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Chapter 7

“Your ability to walk with your eyes closed is quite an astonishing feat, especially when one considers your complete lack of ability to do much of anything with them open.” If Kyle could have mustered up the energy, he would have given Noirah a look to kill. Instead he settled for a grunt and vainly swatted his hand to the side in an attempt to smack her on the arm. Let her interpret that however she like. In a show of her own alertness, she retaliated his attempted smack with an accurate one of her own. “You’re really not a morning person.”

“It’s taken you this long to figure that out?” Kyle said just before letting out a huge yawn, as one of his hands, on autopilot, massaged the spot where Noirah had made contact. His breath tasted a little stale. Hm, did he brush his teeth this morning? He ran his tongue over his front two. That didn’t help. Eh, if Noirah hadn’t noticed, neither would a king. Besides the toothpaste here wasn’t as minty fresh as it was at home. He yawned again, longing for a lazy Saturday morning. He wished that he could be back in his warm and cozy bed with his sweatshirt nestled beneath his head. That sweatshirt still possessed the lingering scent of Felicity, a sweet smell that reminded him of the first time he’d throw open his window in spring and the fresh air swept in to overcome winter’s stagnation. Yes, the blessed, redolent sweatshirt he placed next to his head so that he might breathe in Felicity all night long. Hm, it sounded a lot creepier when he thought about it now. He’d probably keep that little detail to himself.

Already at that early hour people were starting their own daily routines. The two happened to bump into Anna on their way to the king’s office. Kyle had stood off to the side, leaning against the wall, attempting to catch a few moments of sleep, while the two girls whispered things back and forth. Their intensity hinted that Kyle should care about what they were saying, but he didn’t. He was tired in the way a teenager ought to be. Sometimes he wondered if Noirah ever slept. Sometimes he wondered if she was aware that she was a teenager.

“Hey, hey, little dormouse, we’re here,” Noirah snapped, “Don’t wander off on me.”

Kyle stopped and looked over. Wow, here they were at the door of a king. Yes, it looked like nearly every other door that Kyle had ever seen but knowing that the king sat behind it made it a formidable, special door.

“Should I do the honors, or do you want to?” Noirah asked.

“Do you want me to?” Kyle countered, sensing her tense up.

“I do.”

He hesitated. “Need a second?”

“I do.”

Noirah hadn’t seen the king yet and didn’t know how she felt about it. In some ways it was easier to be angry with Felicity. But he hurt her in a deeper way. She had known this man since she was a little girl. He had been a second father. When her own family disappointed her, he was the one she came to. This had been the family she had wanted to join and used to think she was a part of. But then he rejected her and sent her away. Yes she couldn’t reject him. If he said he was sorry, she’d forgive him in a heartbeat, an act of grace she couldn’t yet afford her real father despite his constant apologizes.

“Go on. I’ll be okay,” she heard herself say.

Kyle lifted his fist and knocked.

“Come in,” the king called out.

The two children walked into the office which was already occupied by three other individuals besides the king. One young man was seated on a chair in front of a desk, casting a glance over his shoulder at their entrance; another leaned against a bookcase, scanning the titles with disinterest; the third stood beside the king’s desk, holding a notebook and pen at the ready. The king took a moment to draw his eyes away from that last young man in order to greet Kyle and Noirah, he lingered on the girl for an extra second. She ducked her head.

The office itself was fairly stark. When Jacob had taken the throne, he decided to remove the ostentatious marks of the former king. He enjoyed the bareness. He had never needed much. A plain evergreen rug, occupying most of the floor and a large antique desk, intricately carved with cabriole legs and situated in the center of the room, were the most ornate pieces. The walls were predominately lined with bookcases that held tomes of laws and statutes, histories, maps, journals of past rulers and logs of minutes and meetings. Official matters also dominated the burl wood desk with only a single photo of his family adding anything personal. The king preferred it that way: away from his office, he could be another man, he could be a father and husband. In this room, he tried to remain the ruler of the kingdom with only the care for his denizens at the forefront of his mind. Sometimes he failed; sometimes he didn’t. He looked at Noirah, and sometimes he wished that he had.

