[The Thorn]: Chapter Five
Summary: Sequel to 'The Rose'. Nearly stripped of their powers, Elyon and Phobos work as both allies and enemies to retrieve the Heart of Meridian from Nerissa.
"I certainly don't envy your maid."
Elyon doesn't need to move an inch to know that it's Miranda. No one else she knows combines youth and biting sarcasm quite like that voice. Even Irma, who comes close, lacks the nasty edge. Only nowadays, Elyon doesn't mind the nasty edge she finds in all of her conversations.
Elyon leans back in the bathtub. A nice perk of being royalty is actually having a bathtub in this world which, minus the magic and strange creatures, could practically be the Dark Ages. "It's the hair, isn't it? I think it grew a bit too much while I was a rose."
"A bit," Miranda repeats blandly. "I think your hair is longer than your brother's."
For some reason that makes Elyon giggle, and as she turns, she can see that Miranda smirks a little. "I was a plant- not much to do but grow."
"Every way except up."
"Gee, thanks, like I need the reminder." While Miranda hasn't grown that much herself, she has grown taller than Elyon. And curvier. Elyon sighs.
"I suppose your brother wasn't much company."
Elyon shrugs. "He wasn't that bad. He did threaten to force you to be my friend and keep me away from him every once in a while, though."
"Oh, I've been upgraded from diversion to threat? How flattering."
Elyon ducks under the water, hiding a grin. Again she's finding herself in the weird position of enjoying nasty company. Maybe it's her brother's bad influence. Resurfacing, she wipes soap suds out of her eyes. If she still had her full powers, she'd indulge in a little frivolous magic use and create a nice shower, but as it is…life force is precious. Belatedly, a thought occurs to her. "Haven't you ever heard of knocking?"
"Given the circumstances, it was deemed optional."
"Something about wards breaking. So it was decided that you need a guard." Miranda inspects her nails, falsely casual.
Meanwhile, Elyon shivers. "The mage broke in? How did she…"
"Apparently the wards weren't enough."
Elyon eyes Miranda suspiciously. "And how do I know you really are Miranda? Hmm. What did I threaten you with when you told me that you know…well, you know."
Miranda smirks. "Evisceration. It was an interesting spell, if you're into that sort of thing."
Knowing that it really is Miranda maybe shouldn't be such a relief, but it is. When did she start thinking of Miranda as a friend?
"How did the wards break? I thought you said they'd keep her out!"
"I did," Phobos bites out, glaring at her from up in the throne. "Now kindly stop pacing, sister, before you trample on something. Or someone."
Realizing how close she's gotten to the black roses, Elyon squeaks and makes a beeline for the truth-telling white flowers. Oh, damn, not those. Maybe…damn again. "Are there any plants here which aren't weapons of some kind?"
"The roses which grow around the columns," Phobos says absently. "We both have cause for concern, Elyon, but your childish reaction helps no one. If you feel the need to be productive, you could volunteer to be the one to brief the servants on what to watch out for." He scowls at her. "I have the oddest feeling that the request will go over much better if made by their precious Light."
"If you know that half your servants are probably in the rebellion," Elyon says without thinking, "Then why do you keep them around? Oops!" She covers her mouth, but it's too late. Stupid big mouth. She's gotten way too used to saying whatever she wants to Phobos. "Any chance you could just ignore that?"
"Some awareness of which servants are traitors allows the flow of information to the rebels to be corrupted." Phobos stares her up and down. "Given your own fondness for subterfuge, I'm surprised that you need to be taught something so basic."
That hated flush rises to her cheeks. "I suppose it's hard for a tyrant to come by truly loyal servants," Elyon decides to say, ignoring Phobos's jibe. "Why are you so calm, anyway?" Though the answer comes to her right after asking the question- he's probably already taken all his rage out on whichever poor servant had the dreaded task of informing him. "You didn't hurt anyone over this, did you?"
"Brother," Elyon growls, and is pleased that it really does come out as a growling sound, and not a moan. The days where Phobos called her 'baby sister' are long gone, thank goodness.
"It was my own wards she broke through," Phobos admits, looking pained.
For about a second Elyon is pleased that he has no one to blame but himself, but then she gulps. She's a close match for him, but Phobos is still the most powerful one in the castle- if he can't keep their enemy out, then they're probably in trouble. "Be careful." The words are out of her mouth before she can think them through, and Elyon goes on, trying to distract him. "With as many people out to get you as there are, you must have a good food taster, right? Or, better yet, a spell which does the job?" Oh-kay, so much for distracting him.
Phobos, probably following her line of thought, smirks. "Both. One can never be too careful." He quirks his head, considering her. "If it was a rebel threat I wouldn't bother, but I'm loathe to allow the sorceress to kill you before I get to you."
If Elyon had thought that comment cryptic when her brother first made it, she was in for a worse surprise the next day. Rather than eating in her room as she'd done before, that morning Elyon was summoned to a small (for a castle) dining room, where her brother proceeded to give her a lesson in poison testing spells over breakfast.
