Darkness and Beauty

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Chapter 20 - Darius

"Bien, y tú?"

"And if you're asking your father or a member of the court?"

"Bien, y usted."

"Good."

"Aracely, we did this two months ago," I say as I try not to rub my temples. She hates it when I "act" tired.

"Just making sure that you remember. Knowing you I can never be too sure."

She's not wrong about that. After a month of going away from the basics, I had to go back and remember them before moving on again. Now she asks me basic things all the time. What's a dog in Hisperian? Or how do you greet your mother in the morning?

"Thank you for caring, Aracely. I'm very grateful."

"Well in that case I'd say that's it for today."

The bell chimed five twenty minutes ago, but I asked Aracely to finish the lesson. I don't trust myself to come tomorrow and remember where we left off. I was actually surprised when Clarice didn't walk in wondering why I was still sitting here acting like I was really learning something.

We close our books and walk out of the room. Garrison is waiting outside the door, the others somewhat out of sight. I can't tell if Bernard is trying to blend in with the wall, look like a statue, or isn't trying to do anything at all.

"Well, I'll be off," Aracely says with a wave of her hand.

I watch as she walks down an aisle and huffs a laugh when she passes Bernard. I want to laugh myself when I see his confused expression. Bernard has always been awkward, but it still makes me laugh every time he wonders why people look at him funny.

As I look at Garrison, I realize that I haven't seen Clarice.

"Where did she go?"

Instead of answering, he looks to me with a smirk on his face and then angles his head to see around me. I follow his gaze and see Clarice behind a mountain of all kinds of books. Her feet are hanging off one arm of the chair, the other being used as a backrest. I walk slowly and as quietly as possible so as not to disturb her. I feel like I'm in the woods and trying as if not to wake a bear.

I reach the table and find that there are all sorts of books there. History, Mythology, Fantasy...Romance. I pick up Empire Stormar and open to the middle of the book to read a sentence. It's written in another language, but the translation is written in between the lines.

She didn't give him the chance to explain as she traced her tongue over the seam of his lips, as her fingers unlatched the buckle of his worn sword belt. She wasn't sure he was breathing.

And just to see what he'd do, she palmed him through his-

I slam the book shut.

"What in heathens?" Clarice says jolting upright.

"You...read some very interesting books."

"You would too if you could read."

"I can read."

"Right."

I set the book down glaring at her as she folds the top corner of a page. "What are you doing?"

"Marking where I left off."

I look to the edge of the table where several strands of woven yarn are lying in a glass bowl specifically for that reason. She either didn't see them or doesn't care. My bet is on the latter. She stands and we walk back through the aisles out of the library, the book she was reading and the one I read in her arms.

It's kind of comforting knowing that there's something human in her. I mean I know she's flesh and bone, but when you think of a trained killer like her, you don't often think of them as book-loving softies. You think of them as strong, rigid, all-around scary badasses. I would use the excuse that she's just acting the part of Lily, but by the way she clings to the books like their pieces of the finest gold, tells me there's no deception going on here.

And I can read. In fact, there was a time when all I did was read. Grandmother Adelina would read me tales from an old book when I was younger. and when I grew older, I would venture down the library corridors and pick up books until I couldn't see over the pile. I'd find the nearest table and read all of them in a few days. I loved to read. I spent my nights in my bed reading under a dozen candle flames until I'd face plant between the pages. Grandmother Adelina would come back from her travels and bring back a trunk full of foreign pages for me.

After she died, I sent all those books and their trunks to the librarians and told them to do with them what they wish. I've never asked what happened to them, nor have I searched the shelves to see if I spot a familiar spine. I don't ever remember picking up a book that wasn't handed to me by Aracely until today. And look what that lead to. Not that I entirely mind that sort of thing, but still. Does she really read that kind of thing? Or is she just bringing it along to torture me through embarrassment?

"Do you have something against books?"

"What?" I ask snapping from my thoughts.

"You keep glaring at the books."

I hadn't even realized I was doing it. I tend to not know what I'm doing more often than not. "No."

"Then why do you keep looking at them?"

I haven't spoken to anyone about Grandmother Adelina, and I'm not starting with Clarice of all people. "Do you really read books like that?"

"What's wrong with books like this?" She asks as we reach the tower.