The king wasn’t prepared to come into this power, he wasn’t born into it. Jacob Sterne’s family was like the Tillards, an old name in the kingdom, involved in politics but not royalty. As a young man, he had settled on pursuing his father’s course in reaching senatorial rank, but then he met Georgia, the daughter and only child of his predecessor. They were heralded as a fairytale couple. Her father never much liked him, thought that he was of weak character. But he and Georgia were in love and in the end, to please his daughter, Andrew gave his blessing to their union. Life didn’t change much; he went about his duty and, when he became a father, took care of his family. Then one night he went to bed as Jacob and woke up as a king. The world appeared reimagined by Escher; nothing was in its rightful place anymore and he could hardly navigate it. Suddenly men swarmed around him; secrets were disclosed; whole rooms appeared that he never knew existed. The whirlwind of his ascension all culminated in a few years on Frank Tillard, a longtime trusted friend. They both made poor decisions and sometimes being a ruler meant making hard ones. Frank Tillard became a sacrifice, not an innocent one, but a sacrifice nonetheless. After Frank’s expulsion, things had settled for a while and Jacob was lured into believing that perhaps the worst was over. But he was walking on glass and it had begun to crack under the weight of the kingdom.

Sometimes when Jacob looked in the mirror, he was surprised at the man in front of him. He wasn’t unrecognizable and that was the problem. He had the same gray-blue eyes, straight narrow nose and strong brow. The wrinkles on his forehead were deeper, the circles under his eyes darker, his hair a little grayer on the fringes, but he was that same man who married Georgia some twenty-five years ago. But that man would never have made that fateful decision, one ordinary day in the blossoming of summer. He wouldn’t have locked himself in his office as a family, his friends, were removed from their home by force. That man wouldn’t have looked at Noirah and been unsure what to say. He was the one who put the indescribable, horrifying look on her face, a face of anguish that no eighteen-year-old should wear. Some days he missed being Jacob.

“Sire? Sir. Are you quite done, sir. If you’re thinking, don’t mean to interrupt and all, but the thing is, matters and deadlines and I --” the young man beside the desk stuttered. His head jerked nervously, as his eyes glanced frenetically from his page to the king’s face. Occasionally he’d push up a pair of glasses which were reluctant to stay perched on his nose.

“Yes, Sam, of course. That is all.” One hand signaled Sam could leave; the other pinched the bridge of his nose.

“I’m sorry, sir, if I’ve given you a headache, if that is one. I don’t mean to diagnosis. What do I know and all, your highness, King, sir.” Sam bit his lip, silently berating himself while simultaneously rubbing his prematurely balding head with the hand which held his pen, leaving behind a streak of black on his forehead.

“No, no, Sam. I’d have a headache without you. Go ahead and get that typed up. I’ll review it before we send it to Senator Silver. And do make sure that everyone is aware that I am in a closed-door meeting until otherwise noted. I don’t want prying ears.”

Sam bowed quickly and sporadically, affirming that he understood his orders. Finally, he backed his way out of the room, stumbling once or twice over nonexistent obstacles in his way. The man standing off to the side lifted his head out of the book in his hands and watched the spectacle with vague amusement.

The king rose at Sam’s departure and approached Noirah and Kyle, who still lingered in the doorway. He stood in front of Noirah, his massive stature dwarfing her already petite frame.

“Noirah, it’s good to see you.”

Without looking at his face, she gave a short, crisp bow, “Your highness.”

He bowed his own head slightly and then moved on to Kyle, “And you must be Mr. Walters.”

Kyle tried to smile up at the man, but couldn’t. He felt like the man could read every thought that was in his head; that he knew last night Kyle held Felicity in his arms and that he basked in her aroma all night. Not only was this man a king, but he was the father of the girl that Kyle liked: two things Kyle had never faced before in his life. “Yes, your highness, I am Kyle, Kyle Walters from the Outside and I am an upright citizen,” Kyle replied.

The king gave him an odd look. “That’s good. We like upright citizens here. Before we get down to business, I suppose some introductions are in order for you.”

“Too true, sire,” the sandy-haired man said, pushing himself off the bookcase to take a place in the center of the room in front of the desk. “And allow me to take that honor presently. I am a colonel for his highness’ High Guard, a most elite company of the Guardians, this kingdom’s armed forces. Might I add I’m the youngest to reach this rank? Barely dipped a toe in the pool of thirty. What’s more, I’m basically our high-ranking general’s right hand man and protégé. Practically being groomed to take the old man’s spot once he retires, if he ever retires. Oh and is there more, you ask?” he grinned, “There is. I’m currently running this show, while General Su is away on campaign. I can go on. My accomplishments are manifold and great.”

“A name would have sufficed, Wesley, which you conveniently omitted.” the seated boy intervened. He rose from his seat and held out his hand, “I’m David Sterne. I’m Wes’ second-in-command here, which I guess by his reckoning would make me third-in-command of the whole army, which, I assure you, I’m not, except in the land run by Wes’ imagination and grandiose dreams.”

