“Chi Lucian, are you alright?” Ronin asked.
Had Ronin not heard it? How hadn’t he? It was so clear.
“Sorry, I just thought I heard something.” I braced my head.
Maybe my headache was worse than I thought.
“Did it sound like rats? Just say the word and I’ll report rats in this area of the Fortress.” Ronin offered.
“No. I think I’m just tired or something,” I assured him.
“Chi Lucian, do you need to go back to your room. I can escort you there if you need to.”
“No, I’ll be fine. Let’s just go see Brinley and Per Andromeda.” I reassured him.
Once again, at the mention of his sweetheart, he agreed to go with me. Once again we were off down the hallways and towards the gardens where Brinley and Per Andromeda were surely to be. Ronin and I walked in silence as I thought of what happened at the breakfast table today. It’s kind of sad that my future in-laws had a better view of me than my father did. What was up with that?
As we exited the castle my mood lit up. It was such a beautiful day outside. The birds were singing their songs and Brinley was painting a windmill on top of the hill next door. Per Andromeda’s painting was a little more morbid. She painted a single white flower on a canvas of black paint. Both of their paintings looked beautiful though. I sat behind Brinley and engulfed her in a hug. From sitting out in the garden for so long she began to smell like my mother’s Roses. It suddenly brought back into a memory from my youth and a beautiful young Sor with a small heir sitting on her lap when he should have been sitting on his own throne.
“Luci! What are you doing here?” She exclaimed in delight.
Brinley’s excited voice broke me from the past and catapulted me into now.
“Oh, you know. I got bored of aristocrats.”
“You never like Aristocrats.” She pointed it out.
“Fair point, love.” I continued to hug her back.
“Are you going to let go?” She asked expectantly.
“No. I had a rough morning.”
“Oh, what happened.”
“Oh, just the usual. My father said to me that he was surprised a girl like you wouldn’t flat out refuse to marry me and that I should have been an Aus instead of a Chi because I like to write instead of waging war.”
“That’s awful,” Brinley gasped.
“You know, that’s exactly what your parents said.”
Brinley pursed her lips and then turned around and kissed me. That was certainly a good way to brighten my mood. I braced her head with my hand and leaned into her.
“I’m supposed to be your chaperone so stop!” Ronin called out to the two of us.
I pulled away and rolled my eyes at Ronin. I then pulled her in for another chaste kiss.
“Chi Luci, what did I tell you!” Ronin feigned disappointment.
“I don’t know what to tell you, Ronnie. She is hard to stay away from.” I brushed a strand of hair away from her face.
Our sweethearts looked at one another and laughed at the two of us.
“What are you laughing at Aus Brinley! You are the one who made up the nickname.” Cons Ronin defended himself.
“I don’t know Ronin, it’s a little odd to see a grown man call another grown man ‘Lucy’,” Brinley responded and Cons Ronin rolled his eyes.
“He’s practically my brother,” I responded to Brinley.
“Oh is that what he is?” Brinley questioned and Cons Ronin chuckled.
Cons Ronin walked over to me and wrapped an arm around my shoulders, “I think they are onto us, Chi.”
“You darn meddling children.” I scolded Per Andromeda and Brinley.
“Well, love, that’s what we are here for,” Andromeda answered in her odd accent.
No one actually knows where Per Andromeda came from. All we know is that she is 21, a noblewoman, and Brinley trusts Andromeda with her life. I don’t even think Ronin knows much more about her past than that.
Everything is wrong.
The voice was electrifying. I jumped and sat up straighter. My breathing got shallow and I looked for what could be happening to me. We were out in the open and so there was no place to hide. I stared at the flowers in the garden. Without any warning, I got up and started walking around. I picked the brightest of flowers. Brinley sat up from her easel and followed me through the garden.
“Lucy, what’s going on?” She reached for my shoulder.
I continued going through the flowers and stopped before my mother’s majestic Roses. They were so fragrant on this warm day that it took all I had not to break down in tears. I missed her so much.
“Luc?” Brinley got more panicked.
“What’s wrong?” I asked her.
Brinley looked relieved, “I could ask you the same thing, love.”
“Sorry, I just needed some time in my head. That’s all.” I promised.
“Are you feeling alright? You look pale.”
