Dauris looked up at the face… at the scar… and for a time she was dumbstruck. Her mind was swirling with so many chaotic, incomplete thoughts that she could not form a coherent sound. It wasn’t possible… but it was happening all the same. Dreams were just dreams… but there was the man she’d seen so many times, the scar on his face just as she’d dreamed that he would have.
For his part, the young nobleman of Reis-Bohnen chuckled self-deprecatingly, uncertain of just why the young princess stared at him, though he supposed that it had to do with the fact that he had interrupted what was a private conversation. “Forgive my interruption, your Highness, but I heard the voices and thought that I could be of assistance.”
Gabriel took a step forward, tense with anger. He had to do something. This was not the sort of circumstance that he had planned for and it set his teeth on edge. He glared at the man he’d hoped to never see again. “That will not be necessary.”
His words jolted Dauris back into coherency and she was suddenly filled with an over-powering rage, of such a strength that she’d never felt before. She’d known that her father, her birth father, had been known for his towering rages, but she’d never actually felt one before. She always thought that she took more after her mother, who was reputed to be the calmer of the two.
She wished that she could have known them.
She turned to look at her guardian, her voice trembling with anger. “Why didn’t you tell me?” Volume and pitch rose as she found her voice again and rage made it stronger. “I asked and you were silent. Why didn’t you tell me?!”
The nobleman was confused. Something about this wasn’t making sense to him, but he didn’t like where it could be headed. He’d had far too many shouting matches with his brother not to know the signs.
Gabriel glared back at her. His princess and his charge, she was still just a girl to him, and one who didn’t have the right to question what he did or didn’t do. “It was none of your concern. You didn’t need to know.”
“Didn’t need to know?” she screeched. “Did it never occur to you to wonder why I asked? How I knew to ask?” She grabbed a sword off a nearby display and approached Gabriel, getting her grip settled as she did so in a way that spoke of long training and competence. “I should teach you the consequences of silence when asked those sort of questions!”
That did it. As much as he didn’t want to cause any more of a scene than necessary, he couldn’t stand by as weapons were drawn. And his curiosity was burning now at the way the princess, a sheltered, untrained princess by all accounts, was holding that weapon.
He put both arms around her shoulders and physically pulled her back from her homicidal stalk towards Gabriel. Then he reached down and put one hand over hers on the weapon. “Your Highness, let go. There is enough grief in this place, let’s not add bloodstains in the hallway, please.”
She trembled in his grasp, incredulous at the sheer audacity of the man. Her dreams had spoken of a deep friendship, but they were not friends yet and he was treading on very dangerous territory indeed. “Unhand me, Nobleman, and I’ll ignore this insult. How dare you lay hands on the Imperial Princess?” It was a matter of decorum and something of protection as well. It required someone of equal rank to restrain a person of noble standing.
He coughed slightly, embarrassed at the turn of events and at the revelation that he really didn’t want to have to make in this particular manner. “Your Highness, I am not just a noble of Reis-Bohnen. I’m the Crown Prince.”
The sword fell to the floor with a sudden clatter.
Gabriel’s jaw dropped as his mind simply stopped from sheer disbelief. “You?” he finally said, “you? Crown Prince of Reis-Bohnen? It’s not possible!”
He simply shrugged depreciatingly. “Why would I lie, Gabriel? Why would I lie about something that is so easily verified given that I arrived here with the delegation from Reis-Bohnen and am known to all of them? I am certain that her Highness has had the necessary instruction on the insignia for the highest nobles.” He pulled off a ring from one of the fingers of his right hand and offered it to Dauris for her to examine. “My personal seal, your Highness.”
Dauris took the ring with trembling hands and looked carefully at the image engraved on the top of it. The royal crown speared through by the king’s sword and a ribbon around the hilt. She nodded slowly as she gave the ring back to the Prince. “It is the emblem of the Crown Prince. My mother…” her voice choked up slightly, “my mother told me that Reis-Bohnen had found an Heir…”
The Prince nodded as he settled the signet ring back into place. “They decided to give me the name Eiladar, your Highness. If I might be so bold… what caused this confrontation in the first place?”
She sighed, not looking at Gabriel. “I need to deliver something to my Uncle, the King of Castellan. It was a final request from my mother before her death.” She pinched her lips together from remembered irritation. “I do not need my Guardian with me when I visit my own relatives within my own home.”
Gabriel glared at her. “I cannot allow you to go anywhere unaccompanied. The risks are simply too great.”
Eiladar looked at his twin and raised a curious eyebrow. “What if I were to accompany the Princess? I assure you that she would be completely safe in my company and that I would not allow any harm to come to her.”