The two men, standing side by side, couldn’t have been more disparate. Wes was of an average height but seemed taller with his air of confidence. Wes had the bright, inquisitive brown eyes of the elder Foster. His tousled brown hair looked like he might have woken up with the careless waves framing his forehead, but Wes had a magical touch in styling things to look like he hadn’t lifted a finger. His face was more boyish than his brother’s, despite the scant stubble on his cheeks, and his skin was tanned from hours training his troops in the field. A playful smile perpetually graced his lips, at the ready whenever he might need to charm his way out of a hot spot. Wes unabashedly knew that was an object of fancy and played that part with a whimsical delight.

David, on the other hand, inherited some of his father’s moody features. His eyes were narrow and near black. His thick eyebrows, normally drawn together as though always deep in thought, shaded his eyes. He kept his dark, brown hair neatly shorn and his face neatly shaved. His smile never quite displayed the same natural warmth of Wes’. He was shyer and quieter than his friend; perhaps also a little too stoic, incredibly pensive, a bit too sad for a person his age, all of which probably drew him to Wes and his embrace of life. Often David would sit to the side, his broad shoulders hunched, and bask in the fun that Wes created. Unfortunately with a friend like Wes that wasn’t always possible, as Wes would drag him forward and force him to partake in the merriment: that wasn’t so awful either.

Kyle shook the hand. “Nice to meet you.”

David quickly sank back down in his chair, but gave Kyle a charitable look.

“No,” Wes interjected. David rolled his eyes, and sunk his head into his hands knowing full well that it would be pointless to attempt a counter-attack against the other. “You’re being much too unfair. How could you leave this lad shrouded in ignorance? You see, dear Davey here just so happens to be the heir apparent to the throne.” He then added in a stage whisper, making a grand show at his attempt to hide his words from the king, “However, to the shame of his whole family and perhaps the kingdom as well, he has denied this right and opted to serve at my side. This is a further shame, since next to me his lack of skill becomes obscenely obvious. Sad, so very sad. A great deal of poetry shall be written about this in the years to come. I have quite a bit of my own stored away when it becomes the vogue.” David shook his head amusedly at his friend’s words. It was hard not to be warmed by the innocent playfulness of the colonel. “Ah and speaking of poetry: Noirah! If the boys aren’t yet writing poetry about your beauty, I certainly hope they’ve composed epics about your acerbic wit,” he said with a wink. This wink made Noirah weak in the knees. Kyle had to bite his lip to keep from laughing at the sight. Little Noirah had a crush.

“You’re Edward’s brother,” Kyle commented, proud that he knew something.

Wes frowned. “Of course, Eddy got to you first. Just like him. He moves fast, doesn’t he? For an old man that is. Can’t blame him. Must have known how he’d pale in comparison to me. Lovely man. Decent brother. Terrible soldier. Never quite made it there, so off to politics he skipped. Skips like a gamboling deer.”

The king cleared his throat from behind his desk. Amidst the fun, he had taken himself back to his seat to look over the information given to him so far on Kyle. He could have guessed some of it. Truly some of it worried him. The question haunting his mind was with whom this boy’s arrival originated. Who plotted this and why? An Outsider being brought here would be worrying enough; that the boy was Christopher’s son caused him greater anxiety.

“Why don’t we all take a seat and begin this meeting.”

Wes chose to remain standing casually in his spot against the bookshelf. Noirah and Kyle sat on either side of David.

“Sir, the thing is that I can’t help you with very much, sir,” Kyle stated nervously.

“You could expand on what Felicity told us,” David voiced.

“We don’t know what her highness said,” Noirah jumped in. She grimaced when she realized that maybe she was taking her frustration out on the wrong Sterne. David had never done her any wrong, never even tattled on her when, as children, he caught her in mischief. As a child she partook in much mischief. She shrugged her shoulders as an attempt at an apology; David barely lifted his hand off the armrest to let her know that it was unnecessary.

“Can’t be much more than what we know. I mean, I seriously just woke up here. That’s the story. I swear on my mother’s soul that I’m not lying.”

“We understand as much and we believe you, so I recommend that you refrain from swearing so gravely,” David said. “But before, was there anything odd going on where you lived? Did anything seem out of place?”

Kyle closed his eyes and thought back. In a town where nothing happened anything out of the norm should have stood out like a neon sign flashing the word ‘peculiar’. Nothing came to mind. He apologetically glanced around the room, “Sorry, I really don’t know.”