“I haven’t been out in the sun recently. I’m fine.”
“Are you sure? You have bags under your eyes.”
“I’m just a little tired, love,” I reassured her again.
Brinley looked down and nodded. I picked up a pair of gardening shears and clipped off a White Rose. I held it in my hands with all the rest of the flowers and continued to walk. I held it carefully. We walked down the rows and rows of flowers. Finally, when I couldn’t hold any more flowers I sat down in the middle of the rows and began braiding my flowers. Brinley laid her hand over mine which drew my eyes away from the flowers and up into hers.
“Luc, are you sure you are feeling okay? You just seem off today.” she continued her worries.
I didn’t respond to her, I just kept folding the flowers into a crown. I played as an all-consuming task. I pretended not to notice when Brinley frowned and quickly replaced it with a shiny smile.
“What are you making Lucy?” she asked me as I pulled more and more flowers into my braid.
“A crown,” I muttered.
“But why?” Brinley pressed once again.
I forced a fake smile and placed the unfinished crown on her head.
“For my Sor of course,” I responded and Brinley sighed in relief.
“Why thank you but we don’t rule yet.” She returned the crown to my lap.
“We could,” I offered as I returned to my crown.
“Lucian,” She scolded.
“What?” I asked bewildered.
“Do not wish ill on your father. I know he’s hard on you but I’m sure you will miss him when he dies.”
I sank in on myself. I discarded the crown in my lap. Brinley was right, of course, but I couldn’t help myself. I’ve always felt small in the shadow of my father’s expectations. He expected so much more than me and I really try to not let it get to me but it’s hard. It’s really hard for me to ignore it. Brinley wrapped an arm around my shoulders and I sank into her embrace.
“When we rule things will be different,” I said it to Brinley but in reality, it was a promise to myself.
She rubbed my back softly, “Of course they will, Lucy. We are different from your father. We have each other and that’s more than your dad has now.”
I nodded and hugged her closer to me.
“Listen to me Lucian, we just have to hold out for a couple more years and we will be ruling. Besides, things will get better after we get married.”
I knew she was trying to assure me that everything will turn out alright, but I can’t shake this pit deep in my stomach. I knew she was right though. Things will be different soon.
“Chi Lucian! Aus Brinley! Where did you two run off to?” Cons Ronin called from where the easels were set up.
“We, um,” Brinley wracked her mind for an excuse, “We needed to see the flowers!”
I dropped the flower crown on Brinley’s head and we got up to go back to Ronin. We really shouldn’t be sneaking away like this. We are pushing Ronin’s patience with us. He is supposed to be our chaperone right now which means he has to keep an eye on us at all times. We started walking out of the rows of colorful flowers and towards Ronin’s slightly agitated voice calling for us.
We emerged from the flowers and Ronin scowled. He had every right to be mad. If we got caught alone Ronin would probably lose his job. I don’t even know what would happen to us. I couldn’t be good but surely not as bad as Ronin losing his job.
As I was thinking about what would happen if Ronin would lose his job I realized he had a lot at stake. For one he would lose his life here. For two his family would lose their only sense of good income. Thirdly if he was forced to move back home and reduced to a peasant he would lose his engagement to Per Andromeda. Per Andromeda was a noblewoman and if marrying a Cons is pushing it then there was not a chance in heaven or hell that she could get married to a village man.
“Listen to me you Idis, if you pull anything like that again we could all be in deep trouble.” Ronin scolded us once again.
“Cons Ronin Silas, might I once again remind you of your position in this family. Do not speak to me or Lucian like that again,” Brinley responded in her authoritative voice.
Cons Ronin’s eyes got wide as he realized what he had said to the two of us.
“Your highness, my lady, I deeply apologize for the profanities I have spoken against you.” Ronin hung his head in reverence.
It was weird seeing this but I need to get used to it. Ronin made a mistake, if he wasn’t so important to me it would be his last. Brinley was just doing her job. I need to follow her example more. There was nothing I could bring myself to add to Brinley’s warning so I nodded. Ronin stayed hunched over and I shot a look at Brinley she nodded.
“Rise Cons, you have been forgiven,” I assured him.
Per Andromeda walked over to us, “What are you two doing? Leave my future husband alone. He is practically royalty already.”