Pour yourself a drink. "That glass could have poison in it." … "The teapot as well, sister dear."
Lift your fork. "Elyon, you forgot to check this new plate."
On and on it went, with a new comment practically every time she tried to get down a mouthful of food. Through it all, the poor food taster was carefully silent. Working for Phobos, he must have developed a poker face ages ago.
"Can we please go back to being enemies?" Elyon begs afterwards. "You were a lot easier to live with when you were secretly trying to kill me."
Her brother just smirks. "Using a food taster does not effectively safeguard against slower acting poisons, so one must always be in the habit of testing for those by oneself."
"Back on Earth I never had to check my food for poisons. I never thought I'd look back and think of that as a luxury."
Miranda, who seems to have been upgraded to bodyguard, is smirking as well now. Elyon shoots her a glare. Traitor.
"Further evidence of your poor upbringing," Phobos says.
Elyon has to bite down on her tongue to keep from saying something unfortunate about Phobos's upbringing. That would definitely ruin the mood. And the day is starting out so well, too. Phobos is actually in a good mood, despite the threat, and okay, it's because he has a good excuse to needle her, but… "My parents raised me perfectly well," she eventually says, forcing her tone to remain even.
"For an Earth girl, perhaps," Phobos says dismissively. "For a princess of Meridian, however, your upbringing is simply appalling. Your speech is far too casual, you have no idea how to conduct yourself in polite company, and you slouch."
For some reason Elyon finds her brother's honest outrage amusing. "Go on, tell me how you really feel." She has an unpleasant thought. "My parents…did they ever plan on bringing me back to Meridian?"
That appears to catch Phobos's interest. He gazes at her, contemplative, but after a minute he shakes his head and says, "I suspect only you can answer that question, sister."
Elyon turns back to her food, but her appetite is gone. Did her parents plan on keeping her away from Meridian forever?
Elyon hides at the top of the staircase leading into the kitchens, feeling nervous. She'd gotten a bit of practice before the coronation, but not enough- she still feels like some sort of imposter or poseur every time she tries to give someone an order.
Just act like you're royalty. You are royalty. If you want to randomly inspect the kitchens, it's none of their business, is it?
'Of course it's their business, it's their kitchen,' her mind instantly supplies in response.
Ignoring her contrary mind, Elyon peers down and, with a whispered word, adjusts the lighting in the room. There, now she should be able to see everyone's shadows. Not her, not her, not him…
Suddenly the door opens, bumping into Elyon and knocking her over. "Oh, I'm so sorry!" A woman's voice says. As she bends over to help her up, she gasps, and instead kneels. "Princess Elyon! Please forgive me, I…"
Getting up and brushing herself off, Elyon says, "No, it's my mistake. Right in front of the door is not a good place to stand. Please, it's all right."
The woman is plump and older, probably middle aged or a bit younger. It's hard to tell. "Is there anything I can do for you, Princess Elyon?"
"Um, no, I'm fine. Please, stop. All this kneeling is making me uncomfortable." Not letting her protest, Elyon helps the woman up. "There, see, you were already getting stiff."
"Thank you, Highness…"
Somehow, the bowing and scraping is the hardest part of adjusting to life in Meridian. Elyon can never just blend into the crowd and be ignored the way she was on Earth. It's a weird thing to miss, but then, she guesses being normal is the one thing royalty has made impossible for her.
"You're probably wondering what I'm doing in here," Elyon says, and then could hit herself. Obviously the question, while certainly on her mind, would never be asked- it wouldn't be polite to so bluntly ask. "Um…what is your name?"
"Trill, your highness."
"Well, Trill, I just came in for a snack, so I guess you can help me with that." Elyon smiles, hoping the gesture will help the older woman feel more comfortable around her.
"Princess Elyon, there wasn't any need for you to come all the way down here yourself," Trill says, looking surprised.
"Back on Earth if I'd asked someone to get a snack for me, I'd be told to go for it myself," Elyon confides. "I like being a princess much better, but sometimes old habits die hard."
That seems to have broken the ice, and soon Elyon leaves with her snack and the comforting knowledge that she has a new friend in the kitchens.
"Oh, hi, Cedric!" Oddly, the princess sounds glad to see him.
"Elyon." Cedric gives her the barest of nods.
Her brother would never forgive the disrespect; the sister never even notices. Cedric would never be foolish enough to admit it out loud, but he can appreciate the difference. Back on Earth he had found it rather refreshing, even. Subterfuge had still been his closest friend, but around the ignorant young princess he was the one holding all of the cards. It had been a pleasant change from his interactions with the other Escanors.
"Hey, what's that book? I…think I've seen it before."
Hmm. Arouse her suspicion one way or the other? Deciding, Cedric shows her the Book of Secrets, and then returns it to its shelf. "You will not be able to open it."
"Oh, so it's my brother's?"
"What makes you say that?"
"Um, lucky guess?" Elyon says, suddenly appearing awkward. Miranda coughs, and Elyon sighs. "Well, I did guess. It's usually his books which won't let me open them, after all."