“Perhaps something existing more in the realm of natural phenomena? Something that would be considered beyond human control, or even if anyone had arrived in town who seemed out of place?” the king tried guiding. Kyle nodded and racked his brain further. To get to this type of information, he was going to have to swim pretty deeply into the recesses of his mind. He had to dive below all his teen angst, important pop culture facts, to-do lists, random dates and formulae for school, the running dialogue of self-criticism. Somewhere hidden behind all those thoughts and worries were newsworthy current events, something that existed outside of his secluded, little universe. What was that headline on the paper his mother was holding up his last morning home? He focused all his energy on seeing those black and white markings. And then he saw it:

“The weather had been strange. I didn’t really think much of it, it being weather and all. But then the paper mentioned that that week had seen more lightning storms than ever. Like yesterday, no wait, I mean the night before I came here, there was this killer electric storm. It wasn’t even raining or windy or anything stormy-like, just lots o’lightning. It was kind of awesome. My mom and I just sat and watched the whole thing. The power had gone out so that’s all we really had for entertainment.”

The three men had stopped listening, however, already drawing their own conclusions to his information.

“Electric storms are never good. And with the scouts’ information on the activities taking place in the southeast at the Bounds, it might be related. It would certainly lend some strength to the rumors which have started,” Wes said to David and the king. He moved so he that he stood behind David’s chair, his face growing stern. His boyish charm perished beneath the gravity of affairs.

“I’m reluctant to believe that the two could be related. I mean, wouldn’t that be saying perhaps we underestimated –” David began morosely.

“No doubt we’ve done that, we’ve done that from the onset. It does not bode well for the Occulti,” the king interrupted his son with his fingers going to his temples. David’s eyes shot a look of concern, but he said nothing. “I should know if they’ve been infiltrated.”

“If it is true, then we need to reconsider deploying men north when they should head south, the more vulnerable area. We’re being played, sir. Above all else, we have to keep the Bounds safe. If something happened to the Occulti or if they’re not quite as pious as you think, then we need to make sure that the ground is physically protected with human bodies, not in the trust of man’s piety. Though I still stand firm that we should leave some troops here. I just have this feeling, sir and I know how it sounds, but I really do stand firm on that point. We can’t leave the palace unprotected.” Wes gripped the back of David’s chair and leaned over in the urgency of his plea. “Sir, you have to trust me on this.”

The king eyed the children before him. Didn’t Kyle sit there as proof of his fears and didn’t Noirah represent that not all was peace in Camelot? He felt so blind and he was meant to oversee this realm. King Andrew would have known everything; he controlled the information. Jacob was realizing how little he controlled anything. Finally he settled his gaze back on the two men. “Let us discuss this later when we have word from General Su. He might need the support north. I don’t want to act before I know.”

“Of course, sir. Let’s discuss this later. Delay has never hurt anyone in the past,” Wes answered, with only the slightest bit of annoyance underscoring those words. They had had this battle a thousand times before in the previous days and nothing Wes said seemed to sway the man. But he knew in his gut something was wrong; he just couldn’t quite figure out what it was. People were talking less not only to him, but to Edward, two people for whom information always flowed freely. Something lay hidden right around the corner and he couldn’t get anyone to turn in the right direction to see it and he himself was growing less certain whether he knew which way to look. This conversation ended, but Wes would continue his reconnaissance until he found some proof for his presentiment.

“Thank you, Kyle, for sharing that bit. And I encourage you to continue to peruse your own memories for anything, for anyone who strikes you as significant. The answers might be right there in your head,” the king said softly. “Now do you have any questions for me?”

Kyle watched as all his questions scrolled before his eyes like the end credits of a film: Do you know who I am? Do you know who my father is? Except for me, why does everyone else know him? Why did you kick out the Tillards? Do you think Felicity would want a spring or summer wedding? But the question that weighed most heavily won over all the others.

“When can I go home?”

The king looked down at his desk. “I’d like to say as soon as you wish, but that isn’t quite possible. Until that time comes, and I shall make every effort to expedite the process, consider this palace open to you. Felicity can arrange to get you the necessities, as much as you need to make yourself comfortable.” He tentatively smiled at Noirah, but he felt wrong doing it. It was a gesture that he hadn’t earned. But he would give as much as he could. “Noirah, that invitation extends to you as well. You can stay for as long as you like.”

Noirah didn’t reply. She wanted something more but he wasn’t going to give it. And so in that moment she decided that she would use whatever time she had here to hurt that man as much as possible or gladly watch while others did that for her. She’d do that for her real family, as much as she hated them too.