The way Gabriel looked like that was the exact thing which he did not want to see happen was enough to convince Dauris. “I find that to be a most excellent solution, your Highness.” It helped that Gabriel lacked the authority to disagree with both of them, not without a direct order from Marus countermanding it.
For a moment Gabriel was silent and then he forced his expression to neutrality and nodded to Prince Eiladar. “Very well.” He looked at Dauris and his expression lost some of that neutrality, though she wasn’t certain what she was seeing in it. He bowed to her. “With your leave, I have matters to attend to.” At her nod, he turned and left.
Eiladar sighed softly. “You realize that he’s likely going straight to your brother, do you not? I hope this isn’t going to cause an incident, your Highness.”
Dauris shook her head quickly. “No, it won’t. Not if I have anything to say about it, and I can make quite certain of that.” She twitched her shoulders slightly and nodded her head to him. “If it pleases you, I would like to meet with my Uncle so that I can fulfill my mother’s last wish.”
“Yes, that would be a very good idea.”
Gabriel grimaced at the sour twisting in his stomach as he made his way towards Marus, angered at the way he had been bested by none other than his own weakling brother, and infuriated because his brother now outranked him.
He’d spent years, merciless, grueling years, making his way to where he was now. He’d earned his place here. And his brother had simply fallen into a higher position like it was nothing!
The inequity of it gnawed at him.
Still… for all his anger and fury at his brother, he couldn’t help but remember the flash in the young Princess’ eyes as she stalked towards him, the way her eyes sparkled and glittered with gold flowing into the blue. In a few years she was going to be a beauty to be reckoned with and he wasn’t certain how he felt about that.
Gabriel found Marus sitting in one of the private atriums that opened to the expansive gardens. The young Emperor was seated in an elaborately carved wooden chair across from a dark haired gentleman wearing the garb of the Southern Empire. Between the two was a small table and a wooden board with chess pieces. Aside from a difference in complexion the two could have been brothers.
He grit his teeth at the sheer malevolence of Fate as he realized that Marus’ chess opponent was his cousin, Crown Prince Akhet. The Northern and Southern Empires had never been what anyone would call “friendly”, so the fact that both Empires would be led by the offspring of twin sisters… made for complicated situations on even the best of days.
Gabriel made his entrance as inconspicuously as possible, but there was no mistaking the curious tilt of Marus’ eyebrows as he spotted his sister’s guardian as he leaned over to move one of his pieces.
Akhet saw the expression as well and glanced over his shoulder to see where Gabriel tried to stand patiently. “Is something amiss, Cousin?” he asked, turning his attention back to the board to consider his next move.
“I should hope not, Cousin,” Marus replied with a slight chuckle in his voice. “That one is assigned to guard my sister and if anything were amiss with her, he wouldn’t be trying to act invisible.” He looked up from the board as Akhet made his move. “What is it, Captain?”
Gabriel shook his head, half not wanting to interrupt the game and half just wishing to put off having to admit the situation. “It can wait, my Emperor.”
Akhet lifted a curious eyebrow of his own. “We are all family here, are we not? How is my fair cousin? My mother expressed great curiosity about her when I prepared to travel here and I was rather saddened to not have been introduced to her yet.”
Marus nodded slowly. “She is… my sister is possessed of astonishing willpower and strength of opinion. I wished to keep her out of general attention because her years are still so tender. I would assume that she has found some means to circumvent me, correct?” He looked directly at Gabriel and there was no mistaking that expression.
Gabriel suppressed the sigh of defeat and nodded his head. “She insisted on visiting the Castellan delegation’s quarters.”
Marus frowned. “Why are you not with her, then?”
He colored slightly. “She commanded me to allow the Crown Prince of Reis-Bohnen to accompany her in my place.”
Both men looked at him in astonishment, Marus looking as though he didn’t quite know what to think. After a moment, Akhet chuckled to himself and turned back to the board. “I wouldn’t worry about it so much, Cousin,” he said, “she probably found the boy and decided to play big sister or something. From what I’ve heard, he’s only six or eight or something like that.”
Marus looked up at Gabriel, knowing that there was more to the story than that. He could read in the soldier’s manner that it was more than a pair of children sticking together. “Well, Captain, was the prince a young boy as my cousin believes?”
Gabriel shook his head slowly. “No. A man, my age.” He paused, stomach churning in anger and shame. “With a scar, here.” He traced the location of his twin’s identifying mark across his own face.
Marus hid his shock quickly and nodded. This… this needed to be considered carefully. They would have to discuss matters in private.