Circlet War

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"He's still trying," I mumble, watching my younger brother's progress from my window.

"Well, I hope Beau is nice to him," Alys mutters.

"Beau isn't there," I tell her. "He's left. Audric is with... a girl? Oh, wait, the Prince is there, too! And... Beau is coming."

I watch Beau walk down the moat. He looks dashing in his armour, his hair very disheveled and his striking eyes holding a lazy, mischievous light.

Of course, I can't see all that from here, but that's how he usually looks like.

"Beau is such an Adonis," I say, dreamily. "Don't you think so, Alys? He's even better than the Prince."

I eye Alys and instantly feel envious. I know Beau likes her. I don't blame him. She's the definition of beauty with her silky, dark hair cascading down her shoulders in waves, her topaz eyes, her buttermilk skin, her succulent lips... everything. She looks like a queen, just sitting on the bed with a book on her lap the maids lent her.

"I don't think so," Alys replies, without looking up. "What the hell is an Adonis?"

"Ugh," I groan. "I mean he's attractive!"

Alys snorts. "Well, of course he's attractive," she says. "If the rumours are right, he's a love child. His mother must have been really beautiful, because the Duke wouldn't bed her for no reason, huh?"

"You bed someone, because you love them," I correct. "Not because they're pretty." I observe Alys.

Her love life could be easy. She's beautiful, respectful, goody-goody - the kind of person people like, the kind of person everyone likes.

I've always felt spiteful of her. I'm only thirteen, but I think about the future a lot. Alys doesn't even need to. She's already got a bright future. One day, she will give in to Beau, whether Audric appreciates if or not.

"Cecily?" Addy says, knocking me out of my thoughts. "What are you thinking about?"

"Nothing," I murmur, turning to her.

"Well, if you guys are hungry, I could go and get something," Alys offers. "I'll talk to the Prince or somebody."

"You'll talk to the Prince?" I demand, shrilly.

Alys freezes, her head cocked to one side, her eyes cold, but confused. "Why?" she asks. "Do you think I'm too lowly to talk to the royal family?"

"Of course not," I reply, privately thinking they'd probably love her. She's elegant, graceful, and so disciplined she could look like she is from a royal family herself.

"But," I add, "I could suggest doing that myself. You know, going to meet the royal family - I mean, get the food."

Alys gives me a wary look, but relents, probably deciding she doesn't really care. "All right."

I give her rueful smile and hurry out of the room, when I recall that I'm in a palace. Stride, don't scurry, I tell myself.

I slow my pace and start walking with long steps, as graceful as I can make them. I begin to find my way to the royal throne room.

"See the larder, honey," the Queen tells me.
She's short of stature with a pale face, full lips painted red and grey-blue eyes. Her pointed chin is raised high, so even when she isn't very tall, her grace and elegance are miles high.
"Thank you, Your Highness," I gush, curtsying to make an impression, but I think it does not look very fancy, when I'm draped in pelts and have my hair tangled with icicles. "But, I fear I do not know the way."
I think I made the accent sound too falsely heavy.
The Queen wrinkles her nose. "I'll let my son escort you."
"Oh," I utter, gladdened. It feels important, to be shown around by the Prince himself.
But, as soon as he turns up, I don't feel so sure of that. This is not the same prince whom I saw with Audric. This is the Queen's son and that was the Queen's... brother-in-law?
This prince is shorter, even younger than me - about twelve. His hair is dark as a crow's feathers and his face is as pale as snow. Even in his childhood, he is so gaunt, as if he has the diet of a bird.
"Hello," he says, unsmiling.
"Erm, well, hello, my Prince," I utter, mustering a curtsy.
"This is Prince Everard," the Queen tells me with a smirk, probably aimed at my melodramatically horrified expression. "I'm sure you will get along very well."
I nod, my face suddenly blank and my eyes on Everard. "Yes," I reply, monotonously. "I'm sure we will."

Everard leads me across the hall. He's very quiet and cheerless. As an attempt to lighten the mood - or to make a good impression on the royal family - I try to engage him in small talk.
"So," I say, "how does living in a castle feel like? Must be very wonderful around here? Lots to see -"
"You'll soon know how it feels," he deadpans. "You're going to be trapped here for a long time."
"But, we're war evacuees," I insist. "Surely, they'll send us back and -"
"You're not war evacuees any more," he says. "Your brother is going to be a soldier, your sisters are going to live in the castle."
"Why?" I ask, now genuinely curious. "Did our father say so? Why would anyone in the right mind let war evacuees live in a castle, during the war, for no utter reason?"
"Oh, there is a reason," the boy says, easily striding ahead of me. Now, we're out of the hall. "It's just not for your knowledge right now."
"You could tell me," I protest. "I won't let anyone find out."
The young Prince narrows his eyes. "I think you know a lot about secrets, Cecily Godfrey," he hisses, his gaze alarmingly cold for a child. "This is mine. You must have yours, much worse than mine." He pauses. "Here we are."
I am too stunned to notice the luxurious food in the larder. My jaw is slack and my gaze does not shift from his face.
"How do you know?" I whisper, my voice strained.
He raises an eyebrow. It's getting harder to believe he's just a kid by every second. "Know what, Godfrey?"
"That I know a lot about... secrets," I breath out.
The Prince's lips form a sneer, the least childlike smirk I can imagine. "If I were you, Godfrey, I'd be wary of me."
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