2.3 – Parvulus III
Prince’s Quarters, Florezian Palace, 20 years past
Prince Pellegrino heaved the heavy coat from his shoulders with a sigh, shaking his damp locks of hair as if he could scatter his stresses as easily as the raindrops. Even without the coat the rest of his clothes were formal and uncomfortable, but he was used to formal and uncomfortable attire; it had been his standard wear since he was a small child. Such was the burden of a Prince of Italoza.
“Your Majesty is probably tired. I have taken the liberty of drawing a bath and preparing a Rima wine, and a small selection of cheeses.” Prince Pellegrino’s manservant appeared at his side as soon as he entered his quarters, “I hope that was not too bold.”
“That does sound incredibly appealing, Hama, but I’ve only just stopped by to change cloaks and send a message.”
“I see. My apologies, Majesty. How was the funeral for the Rhetor?”
“It still hasn’t really fully hit me yet, I don’t think,” the Prince was already moving into the office that adjoined his bedroom, handing his wet cloak to Hama. “He’d been such a constant presence in my life…even after The Silence, he was always around. Lassus digitos meos I wish you hadn’t mentioned that Rima, Hama, now I can’t think of anything else.”
“The bath is still warm, Grino, there’s nothing stopping you from relaxing for a little bit,” the lilting voice that drifted from his bedroom had a ring to it, a tone that had never failed to make Prince Pellegrino smile until today. “Perhaps I could even join you, and we can ease our stress together.”
“Lareana,” he turned to find her in the doorway, eyes twinkling, “when did you arrive in the city?”
“This morning. When I heard that my Prince and master had need of me I didn’t dare keep him waiting,” Lareana teased. She stepped forward and leaned towards him, pursing her lips. With great force of will Prince Pellegrino took a step back, trying hard to ignore the faint scent of her as he did so.
“Lareana…” he began. He had expected the hurt look on her face, but it still twisted in his stomach like a dagger. Even with months to prepare, months that had soured every moment with her even as he tried to savor them, it was more difficult than he expected. He could tell that her mind was already working, her eyes narrowed as she searched his face.
“Oh,” she said quietly, “it’s over between us, isn’t it.” It was a surprised statement rather than a question.
“Our…romantic relationship is over, yes.”
“I see.” There was a long pause, and Prince Pellegrino looked away awkwardly as she brushed a tear from her cheek. “Forgive me, majesty, I don’t mean to…this is just very unexpected. I thought you enjoyed this enough to find another advisor.”
“It’s not that, Lareana, I do enjoy- how do you know I want you as an advisor?”
“Don’t be silly, Grino. You’re easy to read, I would’ve been able to tell if you had grown dissatisfied. The only reason you’d have to end things was if you were convinced you were doing what was best for Italoza. Your father swears by his advisors, it stands to reason you want to start appointing your own.”
“So you knew this was coming?”
“No. I suppose I just let myself hope that instead of wanting me for a counselor, you might want me as a Que- no, pretend I didn’t say that. You want a Stormtouched Queen, I know that. Oh dear, this just caught me so off guard.” The knife in his gut twisted further with each word she spoke, and Pellegrino had to force himself to speak.
“I do, I would! I wish this isn’t what had to happen, but with Goldtongue dead a new head advisor must be appointed, and their relationship with the throne had to be beyond reproach. You’re the second smartest person I know-”
“You don’t pull your punches when you dump a girl, do you?” Lareana gave a choked laugh.
“You’re the smartest person that I trust. If it were only about what I wanted, nothing would make me happier than to keep on as we’ve been forever, happy to make you my wife-”
“Don’t.” Lareana held up a hand, closing her eyes, “please stop your horrifyingly bad attempt at letting me down easy, Majesty. Alright. Okay. An advisor.” She took a few deep breaths, then opened her eyes. “If an advisor is what you need me to be, an advisor is what I can be for you. I can do this.”
“I do love you, Lareana, you know that don’t you?”
“I don’t think that is appropriate, Your Majesty,” she raised her chin, her face dignified if a bit dulled, the enthusiasm she had greeted him with completely gone. “It will be better if we avoid aphorisms like that in the future.” Pellegrino actually winced at that, feeling vaguely as if he had been slapped. Lareana’s face softened slightly. “It’ll get easier with time, Majesty. For both of us. Was there anything else you needed before you go on your errand?”
“I actually hoped you could come with me on my errand,” Pellegrino said, “as you’ll be my right hand, there’s someone I need you to meet.”
“Of course, Majesty. You’ll have to give me a few moments to change.”
“I think you look very nice!”
