Kellan managed to keep his cheerful facade up for as long as he could, trying to hide the fact that he was going to break down soon. He'd been keeping all his grief inside when he was with the others, and it had built and built and built, till the pressure was unbearable. When he couldn't keep up the pretence anymore, he excused himself and rushed to his room.
The guards at his door bowed to him and Kellan pulled up a smile at the last minute.
"You can go, please," he forced out and without waiting for a reply, shut the door and collapsed.
Sobs overtook him, wracking and physically painful. He curled up, forehead pressed to his knees, hands pressed to his face, back pressed to the door.
Father, father, father.
No, no, no, no.
Oh, why did this have to happen? If only Kellan had been there, he could have saved him, he could have taken that poison for himself--
He would give his life now to just see his father one more time.
Kellan cried till he could cry no more, his sobs quietening until he was slumped against the door, drained in every sense of the word. He was almost too tired to drag himself to the bed, and so he stayed there, closing his eyes and trying to block everything out.
When the exhaustion wasn't a good enough excuse for the uncomfortable position, he dragged himself to his feet and cleaned himself up, washing his face and running his hands through his curls till they were back in their perfect, ruffled position. Then he headed to Nico's room. He stopped before the door and raised his hand to knock, then paused when he heard Nico's voice from inside.
At first, it was too quiet to actually make out, but then he suddenly shouted, "Get out of my head!"
Kellan cleared his throat and knocked, and there was abrupt silence. Then Nico said, "Whoever it is, go away."
Kellan smiled to himself and entered anyway. Nico scowled when he saw it was him. "What do you want, Kellan?"
Kellan smiled. "I just wanted to check up on you once," he said pleasantly. "Make sure you have everything you need."
Nico gave him a flat look. "If I didn't, I would've told someone, don't you think?"
Kellan shrugged, closing the door behind him. "I'm just being a good host."
Nico sighed, turning away. "I really don't want to talk right now, Prince Kellan."
"I'm hurt," Kellan said.
"For God's sake, Prince Kellan," Nico exploded, whirling on him. "Just go away, I don't want to talk to you!"
Kellan backed off, hands raised in surrender. "Alright," he said. "I'm sorry. I'll take my leave."
Nico turned away, crossing his arms, and Kellan left the room, taken aback and disappointed. That didn't go well.
He wandered around till he found himself in front his father's chambers, and a lump rose in his throat. He hesitated before the door, then turned away. He had to keep his composure. There were too many memories beyond that door.
Behind him, there were light steps. Kellan put an easy smile on his face and turned to find Asa walking towards him, her long hair tied neatly into a braid.
"Brother," she said. "I wanted to talk to you."
Asa paused, a worried crease between her brows. "I can't help but think that's something's going to happen tonight."
Kellan smiled. "Even if it does," he said, "there'll be hundreds of guards everywhere. Besides, it's not like we're going to lie down and take the beating, right? Don't you worry."
Asa sighed. "I can't help it."
Kellan chuckled softly, pushing a stray bang behind her ear. "I'm here, right? Nothing's going to happen to you on my watch. And I promise I'll find out who poisoned Father and make sure they regret it."
Asa nodded. "Okay."
"In the meantime," Kellan said, "Keep Zara happy, alright?"
Asa hesitated, then said, "What about the crown?"
Kellan laughed. "You're so eager to see me as King, eh? We'll get there."
"There are going to be pretenders," Asa said. "They're going to make claims to the throne. You have to make yours before they can succeed. Especially Dayyaan's descendants."
Kellan wanted to grimace, but he kept smiling. King Miraz, the fifth King of Karam, had had to sons: Dayyaan, and Faizan. While Faizan went on to be King, Dayyaan was considered a traitor to the crown for attempting to kill his father. Ever since then, the line of Dayyaan had been fighting to take back the throne from Faizan's descendants, and they would try to claim the throne now that it was empty.
"I know, sister," Kellan assured. "Don't worry. I'll take care of everything as soon as we're done with the welcome banquet and Father's funeral."
"Okay," Asa said quietly.
Kellan studied her. "Asa, look at me," he said, and she met his eyes. "You know you can grieve, right?"
Asa stared at the floor. "Yeah," she said after a minute. "You should, too."
Kellan smiled. "I'm fine, Asa, really."
She raised an eyebrow. "Then what are you doing here?"
Kellan glanced around and said, "I just wanted to see all of my home again."
Asa gave him an unimpressed look. "I need to tell you something."
Kellan spread his arms around. "I'm all ears."
Asa suddenly looked distinctly uncomfortable. She didn't speak for a while, then finally said, "I think Nico's acting suspicious."
Kellan frowned. "Nico? Isn't he always like that?"
"No," Asa said, frustrated. "It's not that. He's not affected at all by Father's death. I just...have a feeling that something's up with him."
Kellan was silent for a while, then he smiled. "He's probably just being Nico. Don't worry, Asa. Cheer up, alright?"
Grudgingly, she nodded.
"Now I've got to go and get ready for dinner," Kellan said cheerfully. "Who's invited?"
"All the nobles and the families," Asa said.
"Right," Kellan sad. "Excise me, then. I've got to look my best." He winked. "Can't pass up the opportunity to impress all those pretty young daughters, now can I?"
Asa rolled her eyes. "Spare me, Kellan," she said. "See you at the dinner, then." She smiled and walked away.
Kellan watched her go, then took a calming breath and straightened his lapel. His hands needed something to do.
He put in hand in his pocket and closed his hand around the diamonds inside, trying to fight back the despair that was slowly creeping over him.
Fear out. Courage in.
Then he took a deep breath and plastered a convincing smile onto his face, even if there was no one to see it.