Gabriel had to admire her restraint as Dauris pulled him by a death’s grip on his breastplate into a nearby alley. She waited until she was certain that no one could hear them and then rounded on him, trembling with fury.
“A brother. A twin. With a scar. And you never told me! How could you?” There were tears of anger in her golden eyes.
He didn’t have an answer for her. Not one that would satisfy. “The Emperor commanded my silence.”
“My father would never have done so, only my brother. Why didn’t you tell me when I first asked you?”
“I could not.”
“What’s his name?”
“His name, baka. What’s his name?” Gabriel remained silent, refusing to meet her eyes. She hissed in anger. “He was that Knight, wasn’t he? The one you were threatening. Your brother is in Castellan and it was a Castellan knight that you were… How could you?” She hit him, then, though the blow was absorbed by his armor. She didn’t go for his face, just his body. “I could have been with him! For three years I could have…” She hit him again.
“Highness, you were a child.”
“It doesn’t matter! Just to have seen his face. Known he was real. Been near him. For three years I have been left in doubt – of my dreams, of myself. You knew that I dreamed!” She hit him again. Gabriel really wished that she would stop doing that. “Look at me!” Reluctantly he met her eyes, and felt his body shiver with the coldness in her gaze. “We are going to the Palace. You are going to stay where I can see you and you are not going to breathe a word of this to my brother, or anyone else. You can’t stop me now. You lost that right.”
“Highness, please, don’t do this.”
“Silence.” Oh, she was angry. “I warned you.”
He tried not to wonder why she was more beautiful to him than ever in her towering fury at him. She would be wasted on his brother.
— — —
They found Illian in the gardens. He looked at Dauris and blinked in surprise. “Sister? What happened?”
“He’s real. The Knight, the Pirate, whatever he is by now, he’s real and this…” she indicated Gabriel, “this baka knew the entire time.”
Illian straightened in sudden understanding. “You are running?”
“I have to. I have to see him. With my own eyes. I have to be near him.”
Illian nodded with a sigh. “I understand. I’ll see what I can get you to help on your way. Meet me in the chapel in an hour. I’m going to miss you terribly, Sister.”
Dauris nodded. “I’ll miss you, too, Illian, but I have to do this. I may need you to keep an eye on this one,” she jerked a thumb towards Gabriel, “until I’m away. I don’t want him to warn Marus.”
Illian grinned. “I can do that. See you in an hour or so.”
Dauris tried to smile, but it was strained. Then she hooked a finger in Gabriel’s breastplate and pulled him along behind her.
— — —
She wasn’t expecting to run into her brother, Marus, in the hall on the way to the bower, but there he was as she rounded the corner. She almost hit him.
Marus blinked in surprise at the fury in her face and the way she pulled Gabriel along by his armor. “Sister, is something wrong?”
For a bare second Dauris was at a loss for words, but then the voice that lived in the back of her mind took control and she found herself telling an outrageous lie, believably. “Yes, Brother. This one,” she yanked on Gabriel’s armor, “this baka, tried to kill a boy for smiling at me.”
Marus glanced at Gabriel, who remained impassive. “He is here to guard you, and your honor.”
She huffed. “But just for smiling at me?” She paused to glare at Gabriel. “Pardon me for a while, my brother. I’m going to take this baka to the training salle and beat on him for a couple of hours.”
Marus grinned and nodded to Dauris, who continued on her way with Gabriel in tow. After a moment he called out to Gabriel, “Don’t make it too easy for her.” Then he continued on his way.
— — —
Dauris reached the bower without any further trouble. She pushed Gabriel in before her, and then shut the door behind them. She pointed to a chair. “Sit.” He did so. “Talk to me. I want to know where you are.”
“Highness, please don’t do this.”
Dauris quickly ducked behind a screen to change out of her gown and into the blouse and skirt she had bought that day. “I have to. I don’t expect you to understand.” She paused. “Do you hate your brother so much?”
Gabriel sighed. “I don’t know anymore, Highness. We fought constantly as children, and growing up. He is weak, Highness, not fit for you. He lacks the will to do what must be done.”
“And you are so perfect? You would argue that the ends justify the means?”
“Highness, sometimes sacrifices must be made.”
“You would cut me with the same blade you use to wound him. Which reminds me, if you ever do that in real life, I will knock the hell out of you.” She emerged, adjusting the laced belt. “I’m not arguing against some of the shadier methods used by rulership. Assassination, for instance, has its place. Focused strikes against the leadership of a combative organization, as long as secondaries like children and other innocents are left unharmed. For crying out loud, I was once a member of a so-called terrorist organization that was out to save the world by any means necessary. But sometimes the personal cost of those methods is too high to bear.”
