The coronation of the new Nandruien Queen had been so extravagant and obnoxious, Leonas was glad the festivities were finally over. Too many drunk Lords and Ladies squeezing his cheeks and cupping his chin as though they thought he was a baby. You look just like your father when he was a young boy! They would tell him, stinking of spirits and perfume. I'll say, dear, don't you think he looks just like a little doll? They had crowded around him, speaking of him as if he were a marble statue and putting their fat fingers all over him. When Prince Jaime gets married all the girls will be after this one. Then they would laugh and twitter with excitement and Leonas would have to stand there pretending he was flattered. Raised voices from next door broke Leonas's thoughts.
"To a child?" Leonas could hear his brother shouting in the room beside him. "How does he expect me to marry a ten year old when I'm seventeen? That's a seven year difference!"
"Just think of all the girls you can still have and she'll never know," Another voice answered to his brother. A chorus of laughter thrummed from the other side of the wall.
"Imagine Jaime tucking her in every night with a glass of warm milk and a kiss, how sweet," Another voice chimed.
"Shut up, my brother is next door," Leonas heard his brother say and then Jaime knocked twice on the wall causing the windows to rattle. "Go to bed, little Leo!" Jaime sung, causing the other boys next door to laugh again.
"I am in bed, you pollitwat," Leonas said to himself, rolling over and trying to block out their voices. Pretty soon Harbinger would be here and make Jaime go to bed, too. Here in Nandru, it was customary for complete silence in the Queen's Accolade after sundown, especially after a coronation. Once the Queen, herself, had gone to bed, the entire court and visiting royals and nobles were to retreat to their rooms as well. Prince Jaime and his friends seemed to think themselves immune. Leonas just wanted them to leave so he could sleep. Tomorrow they were finally leaving home for Albion.
To be honest, Leonas was glad to be leaving Nandru. Even though he had been impressed by their bioluminescent jungles, the sticky heat was unbearable and the days were too long. More than that, The Queen of Nandru's Court was especially bothersome. They lounged around all day long like cats in the sunlight with their fine clothes gossiping, plotting and drinking twika, a drink concocted from the extract of the intoxicating wika root. Leonas had to admit, however, lazy they were, the Queen's Court wasn't nearly as ruthless as the Royal Albion Court back home. In Albion, the Court was corrupt and ambitious and liked belittling him as some sort of fragile flower almost as much as the Nandru Court did.
Like clockwork, a knock came from next door.
There was a round of urgent "Hide it!" and he heard the door open. Harbinger, one of his father's most diligent coordinators, reminded them all of the punishment that awaited those who ignored the Silent Night and Prince Jaime's friends left quickly. Not long after, Leonas heard Jaime come into the bedroom. Jaime's footsteps were heavy and erratic. He stumbled to his bed beside Leonas's and sat down and threw his slippers across the room, giggling slightly.
"You're lucky, Leo," Jaime mumbled, his words slow and slurred. Jaime slipped into bed pulling the covers up to his neck. A stream of moonlight fell through the curtains and onto Jaime's bed illuminating his brother's flaxen hair.
When Leonas didn't reply, Jaime turned towards him staring at him thoughtfully. Leonas already knew what Jaime wanted to talk about. Green eyes met green eyes and it was if they understood each other perfectly.
"At least they don't touch you. I hate it when they touch me," Leonas confessed.
"Deal with it, Leonas. Grit your teeth and bear with it, it's what I had to do…what I still have to do," Jaime replied, running his hands through his hair.
"You should try to use it when we get back tomorrow," Leonas suggested, glancing at his brother to see his reaction. "It might help," Jaime didn't like to talk about this subject.
"That's just a myth, little brother, they don't actually work. They're just heirlooms, relics, really," he replied, fingering his jeweled ring.
"Mine works," Leonas insisted.
"Go to bed," Jaime finally turned his back to Leonas and fell quiet.
"I'll probably have to marry the Princess of Vathul, at least yours is seven years younger, mine will be ten years older!"
"No, Leonas, you'll probably marry someone who you love," Leonas could hear the bitterness in his brother's voice. "I'll be King one day, I don't have the same luxuries you have,"
And with that the room finally grew still. Leonas hugged his pillow as he mulled over his brother's words until his thoughts finally drifted to Albion, his home. Vathul had been too foreign, too intimate, too formal. The only thought that had gotten him through this coronation was the fact that waiting at home for him was his closest friend in the world, Brandt Vonner. The young Prince smiled and settled into his pillow to sleep.
Leonas had strange dreams that night. He dreamt of an empty city, ships stuck out of the bay like toothpicks, a river jutted through the desolate streets as the forest slowly took over. The buildings were covered in ivy and hung from one skyscraper to the next like spider webs. Suddenly, he was on the side of a cliff overlooking the city. He was walking towards a young woman standing at the very edge, her back to him facing the sea. For some reason, he thought he knew this woman even though he had never seen her before. She was so familiar, he just didn't know where to place her. Her hair was dark and whipped around her head. He reached out for her, wanting to ask her who she was but just as she did, she turned to look at him, her peridot eyes filled with all the sadness of the world.
Then, she stepped forward off the cliff into the sea below.