“Our relationship has changed rather dramatically since I got dressed. This outfit sent just the right message as the Prince’s paramour, but as the Prince’s right hand? Terrible.”
Pellegrino looked Lareana up and down again with a fresh eye. The green dress that clung to her body and highlighted her red hair and pale skin was appealing, true, but she was right; it didn’t exactly send the right message.
“I never would’ve have considered that,” he said.
“I suppose that’s why you need the second-smartest person you know as your advisor,” Lareana said with a sad half smile as she turned to leave. “What weather am I dressing for, Majesty?”
“We won’t be leaving the palace.”
“Oh? I thought I had met all of the important people in the palace as your lover. Who will I be meeting as your advisor?”
“The smartest person I know.”
The Tombs, Florezian Palace, 20 years past
The wing that The Tombs resided in was relatively new; a mere twenty years old rather than the centuries that the other dungeons boasted. Also unlike the other dungeons, The Tombs were quiet, luxurious, and kept many floors above ground in one of the higher portions of the palace.
They were also as quiet as their namesake; so quiet that even though they walked along plush carpet the Prince and Lareana’s footsteps seemed loud to him.
“What does the King think about your appointment of a new advisor so soon after the last one has died?” Lareana asked.
“We’ve discussed it. He’s getting on in years, and we agreed that I should have people I trust around me, people I have a relationship with, not people he’s chosen.”
Pellegrino glanced at her out of the corner of his eye. Her transformation had been stark; her hair pulled back into a severe bun, the blush on her cheeks and lips removed, the slim green dress replaced with black and dark violet robes. She looked somehow more sharp, more dangerous, and it had only taken her a few minutes to effect the change.
This was the girl offering to join me in the bath less than an hour ago, but she seems like she prepared for this eventuality. Pellegrino wasn’t quite sure whether to be bothered or impressed by the transformation, and he frowned as he stepped through the door to The Tomb’s entrance hallway.
“Just how dangerous is the person you’re introducing me to?” Lareana’s question broke him out of his reverie, and Pellegrino looked down the two rows of twenty guards that stood on either side of the hallway.
“We don’t truly think she’s this dangerous, but we’ve learned that it pays to overestimate her ability,” he said quietly as they moved past the rows of silent, watchful eyes. There was no sudden straightening or coming to attention when he appeared, as one might see in some of the lower guards; they had been alert since they took over their shifts. The double doors at the end of the hallway were neither strengthened nor locked; the prisoner was far too smart to attempt to open them. They made no sound when Pellegrino pushed them open.
“Prince Pellegrino, always a pleasure. Ah, and you’ve brought a friend, how lovely.” The old woman’s voice scratched and rasped, but it wasn’t unpleasant. She looked far better than she sounded, her wrinkled face serene, her grey hair neatly braided and tied with a ribbon that matched the simple dress she wore. She wore her age well, as if it was an intentional choice rather than a necessity.
“Good morning,” Prince Pellegrino said respectfully. “I would like to introduce you to Lareana. You’ll be seeing a lot of her from now on.”
Little One rose from her seat by the window, her slow movements more careful than graceful.
“How nice to meet a friend of his Majesty’s,” she said, extending a hand.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you as well,” Lareana said, politely shaking the offered hand. Her eyes narrowed for a moment, and Little One quite frankly eyed the other woman up and down. Pellegrino shifted uncomfortably. He had known he had to introduce his advisor to the woman, but now that it was done he wasn’t quite sure where to go from there. Should he tell Lareana exactly who Little One was, potentially frightening her in the process? How much should he let Little One know about Lareana? Perhaps he would let them talk for a little bit longer, and then over the space of a few days-
“I had expected the famed ‘Rebel Queen’ to be taller,” Lareana said.
“Then shame on you for believing every folk tale you hear,” Little One smiled, “I’m sure in another decade I’ll be twenty foot tall in their tales. And don’t worry my dear, no matter who the Prince chooses as his Queen, I doubt your relationship will be much different than it used to be, if you’ll have him.”
“I know. It doesn’t make it hurt any less, though.”
“No, I’d imagine it doesn’t.”
“W-Wait now wait just half a moment!” Prince Pellegrino spluttered, “how could you possibly know- who could have told- I wouldn’t be unfaithful to my Queen- you weren’t supposed to know she was the Rebel Queen! How?”
“A prisoner so well guarded, but yet kept alive?” Lareana raised an eyebrow, “one who ‘caused disaster when your father underestimated her’? Of course it was the Rebel Queen.”
“And you’ve not brought a single person to visit me since the rebellion, Prince Pellegrino,” Little One croaked, “naturally she is your new advisor. You may have appointed her to be your advisor, but you’re far too ruled by your heart to stay untangled with a woman you love so dearly, one who you plan on spending every day with.”