"Oh, nothing. I just didn't realize you liked that sort of thing."

"I'm full of surprises, Prince."

"Considering we've only known each other for six days and no one knows your identity...I can't say I'm surprised that you're full of surprises."

"Touché."

We walk into her chambers and a wave of a weird odor smacks me in the face. It's somewhere between burning chicken and rotting fish. It's like walking into the sewer and finding three dead bodies and a left-over carcass in the middle of it.

I was just beginning to scrunch my nose when Clarice spins around, shoves me back through the doorway, tosses the books, and slams the door. A second later a loud pop sounds, followed by what sounds like a body being slammed on a table. A scream comes from behind the door and I feel as it rattles my bones. I don't know why, but hearing that scream makes my legs move before I can even process what's happening. Both Garrison and Vladimir reach out to stop me from running into the room. They push me down a few steps and allow Malen and Osiris to stand ready for whatever comes through the door.

I can feel my heart hammering against my chest, my hands slightly shaking as my lungs take quick breaths and I still don't know what's going on. Not just with me, but with whatever is going on behind that door. Four and a half days Clarice has been here guarding my back alongside my friends. The Dozen as she likes to call them. It's not a bad name for them, though I had imagined something of more creativity.

I barely know her, don't even know what she looks like, but if she ends up dead because of a threat to my life...I don't know what I'd do. Grandmother Adelina wasn't killed and I'm still coping with that death. What happens if she dies?

"What happened?" I ask not trusting myself to say more.

Instead of answering, Garrison tightens his grip on me and signals to Benny and Winston to check it out. I watch with impatience as they flank the sides of the door, exchange a glance, and then kick in the door. They slowly walk in and I wait for another scream. I wait for one of them to come flying back through the doorway and hit the wall. I wait for something - anything, to happen, and for Garrison to drag me out of the tower and somewhere safe. I wait for the breach alarm to go off and for every guard in the castle to move into action.

But none of that happens.

Instead, everyone goes quiet and not a single noise sounds from the room.

"We're clear," Winston calls from the room.

I immediately shake off Garrison and Vladimir and walk into the room. A thin cloud of smoke greets me, and I can't see well enough to tell what's what. I see a body and a flame coming from the sitting-room door. I ignore Garrison's warning as I shove past Winston and jump over the fire. There are smaller flames scattered in the room, nothing that can't be easily put out. My eyes land on Clarice who's standing in the middle of the room, a body in front of her lying on a collapsed table.

Called it.

I rush to her side and find that it's a woman not ten years or so older than I am. Her chest is still rising and falling, meaning she's just unconscious. At least this time we have someone to question. I turn to Clarice and find her feather mask is singed, but still intact. The parts of her face that aren't covered by the leftover feathers are covered in some sort of black soot. Her dress is just as filthy, but it's her arm that gets my anger rising. It's singed from her shoulder to slightly past her forearm. The small welts make my stomach flip, but I still manage to keep my lunch from coming back up.

"Shit, your arm."

She looks at her arm as if it's the first time she's noticed it. "Fuck."

Sometimes I notice that she's too chill with killing people or getting injured or killed herself. It should worry me, but it doesn't. If it came down to it - like it just did - Clarice would win in the end. Where's my proof? I'm looking at it. And it is starting to regain consciousness.

Without hesitating, Clarice bends down and presses her fingers on the inside of her neck. The woman passes back out in a few seconds, a small thud sounding when her head falls back to the floor.

"What happened?" I ask again.

"She poured oil around the room and then lit a match."

"What about the smell?"

"That is in the bedroom."

Alister walks in, his face pale.

"Don't go in there." He says clutching his stomach.

"I smelled the oil and got you out before you-"

"Got burned?"

"I'm fine," She says annoyed. "Anyway, the other one threw an explosive at me-"

"They what?" I exclaim looking back down at her arm.

"Relax. I stuffed it in the couch before it went out."

Well, that explains the pop I heard, and the broken wood scattered in the other room.

"She ran in here to try and escape. The rest is obvious."

We look back down at the woman. She was probably really pretty before Clarice gave her a gash on her head and broke her nose. "Did you have to maul her?"

"She swung first."