“He is not royalty until you two get married, and so I must treat him as such,” Brinley responded a little shakily.
“No, you must not. Brin, this is the love of my life. Do not have him bent over like some peasant.” Per Andromeda requested.
“Andromeda, you know I cannot treat him any differently than the rest of my subjects. He said a disrespectful word to me and my Fiance. I could not leave it unaddressed.” Brinley explained.
“Well, what does Lucian think?” Per Andromeda asked.
“Andromeda, Lucian holds more power than you do. You must address him in honor.” Brinley explained lightly.
I have more power than Andromeda? I never knew that. I guess I need to pay more attention to the hierarchy.
“You hold more power than me but I don’t have to address you,” Andromeda protests.
“We are companions. It is more personal than the hierarchy.”
“Right.” Andromeda accepted defeat.
Ronin looked over at his Fiancee and silently thanked her for sticking up for him. All this reminded me though. In a few weeks, Ronin will be marrying Andromeda which means he will be a nobleman. Since he will be a nobleman he will no longer be a Cons. That means I’ll have to get a new one. I don’t necessarily want to get a new Cons. I have been with Ronin for over a decade and now I don’t even think of him like a Cons anymore. We have a relationship closer to Andromeda and Brinley’s. We are each other’s companion, not servant and master.
After our debacle, we sank into a silence that seemed to fill the void of what just happened. I had to break the silence because I needed to know what would happen to the two of us when Ronin gets married. I couldn’t let us just drift apart like the last 11 years didn’t even happen. That cannot be how my friendship ended.
“Ronin?” I asked quietly.
Brinley looked up from the grass she was messing with and Andromeda looked up from the finger painting she was doing on Brinley’s leg. Ronin didn’t respond. I looked up at Ronin. He was staring at the painting Brinley did of the windmill.
“Ronin?” I asked more loudly.
My voice shook Ronin from his trance and he looked back at me. He didn’t have his signature smile planted on his face, and I knew he was hurt. He waited intently for me to say something, but I couldn’t because he looked so sad.
“Ronin, are we going to be friends when you aren’t hired to be mine?” I asked him gently.
Andromeda’s eyes turned from the swirls of paint on Brinley and her face was sad and distant. It was like she was far away from here.
“Chi Lucian, what do you mean?”
“I mean when you are a nobleman. When you marry into Andromeda’s money you won’t need to work for me anymore.” I explained.
Ronin fell silent and Andromeda listened intently for what he might say.
“Chi Lucian being your friend is not my job.”
Andromeda bit her lip like she wanted to speak out about something but she kept quiet.
“Okay, sorry. I just wanted to know.” I pulled my knees up to my chest.
“Wait, my job is to teach you, to clothe you, to keep you fed and looking like a Chi is supposed to. Nowhere in my job description does it say I have to be your friend. I chose to.” Ronin explained.
I gave a half-smile at him but it still doesn’t fix the problem I’m facing. I’ll have to hire a new Cons and it won’t be Ronin. What’s the point in having someone with you at all hours of the day if it isn’t your best friend?
“Aus Brinley?” Ronin started.
“What is it Cons Ronin Silas?” She responded.
“What is a Per?” He asked her.
Brinley looked a little surprised and a bit flustered by the question but she responded “a Per is like a companion to the Aus.”
“Well then, what is the male equivalent?” He continued to push.
Is Ronin trying to become my companion? That would be great! It would further integrate his importance to the royal family and it’s a less looked down upon role. In fact, he will be treated as well as me. He can sit at the large table in the dining room and the nicer tables with his Fiancee at dinner. His life would be infinitely better than it is right now.
“I guess the closest thing to a male Per is a Fel.” Brinley started smiling as she caught onto Ronin’s plan
“How hard would it be to become one?” Ronin had a large smile on his face right about now.
“All you have to do is be invited, oh, and a nobleman,” Brinley added.
“Great!” Ronin smiled.
“We’ll finally be equals,” I smiled at Ronin.
“Well, kind of. It’s close enough. Congratulations, future nobleman Ronin Silas. And congrats to the future Per Andromeda Silas.” Brinley tipped her sun hat to the two of them.
