A young man with reddish gold hair streaked by white walked quietly through the marketplace. He had to intervene in events and he could do so in any number of different ways, each having a different sort of consequence. The only thing that was certain was that he had to intervene. In that, he had no choice. He considered his options over a hot drink in one of the outdoor cafes. One option in particular appealed to his own tendency towards showmanship, something he got honestly from his father. Maybe it would even make this young kinswoman ask about his mother.
He smiled to himself at the thought. With luck, and a little forethought, they should be on their way by nightfall, or close after it. Ahh, there was his contact coming now.
A young man, about eighteen years of age, with short, curly brown hair, and a distinct flair for fashion, located him with his eyes and then walked over and sat down. After a moment of silence he got right to the point. “How do I get in?”
— — —
More to distract herself from the letter than out of a real desire for any new objects, Dauris decided that she needed to do some shopping. She had, more or less, accustomed herself to Gabriel as an ever present shadow, but that didn’t mean that she enjoyed having him tag along for every little excursion.
Still, it gave her someone to carry the boxes.
She wasn’t even sure anymore why she resented him so much. If he didn’t have a twin brother, then he didn’t have a twin brother, and there wasn’t anything that he could do about it. But then… if he did have one, and he hadn’t told her all these years… She sighed in frustration at her own insecurity. Abruptly she decided to make a detour on her way to the market.
She waved at the young boy of roughly eleven years of age who stood outside the house she approached. “Decian!” she called out. “Is your grandfather home?”
The young boy smiled at her. “Yes. He’ll be glad to see you again.”
The voices attracted the attention of a six-year-old child, who came pelting out of the house at full speed. “Dauris!” the little girl called out, her hair flying in braids that were rapidly unraveling behind her. “Dauris!”
Dauris laughed and knelt down to hug the child. “It’s good to see you again, too, Julia.”
The brother sighed at his sister. “Julia, it’s supposed to be Lady Dauris to you.”
Dauris laughed again. “I’m not worried about titles. She’s a child, and children can do things that adults only dream of. They have a freedom all their own.” She stood and Julia wrapped her arms around Dauris’ hips, refusing to let go of her friend.
“Grandfather will be so happy to see you again. It has been forever!”
“Then let’s go in to him.” She knelt down a bit and let the child climb on her back, and then stood and carried her into the house like the Imperial Princess was one more older sibling to pet and spoil her.
Once through the outer wall of the house, they found the grandfather waiting in their garden area, reading a book in the sunlight. He looked up at the sound of Julia’s laughter and smiled to see them. “Lady Dauris!”
“It’s good to see you again, too, Gallus. I have missed you.”
— — —
Gabriel would be hard-pressed to describe his relationship with the Lady Dauris’ former guardian. It wasn’t friendship. It was almost comrade-in-arms, but with more respect on his part. Teacher/student came close. Perhaps it was that he saw the older man as an older student under the same master. He looked up to him as one who had wisdom and experience to impart as they both served the Emperor’s sister.
Still, he found it easier to talk to the older man than he did with anyone else in this city. “She is infinitely frustrating, Sir Gallus.” Such a concise phrase to describe a girl who at once teased and tormented him with familiarity. She was odd and strange in this world of medieval conceits and customs, but also strangely comforting in that her very alien qualities… were ones he found very familiar indeed. She sang, and he knew the songs. She danced, and he knew the style. Though he did not, ever, indicate to her or to anyone else that he knew.
They watched Lady Dauris play with little Julia in the garden from the privacy of the sitting room just to the side. Gallus shrugged. “She is herself. She does not conform to the expectations that you may have for any other person, female or male, common or noble, child or adult. I never asked her to be anything other than who and what she is.”
“I wish I had your flexibility.”
“I loved her. You have yet to learn to.”
“I have lied to her.” The admission was difficult to make, but in the presence of Gallus, he could force it out of himself.
Gallus looked at him. “How have you done that?”
“I have not told her of my brother, though she has asked me. She asked me about him, and then described a scar she could not have ever seen, and I remained silent.” He shook his head at his own weakness. “I should have said something then, before her brother commanded my silence on the matter, but I was so… “
Gallus turned back to watching the two girls play. “She dreams?”
“Yes. And she will run if she ever learns about him. How can I protect her if she runs?” In point of fact, she had promised to run, when her brother had found her during one of her afternoons of dancing in one of the empty rooms in the Palace. She had admitted to him, then, that she dreamed of a hero to come to her aid, one who was always reaching out to her when she slept.
“Sometimes there are things that you cannot protect someone from. If she dreams of your brother then they will find each other. An attack, a sword-thrust, you could take in her place, but dreams… they are another matter entirely. It may be that you do more harm seeking to protect her from her dreams than to set her free to find them.”
“The Emperor is jealous over her. He does not want her to follow her dreams. I have lost my chance to set her free, and the secret that I must keep, the lie that I must tell, it chafes.”
Gallus sighed and looked back at the younger soldier, one he thought of as almost a brother. “All I can say is that your duty is to her. If she dreams of your brother then you will have to let her have him, when the day comes. Until then, let her be herself, in all her infuriating eccentricity, and learn to love her for it.”
— — —
The two of them were about to start back to the Palace. Gabriel was actually surprised that she had made as few purchases as she had. A few rolls of ribbon, a blouse, a skirt with tiers which had caught her eye, a wide belt that laced instead of buckled. It was a small enough bundle of items that he could carry the bag with one hand, instead of being weighed down by boxes upon boxes.
They had paused at one of the jewelry sellers. Lady Dauris liked to look at jewelry, even if she rarely bought any. It took a truly unique piece to catch her eye for more than a moment, and she didn’t wear much in any event, just her bracelet and a pair of earrings like wings dangling from her ears. Neither of them were expecting a voice to call out from the crowd.
“Hey, Gabriel! Long time no see, old buddy!”
Both of them looked up, startled, to see a young man, perhaps twenty-two or twenty-three, perhaps as old as twenty-five, walking towards them, waving a greeting. His red-gold hair was streaked by white on one side. Gabriel stared at him. Was he supposed to know this person?
“I haven’t seen you in forever! Hey, how’s your brother doing? You know, the one in Castellan? I still remember how much fun the three of us had, though if you had ever gotten a scar to match his, then we could have had more fun. That scar was the only way I could tell the difference between the two of you. Boy, for twins, the two of you certainly didn’t like pretending to be each other.” The man looked up as if he spotted something in the crowd a ways away. “Tell you what, I’ll catch up with you later and we can talk about old times, okay?” He was gone before they could stop him.
Gabriel forced himself to look at Dauris, and he felt genuine fear at the level of sheer fury in her gaze. He’d known, no one could be around her for any length of time and not know, that she was more than merely a sheltered, petted Princess, the younger sister of the Emperor. But he’d never seen her eyes this angry; he’d never seen her emotions this strongly written on her face. He felt his breath catch in his throat. For a moment she was silent, her lips pinched closed so tightly that they turned white. Then she grabbed him by the breastplate and pulled him into an alleyway, away from prying eyes and ears.
The man watched them go with an ill-disguised look of glee in his eyes. Oooh, this was going to be a fun conversation to listen in on. It would have been nice, though, if she had been able to ask about his mother. At least the task at hand was done, and the path chosen. He hadn’t had that much fun in years.