Something tells me that's not true. Knowing the anger that's stirring in her eyes, I'd say the poor girl suffered more than necessary. Especially considering that Clarice could've made her pass out with a pinch.

I start to cough as the smoke weaves its way down my throat. Clarice nods to the door and we walk out. This is nothing compared to the break-in. My mother is going to be furious when she hears that all the furniture was ruined. Now I feel bad for the girl if my mom manages to her hands on her.

There are another dozen guards climbing the steps when we walk out. Most of them are carrying buckets of water with them. I can hear Garrison's voice directing them on where to spill the water and yelling something about getting the priest, white blankets, and a bodyboard.

The last item has my stomach turning again.

Clarice said the bad odor came from the bedroom, and Alister walked out of there looking like he had seen someone's guts being cut out. What, exactly, did they put in there? As if sensing my intentions to go see, Clarice takes my hand and begins pulling me down the stairs. The summer breeze cleans out the smoke from my nose when we enter the hall, and pulls me from the room. Alister, Henry, Gabriel, Alexander, Amel, and Ethan instantly fall into close ranks, all of them pale but alert. Clarice looks worse in the sunlight shining through the archways. Her hair has come loose of their pins and now flows down just above her elbow. It flows with the wind, making it look like she should be standing on top of a dais or in the clouds like a goddess. Her hair alone has me imagining other girls cutting off their hands to get a few strands of it. It's absolutely horrifying how unnaturally enchanting it is.

The sound of footsteps thankfully snaps my head forward. Unfortunately, those footsteps belong to Lady Eleanor of Lander. Her eyes scan over me once and then slide to Clarice and this time I catch the slight shift in her posture. A few girls her age trail along behind her, all their eyes settling on Clarice. "I saw the guards running this way with a bucket of water and thought-" she's cut off by Gabriel and Alexander's arms.

With everything that just happened, they're not going to let anyone near me. Clarice takes a small step towards me and I feel as her hand tightens on mine and pulls my arm ever so slightly behind her.

"Are you alright?" She asks, still held back.

"I'm fine, but if you'll excuse us, I need to get Lily to the Healer's Tower."

I begin walking again, and Alexander gently pushes Eleanor out of our path. I don't give her a passing glance as we turn down the hallway that leads to the Healers Tower.

She's always been so persistent.

Clarice's demeanor relaxes and her hand falls from mine.

I hadn't really noticed before, but pretending to be infatuated with Clarice is easier than I thought. The little moments when we reach for each other's hand, or when I slip my arm around her or hers around my waist like last night, it feels natural. Like I've known her my whole life, and holding her hand is something we do on a daily basis. If Eleanor shows up like she just did, we could easily slip into each other's lap and there'd be little to no awkwardness between us. Initially, at least.

You know when you're with your best friend and you could lay down on their lap or chest and it would just feel like another part of your day? Or you're sitting in the same chair or couch, and you can intertwine your legs with theirs and there'd be no meaning behind it other than trust and love? Or perhaps when you are walking through town with them, and a passerby gives them a hungry look, so you bark at them to lay off because you care for their wellbeing, rather than because you secretly want them for yourself?

Well, that's what this feels like. I can't explain it, but ever since my eyes met hers, I feel like there's this bond between us. It doesn't feel like a romantic or family bond, but more like a strong tether that binds us together, as if there was a rope around our waists keeping us from losing each other in a crowd. I want to ask her if she's noticed the same thing, but if she doesn't, then I'll look crazy, and then everything that is now effortless will always be awkward. I won't be able to hold her hand without cringing both internally and externally.

Since when do I care so much?

Before I can start coming up with answers to my own question, we reach the Healer's Tower. The door, as usual, is open. Unlike my tower which is just a staircase that leads to the rooms, the Healer's Tower doesn't just run straight up and down. The ground level which we're on now has two wide hallways that go from the center, circular room, and run against the castle walls. It's basically an "L" with a big circle at its point.

This level is for emergencies and short-term recovery. The second floor is long term recovery, the third of private rooms, and the fourth is where the healers make their tonics, elixirs, and anything in need of mixing. Above that are the Mimiteh's - learning healers - small quarters. The top-level belongs to the Anevay.

