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Geybrial Damarkin was a momma's boy.

All of Kittyana was aware of this fact because of a rather public fistfight the young man instigated at the age of twelve, all because another boy dared call his mother a "common trollop parading as a Lady." Geybrial proceeded to break the other young man's nose, and an all-out brawl ensued, right in the main hallway of Alander's Prestigious School for Boys.

The Lord of the Southern Prefecture's son lived up to the scandalous reputation of his father on that day. He fought hard, he fought dirty, and when he was standing over the barely-conscious body of his opponent, they said his blue eyes glittered with an unholy fire. They said he ran a casual hand through his sweat-slick hair, black as pitch, and advised the other boy, "My mother was not a whore. She was a maid. If you cannot tell the difference, then you should go back to the nursery until you get a brain."

That was the first time Geybrial got kicked out of school.

Only because his father was good friends with King Klausius did the boy find himself returning to Alander's School the following year. Fortunately, the King agreed that his only son and heir should not have said such a terrible thing about Lady Aylish, regardless of her base origins. Furthermore, if Prince Regan was incapable of defending himself against a scrawny twelve-year-old when he was two years older and a great deal bigger, then he deserved the beating.

Instead of fighting with the Prince during his second year of schooling, Geybrial opted to outdo him. So he passed all of his classes with flying colors in order to write home to his father—who would then tell his illiterate mother—that her son was doing brilliantly. He also wreaked havoc on the young ladies of the capital city, where Alander's School was located, so he could write home to his father—who would absolutely not tell his, thankfully, illiterate mother—that his son was doing brilliantly.

By midway through the school year, both Regan and Geybrial held top honors in their respective classes. Both boys had stolen kisses from an equal number of attractive young females.

In an effort to push himself head and shoulders above the Prince, Geybrial decided to take drastic measures.

Although Alander's Prestigious School for Boys did not offer admittance to any girls, there were female teachers residing on the premises. The Kittish did not discriminate based on gender, they simply chose to keep their children separated during certain difficult years in an effort to avoid occurrences of teenage pregnancy.

The headmaster of the school did not much appreciate finding thirteen-year-old Geybrial with his hands down the bodice of his twenty-five-year-old history teacher. The old man tried writing to Geybrial's father about the incident, advising that perhaps his son needed more discipline at home.

Geybrial's father wrote back with a profuse apology for not having taught his son better. Why, any son of his would have surely been caught with his hand up the woman's skirts instead of just down her bodice.

And so Geybrial found himself expelled. Again.

The headmaster was forced to allow him to return, however, after discovering the same teacher in bed with none other than Prince Regan. Geybrial and Regan both agreed that their only regret was that, after Miss Nualin was fired, there were no decent-looking females teaching at the school.

During his third year of schooling, Geybrial's rivalry with the Prince became friendlier in nature. Regan had finally started to mature, and after breaking Geybrial's nose two weeks into his third year, he felt they were even.

That was when disaster struck.

Geybrial was sent home again, but this time had nothing to do with bad behavior—his mother was ill.

Aylish Damarkin had always possessed the constitution of a horse. Having grown up in the Southern Prefecture as the daughter of one of the Damarkins' maids, and later a maid herself, she was used to harsh weather and hard work. She had never shied away from either. So when she suddenly started coughing incessantly, and her skin started to sprout little red lesions, Iain Damarkin was immediately convinced that his wife was dying.

Sadly, he was right.

No doctors could explain her illness, no matter how much the wealthy Lord paid them. For almost a year he strove to keep her sickness from the children, and they both pretended like nothing was wrong. But finally, Aylish admitted that she was dying, and she wrote to her eldest son to bid him to come home.

When he returned, weary and dirty from riding like hell to get back to her in time, she had deteriorated so much that Geybrial did not even recognize her. This was not the boisterous and loving mother he'd always idolized. This woman was a skeleton of that one, a frail and pitiable creature with lackluster red-gold curls and watery, dull brown eyes.

He wanted to cry at first sight of her. He wanted to curse the God his people worshipped for allowing this to happen to her.

A week later, she died. Some whispered that Lord Damarkin himself was responsible. Nature would have taken her eventually, but the doctor who confirmed her death insisted that she'd been given a lethal dose of poison.