Gabriel looked at her for a moment, carefully weighing his words. The scoop-neck blouse showed a great deal of collarbone and shoulder and the tiered skirt almost reached her knee. The wide belt accentuated what was, in fact, covered. “When were you a member of a terrorist organization?” He kept his voice neutral.
She looked at him, met his eyes fearlessly. “I have lived whole lifetimes on other worlds. You should know. You come from one yourself.”
Gabriel’s face went pale white. “How do you know that?”
“Your brother told me where the two of you came from. I’ve been exchanging letters with him since the day I found you in the hall with him. I’ve seen more worlds than you can imagine. It was the cavern that turned me into a child again, forced me to grow up like this.” She walked across the room and dug out a haversack bag from a box and began stuffing her few true treasures into it. She pulled the letters out from their box and put them in, first, even her favorites that she carried in her belt pouch. “Where in the heck is Annie?” she murmured, more to herself. There was no sign of the dog in the room, other than her bed that served as the hiding place for the box that had held the letters. “What happened to you isn’t even that unusual.” She continued talking to Gabriel as she pulled out her knife and set it aside. She would wear it when they left. “I would just feel better if I knew whose powers transported you.”
“He told you? You know…?”
“You hadn’t figured it out? You saw me dance. You heard me sing. Where did you think I had learned to dance like that or to sing those songs in this quasi-steampunk fantasy world?”
“So, how old are you, really?” The emphasis in his voice was curious.
“Simple answer?” She sighed. “Older than twenty. Old enough to not have to answer that question when asked, but when I became what I am now I… I changed so that my body only looked twenty. Complicated answer? Twenty plus… oh… close to a thousand, give or take a century or two. I lost track. After about the first century, it’s all the same.” She turned to find herself looking at Gabriel’s breastplate.
By sheer presence he backed her up until she was pushed against a wall. She looked up to meet his eyes, and quailed a bit at the expression in them. “I should keep you from going to him.” There was a roughness in his voice that frightened her. For a moment the anger faded.
“And just how do you intend to do that?” Sheer bravado.
“I could take you myself.”
She shivered slightly in fear. Ah Elar… of all the horrors that could be threatened against her, she didn’t want to have to face that one. Not after what she’d been through across so many lifetimes on so many worlds. “And earn my brother’s enmity forever? He is your Emperor.”
“He as much as advised it. He asked me if I wished to court you myself. I told him that I would think about it when you had a few more years. It seems that you do, after all, have those years. I could carry you away from here and no one would think to look for you. Certainly not my brother.”
She was afraid to breathe too deeply, afraid that her breath would draw too raggedly. The voice in the back of her mind cursed softly. Don’t antagonize him too much, GE. He’s on a razor’s edge of decision.
And just what am I supposed to do, oh puppet mistress? Her anger flared up stronger than her fear. She glared at him; the anger gave her strength. “I would kill you first.”
“I have no doubt that you would try, but could you see it through? I know about your knife. I can see it in your reach. I have no doubt that you could grab it to defend yourself, but could you see the act through? Could you plunge your blade into my flesh, watch the life fade from my eyes? Blood would cover everything, even you. My blood. Could you, really?” His voice was almost hypnotic, painting the picture for her imagination to fill in. He had killed, up close and personal. So had she, but he didn’t know that part.
She made herself face him. “Yes. I could. I would grieve, later. But you would be dead and I would have your brother to comfort me. I have no doubt that he is skilled in giving comfort.”
He laughed. One short bark of humor. “God, I wish you weren’t so attached to that unworthy brother of mine. I do believe that you could see it through. Very well, I will not assault your honor but before I allow you to run to my brother, remember this.” He startled her, he was so quick. He reached up to take hold of her head, one hand on either side of her neck, thumbs on her jaw, pushing her face up as he bent his head down to put his mouth over hers.
It was not a gentle kiss. Gabriel didn’t believe in gentleness. He believed in power and strength and both qualities he had in spades. He stunned her with his kiss and she was furious with him for it.
He let her go and stepped back with a look of triumph in his eyes. He had won the battle. Even had he done as he threatened, he would not have won so completely. He could have, and chose not to. He left her standing against the wall, went back to the chair and sat down in it, waiting patiently for her to complete her preparations. After a moment of speechless anger she did so as quickly as possible.
Well, murmured the voice in the back of her mind, that was unexpected.