There are healers all around the world who practice the skills, but there are certain healers who are born with a natural gift to heal. They can sense when someone has a stomachache, stitch the skin back together with a light touch of their finger. I've seen it firsthand. I always used to come in here with some sort of scratch or gash on my body, but I only ever let Anevay Siscilla tend to my wounds. It wasn't that I didn't like the other healers, but the Anevay always had soft, warm hands compared to the other's cold ones. Plus she gave me a piece of chocolate if I kept still and didn't swat her hands away. Sometimes, just to find a reason to come into the Healer's Tower, I would find a way to get a cut big enough to require a trip down here. I'd mysteriously fall in the bathroom or accidentally knock over a vase and cut my arm with one of its shards. It sounds painful and stupid to be always hurting myself for a silly excuse, but the wrath of my father when I didn't bow or use my manners, is nothing compared to a deep cut. Let me put it this way, I wouldn't need to be mischievous to earn a trip into the tower after my father finished with me.

I remember when he would backhand slap me or outright punch or kick me until I bled. My mother would be held back by servants or guards, though she knew better than to put up a fight. I never blamed nor got angry with my mother for watching. If she didn't, he wouldn't harm her, but me. He loves my mother too much to lay a hand on her. But me? Oh, he couldn't care less. His behavior was never public, but if he got the chance to pinch me or give my shoulder a strong squeeze in warning of what was to come later, then he took it. People are too afraid of him and the power he holds to spread rumors, or in this case, the truth.

My mother and Anevay Siscilla are the ones who got me through my father's brutality. Siscilla got me through my grandmother's death. I know I should've gone to my mother, but her voice reminds me of Grandmother Adelina's. Since then, Siscilla has become like a second mother to me. Despite her many requests, I refuse to continue my training in the healing realm after a year. I remember the basics of how to stop a wound from bleeding, or how to fashion a brace for a broken limb. I was originally fascinated with the healers, but after realizing how much healers have to learn to even be considered a Mimiteh, I opted out. I had been shadowing Siscilla for a year, and I only learned the basics of the basics.

I search the floor for Siscilla but don't find any sign of her. Normally Anevay Siscilla is down on the first level trying to see if there's any action she can get her hands on. She's more fast-paced than you would think a fifty-six-year-old.

"Prince Darius." A nearby Mimiteh says with a curtsy. "Is there something I could help you with?"

"Yes, I'm in need of the Anevay. Do you know where I might find her?"

The healer opens her mouth but is cut off by a raspy voice. "Is that my bastard of a bitch I hear?"

We all turn to the twisting stairway and find a hag of a woman walking down them. Her greying auburn hair is frizzy and held atop her head with what looks like to be a pencil. Her now bloodied apron sits atop the light brown gown of a healer, but it's the large gold pendant that runs between her breasts that marks her as the Anevay.

"Is that an old hag I see or a walking corpse?" I reply already feeling at home again.

"Ha! Your insults are getting worse I see."

"Getting?" Clarice mutters.

I scowl at her before walking to Anevay Siscilla and pulling her into a hug. I huff a laugh when I realize that she now only reaches up to my chest. "Laugh about my height again, and I'll give you another bruise on your ass."

I raise my hands in surrender remembering the time when I put a snake in an empty bed and scared her and a few healers to the point of near heart attacks. She chased me through the ward until I tripped on a crack, and she hit me in the butt. Hard. I had a red handprint on my right cheek for an hour before it began turning purple. I didn't cry when she did it, nor did I scream, but I did laugh my lungs out until I got the hiccups. I couldn't sit for days until it finally went away. It probably would've been longer if she hadn't put ice on it.

"I like her," Clarice says behind me.

"Don't take it personally if I don't return the sentiment," Siscilla replies.

"You will."

Siscilla raises an eyebrow at me before walking to Clarice stopping only a few breaths from her. I watch as she looks Clarice up and down, dismissing her burned arm. How is she not at least whining in pain?

"You're not built like a woman of the court."

"And you look more like a Minotaur than a walking corpse. Guess the Gods screwed us both." Saints Clarice. There's a reason I don't go too far with my insults to Siscilla.

We all watch with both curiosity and fear of what will happen next. A small smile appears on Siscilla's face and then turns absolutely wicked. "You were right. I do like you." They exchange devilish smiles and the rest of us let out a soft sigh before Siscilla walks toward the nearest bed and waves for us to follow.