Rumors could not condemn a man as powerful as a Lord, however; especially not one with powerful friends.

Two weeks had passed since his mother's death, and Geybrial had not spoken a word to anyone in his family since that time. He listened, however, and he knew what the servants were saying. What the people of Kittyana were likely saying. Still, he could not bring himself to speak, to explain to his little brothers and sister the truth of what had happened the day their mother died.

He was sitting in the great room of his family's manor when he heard the door creak open. The sight of the young man striding into the large, green and beige paneled room made him forget his vow of silence.

"What are you doing here?" he demanded of the future King of Kittyana.

Regan stopped halfway to the chair where Geybrial had sprawled out, a glass of whiskey in one hand. He was only fourteen, but his father insisted that the beverage was good for a growing boy's constitution, and so he'd been drinking the stuff since he was ten.

The Prince looked impeccable as ever. While Geybrial was never quite put together—his hair was typically mussed, his clothes a little bit wrinkled, and his face generally boasted a smudge or two of dirt—Regan was never seen in public in anything but perfectly-pressed attire. His dirty-blonde hair was always perfectly slicked back from his face and gathered at his nape into a short queue.

Even now, after having traveled nearly two days from central Kittyana to the southeastern seat of Lord Damarkin, he did not have even a speck of dirt on him.

Geybrial suspected he'd stopped somewhere nearby and bathed and changed before presenting himself at the Damarkin family's estate.

"I have come to pay my condolences," Regan announced formally. Regally.

Geybrial snorted. "Come to rub it in, more like," he growled, hoping that was the case. If so, he would have an excuse to smash the Prince's face in again. He would really like to smash someone's face in just then.

He took another gulp of whiskey and nearly choked on the slow burn when Regan said, "Your mother was an excellent woman, Geyb. I would never demean her life by exploiting her death in such a manner."

Stunned, his jaw dropped open, and he could not find the words to speak.

"I know what you are thinking. Why would I have said such awful things about her if I felt that way? The thing was, my father always used to talk about your mother like she was this perfect woman. Yes, she was born into poverty, but she managed to turn your father, one of the most notoriously unconventional Lords in Kittyana, into one of the most respected men in our country. When she became a Lady, a great deal changed for the better in our Southern Prefecture. I knew all about that, and her, before I ever met you."

"But then why did you…"

"Because I was jealous," the Prince said swiftly, as if he feared he might not be able to get the words out otherwise. "You obviously adored your mother; hell, even my father adored your mother. And there I was, with a mother who would not even look at me because she knew…"

"That you weren't hers?" Geybrial filled in. There were rumors about the Prince, too, although he'd never known for sure if they were true until now.

Regan nodded tightly. "I lashed out at you, and I should not have. I always meant to apologize, but I just kept putting it off, and now…now it is too late."

He wanted to say something, to reassure the other boy now that he knew the truth of what had instigated that brawl that seemed so long ago, but there was a burning lump of emotion in his throat that he could not quite work his way around.

After dragging a hair through his perfect hair—and still managing to keep it perfect—the Prince advised, "I issued a royal decree before leaving the capital. If anyone dares to imply that the Lord of the Southern Prefecture purposefully killed his wife, he or she will be guilty of treason. I just thought you should know that. You have enough to worry about."

With that said, Regan turned and started to walk away.

"Wait!" Geybrial cried, halting him at the door. The Prince turned his head marginally. "Would you…would you like to stay and have supper with us? It can get a bit rowdy. I mean, Shaun is only seven, but he's bound to say something foul, and you'll probably laugh your ass off whenever Emry so much as opens his mouth—I still think he was some genetic anomaly, you know—and Makenna pretty much just cries all the time. But my da lets me drink whiskey, and…"

As Geybrial rambled, the Prince had started to slowly approach him, his expression growing more and more amused with each step. Regan stopped just in front of him and placed a hand on his shoulder to halt his speech.

"I would love to stay for supper," he said.

And so a momma's boy became best friends with a young man who did not even really know what a mother was.

That friendship would be the start of a destiny far greater than either of them could ever imagine.