11

With a huff of frustration, Rhyshladlyn dropped into one of the thick reading chairs in a remote corner of the Palace library facing where Alaïs and Anis sat next to each other leaning forward over parchments spread across the low table in front of them, identical clear blue eyes glancing up at Rhyshladlyn, each raising an eyebrow in sync. Bracing his elbows on his thighs, Rhyshladlyn bowed his head until his face was pressed against his palms, hair falling down to curtain his face and nearly hide it from view.

“It’s been nearly a damned year and he has done nothing,” Rhyshladlyn all but hissed, voice muffled but still carrying well enough to be heard by the twins across from him. Lifting his head he looked at his siblings and rolled his eyes when he saw their looks of confusion replete with both eyebrows raised now. “Gods, I mean father, stop giving me those looks.”

“Forgive us, brother, you have been pining of late and we weren’t certain which ‘he’ you were referring to,” Alaïs said with a smirk, her voice a near perfect match to their mother’s calm, soothing one only where Azhuri’s was a soft alto Alaïs’ was higher and clearer pitched than their mother’s.

Rhyshladlyn gave his sister a flat look. “I have not been pining, Al,” he bit out, lips twisted in what one could technically call a pout but neither of the twins was willing to test how upset their brother truly was by saying as much out loud. “Can we please focus on the fact that our esteemed father has not retaliated in any form since my nameday celebration? It is unlike him, I don’t trust it, but gods only know I can’t find the trap anywhere even though I know it must be there.”

“Speaking of pining,” Anis quipped with a sly grin at the answering growl from the other male, “where is your guard? Shouldn’t he be with you?”

“He was waylaid by Mother. She said she had a missive from his homeland by way of Qishir Lulphé, he shouldn’t be kept long,” Rhyshladlyn answered, running a hand over his face as he spoke.

“So you are upset because Father hasn’t done anything to come off as though he is seeking punishment for what you said at the Festival of Flesh feast?” Alaïs said, hands smoothing the wrinkles in her deep red skirts absently, the action one of habit more than one performed out of need as her clothing was always impeccable.

“Yes,” Rhyshladlyn replied shortly, his tone making it clear that that answer should have been obvious.

“Why?” Alaïs pressed even though she knew the answer as well as Anis did, as well as anyone who knew how deeply the hatred Rhyshladlyn had for the Lord King ran. But sometimes they needed to goad their younger brother to get him to open up about the details he otherwise would keep locked away; it was literally the only way they learned that Anislanzir had burned Rhyshladlyn’s right arm nearly beyond repair.

“Because it is uncharacteristic of him to let something like that go even though I left the copy of the Law on the table for him and I know he took it with him following the feast. But he has never been one to let that kind of thing slide, especially not if it came from me,” Rhyshladlyn replied. “And I’m worried that I may have missed something.”

“Perhaps you merely managed to catch him off guard enough and terrify him enough that he doesn’t wish to test you by trying anything?” Anis said with a shrug, leaning back in his chair, one leg crossed over the other with his ankle resting just above his opposite leg’s knee, arms crossed loosely over his chest. “I agree that it’s uncharacteristic of Father to not act but you did not see yourself that night, brother mine; to say you were terror made flesh would be a vast understatement. Even Father was shaking by the time you finished and sat down.”

Rhyshladlyn barked out a laugh, shaking his head. “He was not quaking with fear, Anis, not even close. Nothing rattles that male.”

“You were not sitting right next to him, Rhys, you didn’t catch the–” Anis stopped abruptly, eyes fixed on something over Rhyshladlyn’s shoulder. Frowning at the expression on his brother’s face, Rhyshladlyn turned in his seat to see Azriel standing there staring at him, mismatched eyes glazed with a faraway look, face twisted into something that looked like fury and sorrow mixed.

“Azriel-pryncef, what ails you?” Alaïs asked, the first to gain her voice as she slowly rose to her feet when the Anglëtinean warrior didn’t respond. Rhyshladlyn was on his feet mere seconds later, moving around the chair to stand within arm’s reach of his personal guard.

“Az?” he asked, voice soft, eyes searching every inch of the other male’s face. “Az, talk to me, what happened? Are you alright?”