How is it that I simply laugh at her height and she threatens to smack me, but when Clarice calls her a Minotaur, she takes a liking to her and lets her off with a smile? Not to mention that Siscilla barely tolerates The Dozen when they come with me into the tower.

We walk to the bed where I watch as Siscilla examines the burn and gives Clarice kudos for being so calm with such a "nice" burn. There is nothing nice about the welting, bleeding, red, and slightly oozing burn. Though I must be out of my mind, because Clarice agrees and even says she's "sad to see it go." Siscilla puts a salve on the wound before slowly returning the skin back to its normal color. You'll be glad to know that Clarice does wince when Siscilla carefully cuts open the welts so that she can heal it. We watch in silence, or rather I watch, while the six wusses turn away before they hurl.

They continue talking while Siscilla concentrates on her arm, Clarice even asks that she leave a few red spots and a pink coloring where the burn was. Siscilla complies without question, but I'm curious and ask her anyway.

"It's good to let your wounds show."

"It'll only last a few days anyway." Siscilla chimes in.

They go back to their conversation about salves and elixirs and which ones are best to use and the easiest to make. They argue here and there, but end up agreeing in the end. It's nice to see Clarice making an easy conversation with Siscilla. As a naïve child, it didn't take long for me to do the same, but it still amazes me how easily Clarice can talk to anyone despite her past or her hidden appearance. Or her horrid mouth. When she asked me last night what I wanted her alias to be, I already knew what I wanted. I've lived with people lying outright to about themselves for so long, I just wanted some truth in my life. I'm not entirely sure if "Lily" really is who Clarice is, and it's hard to tell whether her ease is an act or not, but if I'm being honest, it's not hard to think it is. Aside from the mask, I believe that she's slowly coming to let herself show through.

Speaking of which, "Siscilla, you haven't asked about Clarice's mask." I ignore Clarice's glare and watch Siscilla carefully. Despite her power and wisdom, she has never mastered the ability to lie to me. If she does, her eyes will avoid my own, she'll bite her bottom lip, or her hands intertwine behind her back. She's an easy read, unlike the faceless mystery beside me.

"My tower is full of all kinds of talk, Darius. Rumors being one of the many."

So she heard Kat's tale of how Lily went into the Dearg forest and came out cursed. At least we know that we were successful at one part of the plan so far. I'm sort of tempted to pat myself on the back for getting this far. Clarice has been trying to hide her concern, but I know that while she was murdering an inanimate object last night, she was beating herself up for agreeing to do this. If anything good came out of the events of the day, it's that we can blame the massacred cabinet on the woman and her accomplice.

Once Siscilla is done, Clarice's arm is left with a slight discoloration where the burn was, a few redder spots where the welts were.

"Thanks, avia." She says hopping off the bed.

With no warning, Siscilla's hand slaps Clarice's now pink arm.

"Vos can contumeliam me die ac nocte, puellam, sed non overstep vestri finibus."

What just happened?

I've never heard of such a thing being spoken anywhere. The only word I understood was "overstep," and I'm not even sure if that means what I think it means.

"You speak Lithian?" Clarice asks looking genuinely surprised.

"Ancient healing text is written in it. I had to learn it to become the Anevay."

Twenty minutes later, I find myself lying on the bed Clarice was, she now sitting on the bed at my side, and she and Siscilla are talking in that odd language. Bored, I toy with a vile filled with a weird colored liquid, tossing it in the air and catching it before it falls on my face or shatters on the ground.

I'm bored out of my mind, but both Anevay Siscilla and Clarice seem really happy and relaxed to be talking to each other. I've seen Siscilla like this before, but seeing Clarice like this allows me to lay here and stay quiet. Some would gawk that I haven't started pacing or jumping on the empty beds or scaring Mimiteh's from under a one as they walk by, but I'm not a child anymore. So, I set down the vile, and begin making sounds with my lips.

Pup. Pup. Pup.

Pup. Pup.

Pup. Pup. Pup.

The girls stop their conversation and look at me. Slowly.

"Sorry."

They go back to their conversation instantly, and my mind wanders into those weird thoughts you only get when you're bored and alone.

If you think about it. Things aren't on fire...the fire is on those things.