“Chi Lucian Kreed! Aus Brinley Idris! Ene Edmond Kreed, Ene Kane Idris, and Sor Larkin Ai-Idris are requesting your presence in Ene Kreed’s study.” A voice shouted out.
Brinley and I popped up from our place in the garden and saw Cons Aya. Aya had been in the Fortress for longer than I had. She had been my mother’s Cons since she was a young girl and even when she died she stayed in the Fortress. Even though her title is still Cons she isn’t really anyone’s Cons. In fact, she is more like a Cour who delivers messages.
“Chi Lucian! Aus Brinley! What are you doing out here? Are you all alone?! Get inside!” She scolded us.
That could have been worse. If it was a Cons closer to my father we would have been grilled for sure.
“Yes Cons Aya,” Brinley scurried inside.
Even though Brinley and I are technically adults we will not get treated like ones until we are rulers which means all the Cons have the right to scold us for these sorts of things.
“Aya we weren’t out there alone,” I explained.
“Oh yeah? Who else was out there, a dev?” She scorned us.
“Our Chaperone was there.” I pointed out.
“Oh, and my Per,” Brinley helped out our case.
Cons Aya rolled her eyes and led us up into my father’s study. I hadn’t been in here often. It was mostly just filled with old books and dust. There wasn’t anything interesting to see except a few statues in the room. It was in my father’s tower, one of the most secretive parts of the Fortress.
The Fortress Fyn was built with five towers. The Idris’ tower was across from mine, on the west side of the Fortress. In front of my tower is the male Cons’ sleeping quarters. Across from the Idris’ tower is the female Cons’ sleeping quarters. Right in the middle of the fortress is a large tower that belonged solely to the Ene of Fyn.
This was probably only my 10th time in my entire life that I have ventured up into the study. The tower was dusty because my father only allows Conses up there twice a year to clean it. Once again, my father is a very secretive man. As Brinley and I walked up the stairs Cons Aya waited at the bottom.
When we were out of Aya’s sight, Brinley reached out and grabbed my hands. I froze because if her parents decided to come to escort us up we would be in trouble.
“Come on Lucy, live a little.” She pleaded with me.
“Alright love, for you,” I assured her.
We walked up father into the tower. My father’s study was on the highest floor in this tower and so we were walking up the stairs for quite a while.
“Lucian, I have to tell you something.” Brinley stopped.
“Are you sure you should be telling me here? We best not keep my father waiting on us or else we will both be in trouble.”
“This is the first time we are truly alone together and I don’t want to say this for the first time with a crowd of people watching me.” Brinley looked down at her shoes.
“You can tell me whatever you need to be said.” I encouraged her.
“Lucian, I love you.” She cupped my cheek in her hands.
Her words surprised me. I knew we would fall in love eventually but I didn’t expect it to be so soon. We were still so young and I wasn’t sure if Brinley were capable of love like that. I knew I was. I had been in love with Brinley for years.
“Oh Brin, are you sure?” I begged her.
She nodded her head as she smiled up at me.
“How do you know you love me? What makes you feel this way for me?” I pressed her more.
Brinley shifted on her feet slightly as she gathered her thoughts, “How could I not? You are everything I wanted to find in my life. Everything you do for me is so caring and thought out. You make me feel like the only girl in the world when you look at me. So I ask you, how could I not?” She repeated.
Brinley rubbed my cheek with the thumb of her hand.
“Tell me, Lucian, do you feel the same?” She asked me.
Her voice was so intoxicating I fell under her spell and I looked at her for what felt like forever. She continued to stare into my eyes and I was so enthralled by my Fiancee I forgot where I was in the world. I forgot who I was and why I was here. It was such a lovely moment that I never wanted it to end.
“Of course I do love.” I breathed.
In a minute we would walk up the stairs and into my father’s study. In a minute we would sit down in front of our parents and listen to whatever they have to tell us. We would pretend we were listening when our minds would keep wandering back to this moment where we finally came clean with one another. That moment would make up our thoughts for weeks and weeks to pass until another, more special memory came to replace it. All of this would happen in the next minute but until then all I wanted to do was stay here.
Brinley smiled warmly as we looked at one another. She was beaming. Everything about her seemed light and airy. Nothing could ruin this moment. We pulled away from each other’s embrace and we walked up the stairs like had nothing happened. Except for one thing, we were still hand in hand as a small act of playful rebellion against our parents.