The two got up and departed with an exchange of goodbyes and insincere words of gratitude. The king informed them that a breakfast was taking place out on the east grounds. Wes recovered his former joviality and bent down on one knee to kiss Noirah’s hand. For the first time since entering the palace Noirah gave a genuine smile.

The halls were now cramped. Noirah navigated aggressively with the expectation that people would simply get out of her way. For the most part, they did.

“We had to wake up early for that?” Kyle asked, disappointed by the uselessness of a meeting with the king. At least Oz had the power to get Dorothy home. Kyle left with nothing.

“I imagine that he wanted as few people as possible seeing us going in and out of his office,” Noirah replied, “Besides, some interesting things were learned.”

Kyle shrugged. What did he care about battles and armies and where they did or did not go? He just wanted to see his mom and marry Felicity and drink a cup of coffee and maybe eat some pizza. How many shows was he missing on Netflix?

“Why do you think he wanted you there?” Kyle asked.

“He feared lest left alone to my own devices I might bring fire and brimstone upon the palace.”

“Would you?”

Noirah pursed her lips, “I’ve thought about it. It’s hard to get one’s hands on brimstone these days.”

“But really?” Kyle pressed.

“I have no idea,” Noirah replied, also beginning to question why her presence was required.

The two made their way outside and Noirah groaned upon seeing just how many people had come to the festivities. Kyle, on the other hand, stood amazed. There were ten large, circular tables spread out on the lawn, some still completely occupied, at others sat smaller groups with the rest of their party leaving behind their dirty plates as a sign that they had been there. Those not sitting were milling about and talking so that the many voices merged together to form an oppressive buzz. The scent of breakfast scintillated Kyle’s nose. It seemed less like breakfast and more like a banquet.

“Ah, look how they fatten up the Eloi for slaughter,” Noirah spat, watching the elite mill about.

“You know that I have no idea what that means.”

Noirah lifted an eyebrow. “I do.”

Their dialogue was cut short when Kyle caught sight of the princess. She looked beautiful with the sun just lightly gracing her shimmering blonde hair and she was coming his way. Noirah noticed too, and decided this was her cue to leave. She patted Kyle on the shoulder and pointed over to the melee on the lawn.

“If you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go ahead and get a feel for just how uncomfortable the rest of this afternoon is going to be.”

With that Noirah strode past the approaching Felicity, gracefully performing a deep and flourishing bow as she made her way to where everyone else had converged. Slowly, but obviously, the crowds around her dispersed, which finally left her sitting alone at a table. She wished that she had acquired this superpower at an earlier age.

Kyle hardly noticed Noirah’s predicament because in front of him, as lovely as ever, stood Felicity. The whole world melted away and everything focused on her. Wow, he wasn’t even going to try to fight his smile; even though he had read that women like their men to be aloof. Why hold back this unexpected joy? He let it course through his whole body.

“I’m happy to see you too,” Felicity answered his unspoken thoughts.

“That obvious?” Kyle asked sheepishly.

“Yes, but completely refreshing,” she answered. “Oh, hold still. You have an eyelash.”

Her hand reached up toward his cheek; he froze, anticipating the feel of her flesh on his. The pressure of her tiny, index finger was slight, but it sent a charge down Kyle’s spine. She held out her finger to his lips.

“Make a wish and blow,” she commanded sweetly.

Kyle grinned and closed his eyes. Why was this making him so giddy? He never felt this way when his mother had performed the same deed, and thank god he didn’t. He shouldn’t be thinking about his mom right now. He slowly inhaled a breath, and released it, feeling it brush against the surface of her finger.

“What’d you wish for?” she asked, when he opened his eyes once more.

You, he thought.

“What?” she questioned, perplexed.

“Huh?”

“I just didn’t hear what you said.”

Was that aloud?

“Oh,” he cleared his throat, “uh, world peace. I wished for world peace because that’s really important to me, peace in the world.”

Felicity was looking at him knowingly. “That’s a very noble wish to have.”

“Well, that’s me. Mr. Noble. Mr. Kyle Noble Walters.”

“Yeah? That right, Mr. Noble?” she echoed.

“Yeah, that’s right,” he replied. Then Felicity lifted her hand and flicked her hair. Kyle’s eyes watched as the sunlight flickered off each golden strand. That was a bad move, because suddenly Noirah came into his line of sight and she didn’t look happy. His smiled faded. Felicity looked over her shoulder and groaned.

“Noirah, of course. She has this amazing ability to ruin things, even when she’s not present,” Felicity sighed, crossing her arms and reciprocating the look that Noirah was giving.

“We had to wake up really early, so she’s just a little cranky,” Kyle defended.