Shit.

If you listen...rain doesn't make a sound until it hits something.

If you're walking on stairs, and you skip a step...are you exercising? Or just dramatically lazy?

"Darius." Siscilla's voice snaps me from my thoughts. "Get your head out of the clouds."

"Sorry," I say again.

She turns back to Clarice and says, "Well it was nice to speak to someone who actually appreciates the art of healing."

Ouch. I deserved that.

"It's been years since I've actually spoken of such things. Thank you," Clarice says.

"Come by anytime you need of my assistance or an ear to speak into. And bring Darius, I like seeing him suffer from boredom." Of course, she does. Though I can't promise that next time I will be so generous as to sit still and not bang my head against a wall. If you couldn't tell, I hate boredom with the strongest of passions.

"I will. I may even bring old Garrison to roll his eyes and give me hateful glances." Old? He's only two years older than us.

"That boy needs a nice young woman to soften his brutish behavior-"

"Okay." I say interrupting them, "Thank you, Siscilla. You've been lovely as always, but I think we'd best be on our way." I take Clarice's hand and force her to walk.

The last time I and the boys had tried to set Garrison up with someone, he didn't exactly appreciate it. Since then we've stayed clear of such things, and I'm not about to let these to psychopaths meddle in his life.

"You never let me have my fun." Siscilla pouts.

Sighing, I let go of Clarice and kiss Siscilla atop her head. She waves me away, though I do spot the tips of her mouth twitching up.

We walk out of the Healer's Tower and back down the halls. Remembering that both mine and Clarice's rooms are now a mess, I turn right, down the hall that will lead us to my mother's chambers. She's no doubt already heard what happened, so it's best that I go and see her before she decides to take her big belly for a walk into the looming chaos. Not to mention that Clarice's brother will want to ask her about what happened.

Arthur seems like he doesn't act like another person as much as Clarice does. I mean I know that I haven't really talked to him one on one, but when they first walked into the throne room, he talked more easily than Clarice does now, and she does say what she wants to, but I can sometimes tell when she avoids certain parts of a conversation. I've seen her do it with The Dozen, Kat, Eleanor, and me. It's weird that I can sense when she's lying or when she's tricking people. Everyone else believes her, but I always get this feeling in my gut that tells me to pay attention or see the small cracks in her armor.

Right now, as her arm is intertwined with mine, I watch as her eyes wander over every servant, guard, and brick in the wall. Her brows furrow when she sees something that she most likely plans to look into later, and whenever she prepares for a potential fight like she did with Eleanor earlier, she locks her eyes onto her opponent and doesn't move them until the threat passes. Though I've managed to find a few of her tells, I still can't find any when we're sparring or trying to beat each other in a bet. She's been so trained into being an assassin, - and that's pretty badass if you ask me - but sometimes I wonder what she would be doing if she wasn't.

If I weren't the Prince, I'd just want to be somewhere peaceful with little to know people nearby as possible. It's not that I don't like people, it's just that the chaos and gossip of their behavior bug the crap out of me. Like is your life not interesting enough to where you have to go putting your noses up someone else's life to feel better? Cause if so, you should really take another look in the mirror.

We reach the double doors and wait for the servant to come back out to tell us my mother is in a good mood and will see us. Thinking back to Clarice and her smoked dress, I don't know whether to be excited or scared of what my mother will say of her appearance.

My mother and Arthur are sitting on the low couches when the doors open. He's still dressed in his wicked suit, his grey eyes looking me up and down, and then snatches on his sister's arm and smiles. "It's good to let your wounds show." He says repeating Clarice's earlier words. Creepy.

"Oh thank the Gods you two are alive." My mother sighs.

"Have time for a costume change, Prince?" Arthur says as Clarice takes a seat next to him, a small smile on her lips. I suppose that the comparison between my clean clothes and hers should've been a dead giveaway about our scheme.

I sit next to my mother who instantly starts playing with small strands of my hair. "Didn't need to. She pushed me out the door before anything could happen to me."

"And you didn't have time to run out of the room yourself?" He asks his sister.

"Someone was still in the room, and The Dozen was with Darius. He's fine."

"And what of your arm?" My mother asks jumping in on the conversation. I look to Clarice realizing that I hadn't asked her about it this whole time.

