Arkan half-wanted Kellan to take back his title.
Unfortunately, being the Duke of Valika Nyasi also meant that he had attend extremely long and tedious meetings with commanders or advisors or courtiers or people who Arlan couldn’t pretend to know the name of. And more often than not, there were a few of them who really liked the sounds of their own voices.
As two of the men started arguing—again—over something inconsequential, Arkan hid a yawn behind his arm and sneaked a glance at Kellan. His brother was leaning forwards in his chair at the head of the table, arms crossed as he intently listened to the argument. Arkan could not fathom how he was so interested in something so boring.
He sighed as one of the men started to shout, trying to look even half aware of what was actually going on.
“What you’re saying is going to disrupt the trade!” the man said. “You have to factor in the—”
“Alright, enough,” Kellan said sharply, silencing them both. “We can work this out like adults.”
Beside Arkan, a lord snorted quietly, just enough for him to hear. Arkan shot him a glare. He knew what the man was thinking—what everyone was thinking privately: Our King is no adult.
If Kellan noticed, he didn’t show. “Both of your points are valid,” he said calmly, in a way that had both the men deflating; “yes, the mountain route should be cut off for security—but yes, it will disrupt trade. But remember, now that we have my brother as the duke—” Kellan gestured to Arkan, who hastily tried to look more involved— “security will be increased, and all problems can be handled better.”
A few of the courtiers nodded, but then one said, “Have you made him duke because of merit or just because he wants some more power?”
Kellan’s eyes turned flinty enough for Arkan to flinch. He raised his eyebrows and said very coldly, “Are you suggesting I’m indulging in favouritism, Lord Ahmed?”
“I merely asked you a question, sire.”
Kellan didn’t budge. “I believe you just insulted both your Prince and your King.”
Arkan cleared his throat awkwardly. “It’s okay, Kellan.”
Kellan’s expression softened by a degree. “Very well. But I have you know, Lord Ahmed, that my brother is more than able to handle the city’s problems, if not the entire country as well. I will have you watch you watch your tongue in the future.”
Haughtily, Ahmed said, “As you wish, sire.”
Arkan grimaced as he watched Kellan go back to business. There was something about him—something that felt distinctively not Kellan. But he kept quiet during the rest of the meeting, wondering what felt so wrong. It wasn’t anything physical—Kellan was pale, but considering all his injuries and illnesses in the last few days, that was to be expected. There were seldom anything else: he looked perfectly himself, no sign of any strain or otherness.
He snapped back to reality as Kellan said, “Alright. Meeting dismissed. Thank you, everyone. You can go now.”
As everyone filed out, Kellan remained seated, so Arkan lingered. When the room was empty of anyone else, Kellan pressed a hand over his eyes and said, “Something wrong, Arkan?”
It sounded a bit rude, and Kellan must have noticed, because he hastily said, “I don’t mean it that way. I just meant—is there anything you want to talk to me about?”
“I just...” Arkan wondered how go about it. “I just wanted to make sure you’re okay.”
For a minute, Kellan looked at him oddly, but then said with a smile, “Oh, yes. I’m good, Arkan. Things are good.”
“Yeah,” Arkan said. “Araysh’s death was a welcome surprise.”
Besides smiling half-heartedly, Kellan gave no reply. He lifted the crown from his head and studied it between his fingers. There was such a strange, lonely expression on his face that Arkan had to swallow and look away.
“How’s it treating you?” H asked. “Being King?”
Kellan closed his eyes and tipped his head back, taking a deep breath. His hands clenched around his crown as he abruptly stood, body tense and breathing deliberately deep. He forcefully shoved the crown back onto his head and turned to Arkan with a smile that looked painful. “It’s treating me just fine,” he said, and then strode from the room.
Arkan watched after him for a while, then sighed quietly. He wanted to help Kellan, but it was more complicated than that. Did he even understand what Kellan was going through? Would Kellan even let him try to understand? Arkan doubted it.
Arkan looked up as his mother entered the room, clearly looking for him. Something twisted in him as he remembered his conversation with Asa, but he forced a smile as he greeted his mother.
She didn’t return it--just said flatly, “You’ve been avoiding me.”
Arkan blinked. “I-- No,” he said, confused. “I haven’t been avoiding you. Why would I?”
She had that look in her eye that made Arkan want to cower. “You tell me.”
“Mother,” Arkan said, placating, “I don’t know why you think I’ve been avoiding you.”
“Do you think,” she said, “that I don’t know when my own son is lying to me?”
Arkan closed his eyes briefly. “Please don’t be angry, Mother. I...I promise I haven’t been avoiding you. I’ve just been so busy--”
“With all your Duke responsibilities?” Her tone was hard, and Arkan watched her warily, wondering what he had said wrong.
“Yes, Mother,” he said slowly. “I’ve had to attend meetings---”
“I thought we were in this together, Arkan!” Alina said in a sudden outburst. “Now you’re going being Duke and becoming best buddies with that stupid boy and leaving me all alone.”
Baffled, Arkan protested, “I--I don’t understand why you think I’m leaving you--”
“You never listen,” she said helplessly. “What am I supposed to do? Who do I have besides you? Why are you always hurting me?”
Arkan swallowed, his chest tight. “I’m sorry, Mother--”
“No, you aren’t,” she said loudly. “You never are. Not even when you drove your father out--”
Arkan flinched. “It wasn’t my fault,” he said desperately, praying it was not what he had heard.
“Now you’re blaming me again,” Alina said, hurt. “Do you think it was my fault?”
Arkan was left speechless. “What?” he said, astonished. “No--”
She shook her head and he fell abruptly fell silent, his gut twisting.
“No, Arkan. If you want me to be your mother,” she said, “you will do what I say.”
“I don’t want to see you with Kellan again,” she warned. “You wouldn’t want to hurt me, would you?”
Her eyes hardened again. “Are you still daring to disobey me?”
Arkan felt like a broken record, but all he could say was, ”Mother.”
She shook her head again and looked away, as if she couldn’t bring herself to look at him. “If this is the way you want it,” she said quietly, “then so be it.”
Before Arkan could say anything, she turned and stalked away. Arkan was left gaping, unsure what had happened.
He buried his face in his hands and thought, What have I done?