“Hate to break the news but that girl was cranky out the womb.” MacCartney said grabbing Felicity’s waist from behind. The girl jumped.

“God, Mac! I hate it when you do that.” Felicity reprimanded, placing a hand on her chest to calm her heart. In general, she had become a little jumpier. “Make some noise when you walk!”

“Can’t. All those years on the streets made me incredibly stealthy.” He ducked and swooped once or twice and then snuck a kiss on Felicity’s cheek. “Missed you last night, Flea.”

“Busier than I thought I’d be,” she answered. MacCartney nodded with understanding. Kyle tried not to let the jealousy creep in, but he couldn’t help it. He should have been the one kissing her on the cheek, giving her knowing looks, sharing in secret information. Heck, they had cuddled last night! Didn’t that mean something? Well, didn’t it?

“If you two are done canoodling, let’s join the party.”

MacCartney took the initiative to move them into the larger group. Kyle finally knew what it was like to be a celebrity. Everyone’s curious eyes were on him. And hey, there was a whole group of girls with coy smiles on their faces, smiles directed at him. Just a few days ago he wandered the halls of school like some nobody and now he was becoming a somebody for no reason at all. Should he wave? Stop and pose for pictures? Maybe he could tell a joke or two. Maybe it was enough that he walked side by side with Felicity. They could be an ‘it’ couple. Flyle or Kylicity. He’d work on that.

“Are you kidding me?” Mac exclaimed, “She snuck in contraband work! I leave her for a second and she starts being industrious!”

Mac dislodged himself from the princess and Kyle and headed over to a picnic table where Anna sat furiously transcribing notes from a book into her own notebook. Kyle watched as MacCartney slammed the notebook shut. Anna forcibly reopened it, giving Mac a look. He shut it again. Anna rose. Kyle couldn’t make out the words, but she certainly wasn’t thanking him. Unless that finger being jabbed into his chest represented a really vehement show of appreciation.

“They do this constantly,” Felicity said, watching the scene along with Kyle. “Mac thinks Anna works too hard, Anna thinks Mac works too little. They’re a wonderful balance for each other. Nothing serious, little quotidian quarrels.”

“Some of us, MacCartney, can’t squander our days away. Some of us have school and work and are capable of multi-tasking. Look! I can read and hold a conversation. I’m not you,” Anna argued, an imposing figure when standing with such posture. Mac shrugged and sat down, putting his feet up on the table. Anna turned her attention to Kyle, happy to sate her perpetually itching desire to know what was happening behind closed doors.

“Kyle! How was your meeting with the king? What did he say? Oh, and Sam, he was there. I saw him leaving the office early this morning. Did you catch any of that conversation? I overheard Mr. Ulrich and Mr. Webster talking about a rumor that Wes got orders to move his troops north, or was going get the orders to ship out tomorrow. General Su is several days late in relaying his reports. So is it true?” Anna rattled.

Kyle rubbed the back of his neck and tried to think.

“Maybe? They mentioned something about the north, and a General Su and things like that, but I didn’t really catch all of it. But Sam, that kid with the glasses? Yeah, he got pretty worked up by whatever it was. He stumbled and stuttered.”

“That’s just Sam,” Felicity elucidated, resting her hand on his. “So, that isn’t really saying much.”

“Oh, yeah?” Kyle grinned uncontrollably. Even catching the look shared between Anna and MacCartney couldn’t deter him from completely enjoying the moment. God, he was relishing it.

“Yeah,” she replied, smiling back at him.

“But was it informative, the meeting? What did you and the king talk about? Come to any conclusions about your situation?” Anna asked, with little patience for the distraction.

“The meeting,” Kyle reiterated, shaking himself from his secluded dream world, “uh, sure. I’d say it was maybe informative. Met your dad.”

“He’s nice. I like him,” Felicity answered, lightly rocking into Kyle’s body.

“Yeah, he seems nice,” Kyle replied, attempting not to giggle with delight.

“So what you’ve gathered from a meeting with the king and David and Wes, with Sam there, is that the king is nice?” Anna proposed testily.

“Oh and I know you have an older brother David!” Kyle proclaimed.

“There, see Anna. He’s learned about the Sterne family tree.” Felicity’s eyes twinkled.

“I’ll just ask Noirah,” she muttered, dropping her head once more to her book, while raising her coffee to her lips. She might love her friends, but she couldn’t understand their passivity when it came to breaking into the secrets of the palace and its politics. The word intriguing should be applied to that world; she found it less suitable for all the hodgepodge the rest found interesting.