"I had to tackle her and ended up landing on a serving tray that may or may not have been enclosed in flames."

"Idiot." Arthur relishes.

"Well next time I'll be sure to ask that she politely smack a vase over her own head, so I don't have to burn my fair skin."

"Swine."

"Prick."

They continue their bickering and I can't help but watch with fascination as they come up with rather interesting names to call each other.

"Promise me you'll never act like this with your sister, Darius."

"Oh but it sounds so fun, mother." She glares at me. Nope, not winning this fight.

"Oh, it's fun. Up until he decides that you walk funny and kicks your legs out from under you." Clarice chimes.

"That was when I was ten!" Arthur exclaims. "And it was absolutely hilarious."

"My skull was cracked open, you jerk."

"Only a little."

"I was in recovery for two. Months."

"Two months in which you faked and got away with I might add."

I'm enjoying this way too much.

"Oh, you son of a bitch you-"

"Last I checked that bitch was our father."

I should take a few pointers from Arthur.

"Why don't you go fuck yourself, Arthur."

"I'd prefer others to take on that specific task."

Me too.

"You're disgusting."

"Disgustingly handsome."

Me too!

"And yet you haven't slept with a woman in eons."

Me t- wait. Ouch.

"Well maybe if I wasn't so busy picking up your shit, then I would have time to enjoy the many pleasantries of life."

"Alright children," Mother yells. "That's enough of that for the rest of my life."

They go quiet but I catch them flipping each other off as my mother's handmaiden whispers something into her ear.

I'd never say such things to my younger sibling - not until they're older and can learn to take it, at least. My mother would kill me if I told a youngling to go fuck themselves. I smile at the thought of the child's face if I did say such a thing. They'd have no clue what it means and most likely end up repeating it to someone else. Gods what I'd do to see the look on the court's face if they heard my brother or sister saying that one night. I'd be beaten by father, but I bet it'll be worth it in the end. Plus, Anevay Siscilla would patch me up in a few hours, and I'll be good as new. Well, physically good as new, mentally I'll still suffer from fear of my father's anger.

Lena disappears back through the door, only to come back a second later, Kat and Thomas trailing her. They bow and curtsy to my mother and thank her for letting them in.

"Do you have news?" The Queen asks.

"Garrison has taken the intruder to the dungeons to be questioned and will report back his findings to you and the Prince, your majesty." Kat answers.

"What of the rooms?"

"Clarice's chamber won't be completely restored until tomorrow night, though I'm happy to say the piano had minimal damage and is still in tune, your majesty."

"And my son's?" She asks Thomas.

"The Captain of the Guard has requested it not be touched so that he may investigate what the thief may have been after, your majesty." Thomas answers in his shy voice he only uses with my parents.

"We should take a look as well," Arthur claims. "We may be able to help find something of use."

"Very well." My mother sighs tapping her fingers on her stomach. "In the meantime, my son and Clarice can stay in the Canary Wing until one of the rooms is restored. I also want one of you there for the questioning of the girl." She says to Clarice and Arthur.

They nod their agreement and Arthur volunteers to head down there now while the rest of us stay here. Clarice looks like she wants to argue, but refrains when he gives her a look.

Clarice and I help my mother into her sitting room and in her chair by the fire, Kat and Thomas trailing us stop to stand at the wall by the door. My mother's sitting room is similar to "Clarice's." There's a piano and a few more instruments my mother loves to play when she can. She's the one who taught me to play the guitar. A table sits at the opposite side of the room, six chairs instead of four at its edge.

"Your brother is quite the magician with those keys." She says gesturing to the piano.

"He played for you?" Clarice asks with sad eyes.

"He plays all the time when we're sitting in here. As well as when I'm in bed and can't fall asleep. Always plays one song more than others, but I never get tired of hearing it."

"Which one?"

Clarice's yearning expression has me wondering what's so important about this song. I want to ask her, but then she'll just ignore it and say it was nothing and change the subject to get my mother talking.

"I can't say the name, but it sounds something like minus-avacado-unk."

"Mi Vos Can Vado Nunc."

"That's the one. Sounds beautiful."

I don't know the song, but from Clarice's hitch in her breath, and the way she's looking at my mother...

She knows the song all too well.

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