Jeriah opened his eyes and sat up quickly. He felt disoriented and confused as he looked around at first, but then he remembered he was at the Monarchs home. The nightmare of hiding away in the mountains forever was over, but he woke up to a new nightmare now.
Kiyah was still gone.
As he looked around the room he saw Zhai asleep in a chair, Emersyn and Verity asleep in a bed across from the bed he was in, and then he glanced over and saw Jakob’s back facing him. Ah, Jakob was here?
“We’re settling things with the Royals tomorrow, but I think I’m going to be okay.”
Jeriah remembered Jakob telling him that last night, but he wouldn’t elaborate on what that meant. He was worried that he might get hurt, but he had a feeling the Monarchs and Royals didn’t want anymore death or pain.
“You’re up?” Jakob’s groggy voice interrupted Jeriah’s thoughts and he looked over at his brother. “Mmmm...what time is it?”
“Not sure,” Jeriah admitted. “The sun’s up, though. I’m sure breakfast is prepared by now. I know Apinya is usually on top of meal times.”
“Not as much as she used to be,” Jakob chuckled a little and sat up. “We used to have humans who would help us run our kitchen, but these days we...don't have that."
“People always come to serve the Monarchs,” Jeriah said as he pinched Jakob’s cheek. “Your charisma makes people want to follow you and take care of you. I'm sure they'll come when they can.”
“Not always,” Jakob leaned away from Jeriah’s pinching fingers. “The humans surrendered us to Ari, remember? Our charisma isn’t always enough to save us.”
“Well, hopefully from now on that won’t be an issue,” Jeriah said softly. “I want you to live quiet lives.”
“I don’t think that could happen for guardians. Quiet lives? I just...I think that’s impossible,” Jakob said. “The humans surrendered us, and then I lost control of myself when I wanted to protect you. I just...I hope I don’t let down the other Monarchs ever again. I feel like...I can never match up to who they are.”
“Why would you say that?” Jeriah frowned. “You’re confident and strong. You made one mistake, Jakob. You’ll be forgiven and it’ll be in the past soon.”
Jakob nodded a little and then looked at Jeriah. “I just don’t feel like I can keep up with the other Monarchs sometimes. I don’t...feel like I deserve the title,” he said as he glanced down and began picking at his nails. “I just have a lot to learn, you know?”
“Jakob,” Jeriah said seriously. “Are you joking? You’re younger than the others, so give yourself some time. You’re still more incredible than most people in the world. You are a guardian.”
“So are you,” Jakob said as he took his hand and gave it a little squeeze. “Don’t be hard on yourself, either.” Then he smiled a little and got off the bed and began walking to the doorway. “Take your time getting ready for breakfast. I want to talk with Minhee.”
“Alright,” Jeriah nodded a little as he watched him go. He wanted to comfort Jakob, but he wasn’t sure he was able to in his current emotional state. They were both going through things, and Jeriah didn’t even know the half of what Jakob had endured after waking from that cursed sleep.
He just hoped, moving forward, the two of them could heal and become close brothers again. They had lost vast amounts of time together, and it was time to make up for that.
Well, soon. Once this was all said and done.
Jakob found Minhee and the rest of the Monarchs in the dining hall with a variety of the Royals. Jakob felt awkward being around the Royals so he kept his gaze low until he approached Minhee and then he sat down next to him. He wasn’t really sure what he wanted to talk to him about, but Minhee was always good at comforting him. Maybe he just wanted to be comforted.
Minhee saw his expression and tilted his head. “Are you okay?” he whispered.
Jakob just shrugged, and then Darya spoke up from across the table, “You look a little stressed there, buddy. Are you okay?” she asked. She had a smile on her face, she was obviously trying to be friendly, but it just succeeded in making Jakob feel weird, honestly. He knew Darya was being genuine, but he just felt like...most of the Royals looked at him with uncertainty. Why was Darya so nice? Wasn’t she angry at him, too?
“I’m...I’m fine,” Jakob shrugged.
“Oh,” Darya nodded. “Good, then. Are you prepared for tonight?”
Jakob glanced at Minhee, then back at Darya. “As prepared as I can be,” he said. “Do you feel satisfied with this outcome?”
“Very,” Darya nodded. “I didn’t want anything too crazy to happen again, you know? Oriana is alive and she’s doing well, so I didn’t think you should have to suffer too much. I know you’ve been through a lot. I’m sure what happened that day was just...a big mistake.”
“Thank you,” Jakob said with a small nod. “I didn’t think any of you would think I was innocent.”
“I don’t think you’re innocent,” Darya chuckled and popped a piece of bread into her mouth. “Because you’re not. Everyone saw what you did. I just think the level of justice being aimed at you doesn’t need to be fatal. That’s all.”
Jakob nodded quietly. Darya was right, he wasn’t innocent. He was never going to be innocent of the crime he committed against Oriana, but he had to hope he could at least mend some of what he had damaged.
“Thanks,” Jakob stood up and walked to the door. He didn’t want to sit here anymore. He just felt too weird. He wondered if he’d ever feel comfortable around the Royals after what he’d done?
He suddenly stopped as he nearly ran into Elidi as he was walking out. He met her gaze for a moment before glancing aside. Elidi had a very strong gaze, it was intimidating. Jakob wasn’t really one to be easily intimidated, but this was the woman who he had almost killed. If not for Oriana, would he have killed her? He wondered.
“Ah, be careful,” Elidi said as she stepped aside.
