her own suite of rooms, but Tristan took the set beside, carved inside the mountain with only a few windows looking out and down the vast slopes of the Stormhold below. There was no way of knowing with certaintly, but the citadel's staff maintained that the Lord's bed was not slept in most nights, and when it was, there were two indentions in the matress.
But most nights, they slept in Yvaine's room, under ths stars, and frequently did things other than sleeping as well. This night was cloudless and cold, and they huddled under a pile of furs and Tristan pressed his lips to Yvaine's breasts and Yvaine dug her fingers into Tristan's hips. She was not singing, not exactly, but the strange, high-pitched noises she made sometimes approached it. Her legs were splayed wide, the weaker one flat on the matress, the stronger halfway drawn up. Tristan balanced on his hands and knees, and his long brown hair, already streaked with grey, hung around his face and hid his smile. He lifted his head to kiss her, and her eyes shone as she kissed him back.
When they were done with the kiss she raked her hands down his back, and he moaned appreciatively. Anyone looking at her face at that moment might have been frightened at her expression, which was quite nearly inhuman. But Tristan was not looking at her face; he was pressed against her shoulder, gasping. She thrust up against him, and he shuddered and gave a long cry, which she matched with an undualting wail. They shivered and were still.
Eventually she began to run her fingers through his hair, and when he smiled at her again she smiled back, easy and human. "That was rather nice."
"Rather nice?" He sniffed. "Rather nice. I must be losing my touch." She laughed, and he laughed back, and pulled far enough away to sprawl over the matress, leaving an arm flung over her and the blanket wrapped tight around them. "I'm glad I can make you happy," Tristan added, soft and perfectly serious.
"You do. And I'm glad of the same." She paused, biting her lip, then added, "You know there was another doctor today? Your mother told me."
"What does that make? Thirty-something? I've lost count."
Yvaine frowned. "Una said," she continued very quietly, "that if it bothered us she could smuggle in an orphan with the right looks and say it was ours." The worst tumbled out in a rush. "I mean. If you wanted children. We could."
Tristan looked aside. "My father told me once," he said, "that at the fair at Wall nine months before my birth, he had let a strange man with a foriegn look stay at his cottage, and in return the man had promised that he, and his eldest child, and his eldest child's eldest child, should all find thier Heart's Desire. I think I should like to find that man someday. For I have my Heart's Desire, but I have no children, nor, I think shall I ever."
"So he can never pay in full? I imagine," Yvaine said sadly, "that your death would release him from the obligation."
"I doubt it. But perhaps someday, you will have reason to call in a favor from that man. Someday," Tristan said sadly, "you will be the Lady of Stormhold. The foolish games of sucession, at least, will end."
Yvaine sighed, and held him close. "Someday, perhaps. But not for a very long time."
The chamberlain brought Tristan lunch and a large bundel of correspondance in the conservatory the next day. He thanked her politely, and waited until she was almost out of the room to call back, "Oh! Madam - "
"Yes, my lord?" She hastily turned and bowed, hiding the glass cherry she had plucked from the tree by the entrance in the folds of her skirt.
"My wife tells me there was another doctor yesterday, and that you turned him away with prejudice." He allowed a smile to dance around the edges of his lips. "While I appreciate the thought, I would rather you do not do so next time."
"What would you have me do instead, my lord?"
"Invite him in, and give him a drink. Inquire after his health. Then tell him, in no uncertain terms, that if he wishes to cure barren women there are plenty of women in the lower realms who are barren and wish to be cured. Suggest, but do not say outright, that Yvaine is already with child, that women where she comes from take a very long time to bear. I trust you can be subtle about such things?"
"Oh, I can, my lord. And if the doctors are hardheaded?"
"Then you may throw them out in whatsoever manner you wish. For they are in the Citadel at all on my suffereance, and I have no patience with those who cannot keep away from places they have no business being."
The chamberlain, who had long ago been sent away by her noble husband for barrenness and since then had borne three human sons and two kittens to four different fathers, did not hide her smile. "Of course. It shall be just as you say." She bowed again, then turned with a flourish and walked away, leaving the last Lord of Stormhold alone with his plants and his letters and his dreams.