Leonas screamed, and a terrible longing buried in his belly until he jolted awake in his bed, tears still wet on his cheek. The silver band of his ring was warm and the precious stone that was embedded in it almost seemed to glow faintly as if a small little flame danced around from inside.
He turned over to face his brother's bed but discovered the sheets had been kicked off and Jaime was not in his bed.
Always getting into trouble, Leonas rolled his eyes and got up from his bed. He peeked out the curtains. The dark violet sky was stained with a pinkish flicker of light coming from the east. It must be nearly dawn. If one thing was clear it was that Jaime was not an early riser.
Leonas crawled out of bed, wrapping himself in a dressing robe. "Jaime?" He called out to the empty room. He walked over to the bathroom and checked inside. Nope, no Jaime. Leonas bit his lip, they weren't allowed outside their rooms until the Queen had risen from bed. Jaime must have slipped out. The question was could Leonas really be bothered enough to care where his brother had gone off to? Not really.
Thirty minutes later, Leonas found himself hiding behind a statue from the patrolling guards. Harbinger would not approve of this sort of behavior and normally Leonas wouldn't either but for some reason it was the most thrilling thing he had done here by far. This was the sort of thing only his closet friend got him into, not something he usually got himself into.
Brandt would probably say, Don't be a puckercrout, Leo, and then push him out into the hallway. Leonas smiled and then pushed forward.
To be honest, Leonas had no idea where his older brother was. It was clear Jaime had left their rooms and his friends were all asleep in their own beds. He'd checked the balcony (sometimes Jaime liked to smoke when Harbinger wasn't around), he meandered around the corridors closest to their quarters and even tiptoed into several empty and disused rooms. Leonas was just about to head back when he saw a figure in the private gardens down below. There was no mistaking it, it was Jaime.
Leonas watched as his brother disappeared into the maze of hedges. His body disappeared from sight but Leonas could still see his head bobbing up and down. A moment later, another figure came into view, chasing after him. Leonas would have turned away with disinterest but only because he thought it was another girl his older brother was secretly courting but it wasn't. Leonas couldn't make out who it was but it was clear that from the way they both were walking, they didn't want to be followed. Once again, Leonas could hear Brandt's voice inside his head, egging him on. Come on, Leo, don't be a passive Pascal!
Getting down to the gardens wasn't so difficult, the palace staff were beginning to trickle out of bed and get on with the day's busy events. It was finding where Jaime had gone off to that was the difficult part. When Jaime was younger and more soft-hearted, they used to play dark seeker in the middle of the night. It seemed that no matter how hard Leonas searched, Jaime always seemed to find a hiding spot Leonas had overlooked. It used to infuriate him.
The Nandruiens were famed for their elaborate luminescent gardens as with their jungles but only in the night did their true beauty awe. Now, in the high dawn, the gardens were misty and barren, the plants were lackluster and limp and the great-tiled walkways were slimy and slippery. Leonas had slid more than once, recovering only in the nick of time.
Why am I doing this again? Leonas rolled his eyes and he pressed further into the maze towards the garden house. Was he really going to spy on Jaime? Or tell him come back to bed before the Queenguard found them both? He'd already come this long way and Leonas had to admit he was also a little interested in his brother's early morning activities. Who was that figure that ran in after him?
As he approached the garden house, he could hear quiet, hushed voices coming from inside and the soft splash of water from the pool. Crouching down, Leonas slid from one column to the next, trying to see around the ferns.
From what he could see Jaime was in the pool and apparently also naked. Disappointed and slightly revolted, Leonas turned away ready to head back to their rooms when he heard another voice. It was deep and throaty, not at all feminine.
"You're up again?" The voice laughed. "Quite vigorous this morning"
Leonas watched his brother, trying to crane his neck to see his brother's companion. Jaime looked pleased but also a little sad as he knit his eyebrows.
"When do you have to go back?" Jaime reached out to grab the voice's hands.
"I had to go back an hour ago," The voice replied with a hint of a smile. Jaime smiled deviously.
"Well, you can just tell them that the Prince of Albion required extra help this morning,"
"Jaime, we'll get caught"
"I don't care. I love you," Jaime's voice was fierce and Leonas could hear the desperation. Leonas slid to the next column and behind a massive potted plant and tried peering over the rim to see this mystery person. They had only been in Nandru for less than a fortnight and Jaime was already professing his love?
"You know this has to end, right? I'm a servant, you're a Prince," The voice insisted, growing weak.
"Don't tell me you don't feel the same way," Jaime urged.
"They'll kill me, Jaime. If anyone sees us together…"
Leonas leaned forward ever so slightly, his curiosity burning, to discover the person who Jaime had just confessed his love to and was now entangled in the limbs of was not a girl at all.
The ring on Leonas's right index finger suddenly grew almost excruciatingly hot and seemed to clamp down into his flesh as if two rows of hot pins had dug themselves under his skin. He cried out in agony and tried desperately to remove the ring but he could feel his eyes rolling to the back of his head and the last thing he seemed to remember was seeing Jaime racing towards him and the tips of his hair dripping water droplets onto his face and yelling something inaudible at him before darkness over took him.