“You’re just guessing now,” Prince Pellegrino felt vaguely as if he was witnessing some sort of witchcraft, “you can’t know how I feel about her, there’s no way.” Both Lareana and Little One rolled their eyes at the same time, and the Prince blushed. “Very well, you’re both very clever, it’s rude to boast.”
“The fact that you think it takes someone clever to see that you’re in love is simply adorable, Majesty,” Little One gave Prince Pellegrino’s cheek a small pinch, and walked back to the window.
“It is sometimes like watching a child delighted by a magic trick,” Lareana said with a mischievous smile towards the Prince. “No offense meant, Rebel Queen, but given how highly you’re regarded, I would’ve expected something more…mystical.”
“I prefer Little One to Rebel Queen; I’ve spent far more time as the former. You mean that you’re surprised I’m not more clever? The Fabera whose skill at building can only be applied to her mind?”
“Well…yes. If I might be so bold.”
“You may. It’s because cheap tricks, smoke and mirrors, those things are easy. True thinking, displays of true cleverness, that’s the sort of thing you won’t notice for decades. I try to show his majesty respect by avoiding the parlor tricks, but my real acts of cleverness are the sorts of thing that won’t be exhibited until long after I’ve died. The history books will sing my praises perhaps, but no one else will.”
Little One sounded so sad, and despite himself Prince Pellegrino felt a twinge of conscience at the thought of the woman who had known him since birth locked up in these rooms for the rest of her life. Still, he was here for a specific reason.
“Maybe you could humor us with cheap tricks?” he asked. “I’ve never been able to figure them out, but we’ve already established that Lareana is smarter than I.”
Little One turned to look at the pair for long moments before she spoke.
“Goldtongue is dead, isn’t he?” she asked quietly.
“That would be easy to discern,” Lareana said, “you know I’m the Prince’s new right hand, and he wouldn’t take a new one if the old one was still alive.”
“Quite easy to discern,” Little One agreed, “but less easy to discern is the fact that at his funeral today, Lady Calvanese sneezed so hard that her wig fell off.”
The familiar icy feeling, typical of his meetings with Little One, built in Prince Pellegrino’s stomach.
“Perhaps you watched the funeral through that window?” Lareana asked.
“It faces the opposite direction,” Pellegrino said.
“Maybe…maybe the servants gossip?”
“No servants may enter, her food is brought to her by the two guards nearest the door, both of them mute and deaf.”
The Prince let Lareana muse on it for a few moments before changing the subject. He didn’t like to dwell on how Little One got her information, not when he knew she would always be one step ahead of him if he tried to figure it out.
“You don’t seem upset about Goldtongue’s death,” he said.
“I mourned for him ten years ago,” Little One shrugged, “I think that was when he really died, in his mind. When Italoza ripped his voice from him.”
“That’s a bit dramatic; we didn’t rip anything from him, we gave him a mask.”
“You muzzled him and made him less than a human. But let’s not have this discussion again, please. You know we only go ‘round in circles.”
“As you say. I just wanted you to meet Lareana, and let you know of Goldtongue’s passing, in case your mysterious powers hadn’t already informed you.”
“I appreciate the thought, Majesty. It was very thoughtful of you.” The old woman’s face was so motherly and kind when she smiled. It was hard to remember how terrifying and hellish that night had been twenty years ago. With a gesture he indicated to Lareana that they should go.
“No, I have to ask or it will drive me mad,” Lareana paused at the doorway, “Little One, how did you know about the Lady Calvanese and the wig?”
“A friend of mine told me, that’s all,” Little One smiled the same grandmotherly smile as the pair departed.
“What an interesting woman. She can’t possibly be telling the truth, can she? Does she have a spy who feeds her information somehow?” Lareana asked.
“We’ve had her watched through peepholes in the walls for weeks at a time,” Prince Pellegrino sighed. “Her room has been searched for secret passages, nothing comes in from the outside that isn’t thoroughly searched. Besides, ‘Lady Calvanese wears a wig’? Who would go to the trouble of smuggling such banal and trivial gossip to a prisoner?”
“You seem more on-edge than I’ve ever seen you,” Lareana noted. “Does she bother you that much, that she knows all of the gossip around the palace?”
“Her? Bother me?” Prince Pellegrino turned to look at the doorway they had just passed, beyond which lay a hallway of both Stormtouched and Mortalis guards who would kill on the slightest provocation, beyond which were impenetrable walls of stone and marble and iron bars, beyond which he somehow knew that the old woman was staring directly at him. “She doesn’t bother me, she terrifies me.”