Felicity stood up. “Come on, I’m starving, and you must be too.”

“You haven’t eaten?” Kyle asked. Mac let his head loll back and chuckled, even Anna raised her eyes a bit.

“No, little Flea hasn’t had a bite. She was waiting for someone. I think breakfast is such a romantic --”

“Come on. Let’s go get some food,” Felicity jumped in, grabbing Kyle’s hand and pulling him to a long, rectangular table still filled with food, despite the large number of people there.

“You were waiting for me?”

Felicity blushed. Her whole morning she had spent dodging questions from various people on why she wasn’t eating yet. Everyone had that look, like they knew. But what was there to know? So, they had sat together last night. So, she had fallen asleep in his arms. That was the best night’s sleep she hadn’t gotten in some time. For one night, all her very grownup problems melted and she found that beautiful, childlike, trusting part of herself thawing. She was herself or the self she wanted to be. So she waited for him: she wanted to be Felicity for just a little bit longer and with him she could be.

“Yes, I waited for you,” she admitted timidly. “Breakfast is the best meal of the day and it’d be terrible for you to eat it alone.”

Felicity turned, letting her hair partially cover her pink cheeks and began to fill her plate. That was when Kyle saw her, Noirah, seated alone at a table. He could tell that she had been looking at him. He wasn’t sure how he knew, he just did. There she was alone, an open book and a half eaten plate of food in front of her. Kyle’s staring got to her, she glanced up. Kyle opted to wave at her in a charmingly goofy manner. It made her roll her eyes and with a half-smile she waved back. Taking some initiative, Kyle mimed that he would be over as soon as he got breakfast. In return he got a curious look directed at the princess. Kyle just shrugged, she followed suit and returned to her book. And though Kyle couldn’t see, he knew that she looked pleased.

“Aren’t you going to get anything?” Felicity asked. She followed his eyes to Noirah and nodded. “Hm, lost your appetite?”

“No, I just wanted to let her know I’d be over in a minute.” Kyle replied, surprised by the girl’s snide tone. She was too perfect to make little comments like that. It was easy to forget the jab though. One look in those twinkling little flames of blue and it was almost as if it never happened.

“Sorry, habit. There’s just a lot of bad blood.” Felicity strengthened her resolve and added, “However, now is as good a time as any to try and forge some type of amicable relations. We can’t expect the people to do things which we would not be willing.” Kyle’s obvious joy at the sentiment forced her to amend her statement. “We won’t be friends, but I think peace is possible, if she exerts some effort as well.”

“I’m sure she will. It’s Noirah, she loves exerting effort.” If that effort resulted in the tears of others, Kyle finished in his head. As they approached Noirah’s table, he tried to will her to play nice. When she glanced up at them, he knew that his will had very little effect on other people.

“Oh, sorry guys, those seats,” she waved her hands to all the empty chairs, “are saved for the abundant amount of people who will be joining me later. I really need to stop making so many friends, but it’s just hard because I have so much love to give.”

Both Kyle and Felicity ignored her words and sat down. Kyle made sure to sit between the two girls, that way if they decided to tear each other apart, he could stop -- no, he’d die because god knew he’d never curb their violent impetus. A few tables behind, Mac jumped onto his table, easily catching Felicity’s eye, as she looked over her shoulder. She tried to remain neutral, as he pointed and waved his arms manically at their table, all while avoiding Anna’s attempts to bring him down.

“What’s the little monkey up to?” Noirah asked, refusing to turn her head. Felicity quickly looked forward.

“Oh? What? Nothing.” Felicity feigned ignorance. She peeked over once more and gladdened to see that Anna had yanked Mac to the ground, much to his chagrin.

“That must be why everyone around us is staring in that direction giggling with delight. Only monkeys performing funny little antics make people look that happy.” Kyle tried to look back, but Noirah’s hand stopped him, pushing his chin forward once again. “Don’t bother monkey stopped. Anna is a diligent trainer.” She then turned to Felicity. “I still can’t believe you haven’t thrown that piece of garbage back in the alley whence you collected him.”

“My eggs are so tasty,” Kyle chirped, shoveling a huge forkful into his mouth. Once that task was completed, he waved his arms in the air, attempting to end the staring match between the two girls. “Woo, eggs!”

“God, you’re such a hateful person. You never even bothered to get to know Mac, if you had, you would have seen he’s funny and really nice...”

“Stop trying to sell something that I’m not going to buy,” Noirah snapped back before she could bring her coffee to her lips.

“If that’s the case, then perhaps we should stop arguing and enjoy our breakfast,” Felicity finally suggested. While the words were cordial, the tone had a certain haughtiness.