They could control us, they could control our engagement and they could control our marriage but they will not control our love for one another. That’s something we will be able to hold and give away when the time calls for it.
As the stairs ended and we saw a large mahogany door I inhaled sharply. I hadn’t been here since we moved all my mother’s stuff out of the study. That day our family broke. My mother was truly gone and moved out of my mother’s life and I moved into my tower on the East Wing of the Fortress. My father and I began drifting away from one another and slowly but surely we forgot each other.
I grew up and my father grew older and we changed and shifted with the changing times. Everything was different from him and it was never changing back to the way it was once again.
Brinley pushed open the big mahogany door and we walked into the musty study. Brinley’s parents were sitting in the extra chairs in the room so Brinley and I settled ourselves onto the hard wooden bench in front of my father’s magnificent desk. The room hadn’t changed much since I had gone up here to move my mother’s things. There were sheets pulled over some bookshelves but other than that it looked fairly the same.
My father looked so majestic sitting in his giant chair in front of the large dark desk that had been there for longer than I could remember. Somehow he managed to make his black-streaked grey hair and tough wrinkled olive skin look so regal I felt so ashamed of how young I was. My father and I looked almost exactly alike. There were only two differences between the two of us. His age compared to mine and that his eyes were so dark there was almost no difference between the pupil and the iris. Only when the light from the fire catches his eyes like it was doing now, could you see the brown in his irises. My eyes were lighter than his but still brown nonetheless.
“Lucian, Aus Idris, do you know why I have called you here?” My father spoke.
My father’s voice was also a lot deeper and more official-sounding.
“No, my Ene,” Brinley bowed her head.
“No, father,” I echoed her.
My father pursed his lips and then collected his thoughts. I quickly shot a questioning look over to Brinley and she returned one of her own. My eyes journeyed around the room before falling on Ene Kane. His lips formed a tight line and Sor Larkin looks equally worried. Something has gone wrong with the alliance. That must be what it is. We’d been so careful, what had happened?
“Kids, um, you know your engagement?” My father started.
“Of course, Ene Edmond, we’ve been engaged for a year already,” Brinley responded quickly.
“A year and 5 months dear,” Sor Larkin corrected her.
Brinley thanked her mother and all attention returned to my father. He seemed troubled but I couldn’t tell whether it was over my engagement or not.
“Do you know it is customary for a royal couple to be engaged for two years before getting married?”
Why is he asking us all these questions? We went over all this stuff when we first got engaged almost a year and a half ago.
“Of course, we were paying attention when all this was explained to us,” Brinley assured my father.
It seems so long ago that our parents sat us down in the dining room and we discussed the terms of our engagement. I remember thinking that the way they presented it made it sound like a business proposal that they had to sell to us. I guess in a way it was. Brinley and I were never expected to fall in love with one another. In fact, I think our parents were lucky that we even like one another as a person. Our whole marriage is based on a business proposal. Even when I proposed to her it was orchestrated. It was in front of our entire Shire so everyone saw it. I didn’t even write what I said. One day I’m going to propose to her again but for real this time. She doesn’t deserve such an awful proposal.
“I’m afraid you aren’t going to meet the two-year requirement,” My father answered slowly.
“Come again?” Brinley asked.
“What are you saying, Father?”
Father answered me first, “We need to solidify this alliance as soon as possible.”
“Why, what’s going on?” Brinley questioned once more.
Brinley was getting agitated now. She was fidgeting with her fingers and her eyes were shifting back and forth between her parents and my father. I wanted to wrap my arms around her but that wasn’t appropriate right now.
“It’s the villages.” My father answered.
“Ene Edmond, what’s going on with the villages?” Brinley’s voice started getting shaky and louder.
“Keep it together, love,” I whispered.
My father facepalmed, “I’m sorry Aus Brinley, I keep forgetting that you aren’t from around here. The Villages are revolting.”
“Revolting? How are they doing that?” Brinley’s voice was blanketed with a false calm due to me pointing out her rising panic.
“That’s not important for you to know, dear,” Ene Kane informed his daughter.
Sor Larkin walked up and rubbed her daughter’s back, “What you do need to know is that you and Lucian are getting married in 3 weeks.”