Jakob gave a small bow and then kept walking. He wasn’t sure why he was still feeling so uncomfortable. He felt like his skin was crawling with every interaction. It made him sad, because he used to like having talks with Minda and Tallis, but now he knew they didn’t trust him. He’d seen it in their eyes enough times.
Then he felt a hand touch his shoulder and he turned around to see Minhee there. He saw the concern in his eyes and then he pulled him in for a hug. “It’s okay,” he said. “We’re gonna fix all of this. You know that, right?”
“I don’t think we can fix the fact that they don’t trust me,” Jakob muttered against Minhee’s shoulder. “Trust is hard to repair-”
“But it will be repaired with time,” Minhee said as he leaned back and looked at Jakob. “Why don’t you just rest today? Tonight is going to be the oath ceremony, and until then you should just relax. You’re so stressed, Jakob.”
“I know,” Jakob nodded a little. “I’m sorry. I just don’t know...I feel strange. I feel so sorry.”
Minhee shook his head. “You have a good heart, Jakob. That’s why you’re feeling all confused and mixed up inside,” he said. “It wasn’t entirely you that did this. It was that inner nature that you can’t deny. Elidi and Oriana forgive you, and that’s the most important thing, right? Just hold onto that.”
“I guess you’re right,” Jakob said with a small nod. “Time heals all things, right?”
“So they say,” Minhee said with a smile. “Go on. Just take the day for yourself.”
Jakob wasn’t sure he wanted to be alone, but he would wander until he found somewhere to relax comfortably. It was hard with the Royals all over their castle. He tried the library, but Laguna and Tallis were in there, and then he went outside to sit in the garden, but a good handful of Royals were outside in the sunlight.
Jakob eventually found himself in the armory. He sat next to a window and opened a book on oaths he had taken from the library before escaping Tallis and Laguna’s stares. He skimmed through the pages as he tried to understand what being bound to an oath would mean. Of course he would do it, because this was the Royals’ condition to continue the alliance between them, but he wanted to know what he was getting into.
“An oath is a way to bind two wills to one,” Jakob read softly to himself. “The oath spell has to have a goal, whether the goal has a time limit or not is up to the caster.”
“Are you worried? Is that why you’re catching up on your reading?”
Jakob jumped and looked over his shoulder to see Runi standing there. He was looking at an ancient shield that had once been held by the Monarchs. It had been recovered from the rubble and was the least damaged piece in the whole armory, so they had decided to display it as a memory of times long past. Runi seemed fascinated with it, but Jakob just wondered why he had to creep in like that. He always seemed to know where to be.
Jakob sighed and closed the book, looking out the window. “I just wanted to know what I was getting into. I thought it would calm my nerves,” he said. “Is that alright with you?”
“Of course,” Runi said as he finally walked over to him. “I don’t care what you do. But I don’t think you have to worry that much. It’s just going to be a spell, we’re not going to ask for your blood.”
Jakob glanced up at Runi. “That’s good. I think enough blood has been spilled in my lifetime,” he said. “I suppose soon we’ll be bound by an oath. Does that mean you’ll know my thoughts all the time?”
“Oh, I won’t be participating. Only a few of the Royals decided they needed to commit an oath to the Monarchs in order to feel safe in continuing our alliance. I didn’t feel it was necessary for me,” Runi said with a casual shrug. “But I sensed some distressed energy, so I followed it and found you here. I’ll always be capable of doing that.”
Jakob blinked and then tilted his head. “Only some of you want to speak the oath? Who?”
“Oh, you know, like Cetas, Oriana, Tallis, Darya, and...hmm, Royse, I think? I can’t remember, honestly. About half want to do it, and the other half don’t,” Runi said as he put a hand to his chest. “Myself included. I think that just sounds messy.”
“Then why do it at all?” Jakob asked.
“It’ll comfort the ones who want it done,” Runi said. “It’s what Cetas decided on, and everyone else agreed on. Even those who aren’t participating agreed that it would be fine to do. And Dari agreed on your side, and I’m assuming the rest of you decided it was better than...I don’t know, some grizzly alternative where we throw you in jail for a certain amount of time to punish you for your crime.”
Jakob pursed his lips. “But those are human rules. We aren’t humans. We settle things differently.”
Runi raised an eyebrow. “Are you telling me that you would refuse to serve a jail sentence because you’re a guardian? You think you’re above the law? You did almost kill Oriana,” he said. “We’re humans. Fate Gifted humans, but humans all the same. So, I’d say we like to go by human rules. You might be an ancient guardian that has never had to follow human rules, but that’s just not how it is for us.”
Jakob stood up and set the book on the chair. “I’m not saying that, but we are different,” he said. “It’s not like you could drag me into a human city and demand I be tried and arrested for hurting Oriana. Humans do not like the affairs of guardians, and it would have only made you a target. You might be humans, but you’re exiles, too.”
Runi smirked and raised an eyebrow. “Wow, why did that hit a nerve for you? You actually seem a little mad,” he said. “I guess it’s fair that you resent humans and their rejection of your kind, but I wasn’t expecting to see it like this.”
Jakob sighed and then picked up the book and walked to the door. “I’ll see you tonight. I want to find somewhere peaceful, if that’s possible,” he muttered.
“Good luck with that,” Runi said in his usual casual way.
He really knew how to get under peoples skin, but he seemed to enjoy being that way. Jakob just wanted to be able to think for a little while and read up on oaths. Maybe he would just lock himself back in his room until it was time. He didn’t want anymore interactions until the night finally came.