“Aren’t you just the doyenne of decorum,” Noirah answered in a coolly pleasant manner.

“And you of pompous erudition.”

“How well entangled you are in your own hypocrisy.”

“At least – ”

Kyle had enough. He let his fork fall to his plate with a loud clatter and shouted, “Stop it!” Both girls glared at him. Alright, he had their attention, now what should he do? How did he handle this diplomatically? “Well, you know, I really would like to enjoy breakfast. Let’s just say that I’ve had a tough couple of days, you know being transported into a new universe and walking like seven million miles to get here and some stuff went down and honestly I’d like not to have to hear any arguing. There’s been a lot of raised voices recently. I don’t like it.” That felt good to get out and since he still had the floor, Kyle took advantage of the continued silence. “While we’re at it, I really wish you’d use words that I know. Just putting that out there. Cause when my people insult each other, we do it so that everyone knows and they don’t feel stupid. Like someone’s weight. I don’t condone it, but that’s popular. Actually, no, ignore that suggestion. There’s people’s mothers, that’s another thing people sometimes insult, but again, wow it’s hard to insult people without insulting --”

“I would never say anything about her mother because I like her mother,” Noirah asserted in her flippant, sneering manner.

Much to everyone’s surprise, Felicity rose and slammed her palms on the table. “I told you not to talk about my mother!” Only Noirah, of all the attendees at the picnic, took the change of demeanor in stride.

Felicity was about to scream further, but she stopped short. Everyone was staring and not the good kind of staring, but the kind reserved for Noirah. People were leaning into each other and whispering. What was she letting this girl do to her? No, she would not allow Noirah to get to her like this. Taking a breath, she sat back down with a serene smile on her face. There was a moment; everyone was waiting. Would there be a further spectacle or should they return to their morning games? What story would they spread? Then when they were finally content that the scene had ended, they returned to their milling around. Mac and Anna continued to watch the situation vigilantly; Mac in the hopes that Felicity eviscerated Noirah; Anna anxious on where the pendulum might swing.

“I don’t believe you told me not to talk about your mother. Should I take that last statement as an official warning?” Noirah looked triumphant, while Felicity stifled the fumes that urged to surge from her ears.

In a cool, even voice she remarked, “Hating everyone in the world does not make you better than them.” Felicity’s words trembled with her fury. Noirah fed from it.

“I don’t hate everyone, just weak-minded people who aren’t capable of remaining firm in their own moral code when it earns the disapproval of the society’s few, randomly selected, elite.” Noirah said. She gave Felicity the fakest of sweet-tempered smiles, raised her book and once again resumed her reading. “By the way, it’s than they not them. What shoddy grammar did –”

“Stop hiding behind your book,” Felicity commanded, exasperated.

Noirah brought the book down, her eyes sparkling with mischief. “No, see, when some people put these things in front of their faces, they aren’t hiding. It would be a poor hiding space considering --”

“And you know that’s not what I meant. You did the same thing when we were kids. Someone would get to you and you’d run away and hide in a book. You can’t do that your whole life.”

“And you can’t pretend the world is the rainbow and sunshine place you see in your head. One day that’ll crack and so will you.”

Felicity’s face began to grow red, however she managed to remain in possession of herself and replied to Noirah as calmly as she could, “You’d like that, wouldn’t you? You would just love to see me fall apart.” Noirah’s eyes fell, unable to meet Felicity’s. The two were left in a momentary lapse of silence. Noirah sat wanting to ask if Felicity was okay; Felicity wanting to share every secret that was tearing her apart. Neither could say anything.

Felicity still remembered days when they were younger, Noirah always clutching a book, her shield, her weapon. What Felicity had never understood was why Noirah insisted on alienating herself from everyone else. It wasn’t as though she was shy. Far from it. Felicity had never met anyone better able to speak for themselves, less afraid. That’s what attracted Felicity to the girl in the first place. Noirah never settled and she wouldn’t allow Felicity to either. In that girl’s eyes, Felicity knew that she wasn’t special because she was royalty, but because, once upon a time, she was Noirah’s friend. Years of memories perished in a few short months. How could you love someone so much and be so angry, so unforgiving?

Felicity refocused her attention to Noirah who also seemed to have lost herself somewhere in the not so distant past. Something inside Felicity wasn’t able to spark another argument so she opted simply to wish Noirah and Kyle a pleasant afternoon and left. It was her turn to hide.

Noirah lifted her eyes, feeling Kyle’s own on her. “She started it.”

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