The silence stretches between them.
"So, um, this is awkward."
Elyon crosses her arms, frowning at him. "Be honest- are we still enemies? Because lately I've been kind of confused on that point."
Cedric raises his brow. "Are you and King Phobos still enemies?"
"Yes! …No…" Elyon looks sheepish. "I'll get back to you on that when I figure it out."
"There you have it."
With that said, Cedric takes his leave, both Elyon and her unfortunate questions behind him.
There's something nagging at her, some niggling sense that something is wrong.
Well, that at least is easy to figure out: just about everything is wrong. She's living with her brother- which in this family means her brother who wants to kill her-, she's surrounded by enemies and surprisingly used to it…
Elyon sits up and, with a huff, gets out of bed. Why bother staying if she can't sleep anyway? Sticking her feet into her embroidered silk slippers (no more fuzzy slippers which could practically double as stuffed animals for her), she pads over to the window and peers out. The windows are glass, another luxury in this world. But the wind rattles the frame, warning her not to open them up for some fresh air.
The dark clouds shift, revealing a sliver of moon. Stars are scattered across the sky, a few bright points against the darkness. A storm is brewing.
Elyon takes it all in, and slowly feels herself calming. It's sort of like when she went flying, but gentler- all of the pressures that surround her now are fading away, at least for the moment. It's not quite peace, but it's as close as she's going to get.
Of course, that means it has to be broken.
At first Elyon isn't even sure what it is, but that niggling sense of unease is back. The hairs on the back of her neck prickle, and suddenly she's sure that she's not alone. She looks behind her, nervous, and sees…
"Who are you?"
The woman is like no one Elyon has seen in the castle before. No one, except…herself and Phobos. The royal clothing, the hair which she's sure no one in Meridian but a member of their family possesses- everything about her screams Escanor. But that's not possible…is it?
It could be the old sorceress using a glamour spell, but why would she try to look like some unknown family member rather than someone innocuous, like a servant?
Elyon steps back, and her back hits the window panes. Well, at least the height of her room isn't the deterrent it would be to most- if she needs to escape, she can fly. "Who are you?" she repeats, trying to inject command into her voice, and not fear.
Common sense returns, and Elyon summons a light, revealing the woman's shadow to be…gone.
"Why don't you have a shadow?"
"I have no need of one," the woman replies. Her voice is gentle and soothing, melodious and bell-like, all at once. It's also a whisper, as if she's speaking to Elyon from a great distance, rather than a few feet away in the same room. "I am no longer part of this world, after all."
Elyon, fumbling around behind her to find the latch on the window, pauses. "Are you saying you're a spirit? A ghost?"
The intruder looks sad. "You don't recognize me, do you?"
"I've never seen you before in my life."
"Oh, Elyon." The woman takes a silent step forwards, and sighs as Elyon tenses. "But you have seen me before, little one. But then, I suppose you wouldn't remember."
Elyon bites her lip. "You aren't saying you're…"
"Please don't be afraid, little one. I would never harm you, my daughter."
Somehow, the tension Elyon is feeling changes. "And what about your son?"
The expression of the woman claiming to be her mother changes, too. Elyon can't read it, but she doesn't think she likes it. "Your brother is misguided. His hunger for power consumes him."
"I guess you'd know- you raised him." The words are out of Elyon's mouth before she can think them through, and they contain all the nastiness she's been feeling about her birth mother ever since that day in the throne room, when Raythor had told her what he knew of Phobos's youth. "Does the word 'oubliette' ring a bell?"
The expression that crosses the woman's face makes Elyon sure that she knows what she's talking about, so it must really be her. Queen Weira, her mother… "I was left with no choice," Weira says, her voice suddenly turning cold. "Always Phobos struggled against his limits, believed himself above the law. I did what I did to teach him his place."
"And it worked so well, too." Elyon glares at her mother. Feelings which she'd been able to push aside for a while now are returning- sympathy for her brother, for one thing, for all that he wants her dead. Guilt, which already was holding her back, convincing her to keep secrets which she shouldn't just so that she won't betray him again… "But then, if my mom and dad stuck me in an oubliette whenever they decided I was misbehaving, I'd probably be pretty messed up, too."
Her mother winces, correctly realizing that the parents Elyon speaks of aren't her. "Phobos believes himself above his station. It has long been known that a man hasn't the capacity to nurture the land as the Light of Meridian. All his struggles have done are prove that truth to hold."
"And I've been such a great Light of Meridian. I certainly have the purity part down pat." Elyon laughs bitterly.
Her mother winces again. "Elyon…why?" She steps forward, beseeching, and Elyon feels ice run through her. Oh God, she actually knows?
"Leave me alone!"
Weira continues forwards, and reaches out to take her hand. "Elyon, my dear little one, please help me understand."
But Elyon doesn't want understanding. "I said leave me alone!" she yells, and the windows behind her shatter. With nothing left at her back, her next step takes her straight out of her room, and Elyon falls.