Those mismatched eyes looked up at him and Rhyshladlyn staggered back a step at the intensity of fury and hatred that swirled there, Azriel’s features taking on a look of abject sorrow so profound that Rhyshladlyn found it hard to breathe.

“I am being ordered to leave Shiran City at once and report to the Eighth Palace to face tribunal for unholy acts committed against one of the royal line,” Azriel intoned, voice dropping from its normal tenor to bass, the last nine words spat out as though they were a curse to even speak. Rhyshladlyn frowned, eyes narrowing but it was Alaïs that spoke first.

“Unholy acts? What does that even mean?” She asked, holding out a hand to take the parchment roll Azriel held out towards her at her question.

Rhyshladlyn blinked wondering when Alaïs had crossed the distance between them and came to stand beside him. When Alaïs hissed, the sound a shock because she was her mother’s daughter through and through and never made such noises, Rhyshladlyn snatched the parchment from her and scanned it quickly before letting out a subvocal snarl with a burst of power that shattered several nearby lamps and knocked books off the shelves, a few shouts of surprise and pain echoing from the bowels of the library around them as that power burst reached the far walls before rippling back at them and ruffling Rhyshladlyn’s clothes and hair before it settled, leaving in its wake an eerie yet cacophonous silence.

“Who signed this order?” Rhyshladlyn’s voice was filled with an undulating darkness that seemed to seep out into the World around them, leeching the light as it slithered and weaved around them, licking at the light and eating it before darting away in search of more. His voice was like ice breaking underfoot as one tried to cross a raging river in the dead of winter, amber eyes darkening with the swirling rise of his fury.

“Qishir Lulphé said she was contacted by a currier from here under orders from the Lord King. The personal letter Lulphé wrote to me said the missive she was given by that currier was sealed by Anislanzir’s own hand both by wax and power and his name was signed at the bottom,” Azriel replied, voice tight as he faced off against Rhyshladlyn’s rising fury, the cold heat of it making him sweat as he fought not to flinch under the force of it. “The Elders of the Race were also contacted…the tribunal is being called to determine what my punishment should be.”

Anis growled lowly then having finished reading the parchment that he’d taken out of Rhyshladlyn’s hand. “He claims you raped Rhys? What?”

Azriel looked at the heir to the throne with steady, shimmering mismatched eyes. “Yes. The night I helped him with his…ailment… by orders of the Lady Queen herself, apparently a servant overheard us and was convinced to testify to the Lord King that the sounds were not those of consent but of Rhyshladlyn being anything but consenting.”

“No, that is not acceptable. I will testify on your behalf!” Anis thundered, his own power leaking out past his control and crackling along his arms and hands. “I was there when Rhyshladlyn was found after Alaïs alerted Mother and I! Surely my testimony alone, never mind Ero’s who recognized what the problem was, will suffice to keep you from being punished!”

“No one can say a word, Anis-prec’cin,” Azriel said softly, voice full of defeat that made Rhyshladlyn snarl anew, “because if you say anything on my behalf, if any of you do, it will be known what the problem was and then Rhyshladlyn will be at a greater risk than he is right now. This is merely a ploy to remove me from the Palace here, to get me away to where I cannot protect him. That is all this is. I will not be punished any more than a field cat is for eating the mice that threaten to eat the crops on a farm.”

Rhyshladlyn made a sound then that was filled with an emotion none could name as he closed his eyes and visibly fought to regain control of himself and his emotions, head bowed as he shook where he stood, the shadows that had grown about their corner of the library pulsing as his magick fed them, called to them sweetly, begged them to come closer, to grow stronger.

“Mark my words this day, if you are harmed because of my Father’s careless words, there is no place in the Worlds he may hide, no gods who will come to his aid, no begging or bribery that will save him from me,” Rhyshladlyn bit out, eyes slowly opening as he spoke. “He has crossed a line with this slanderous claim that you forced me. One that I will never forgive him for.” Rhyshladlyn advanced a step on Azriel, lifting a finger to point at him. “Make sure that Lulphé is made aware that I be notified of the day of your tribunal for I shall be there whether you wish me to be or not. Your name will not be tarnished because you happened to be an easier target for this madman of an un-male.” With those words Rhyshladlyn stepped around the frozen Anglëtinean and stormed out of the library, the shadows that had gathered around their corner following after him like dutiful hounds.

After the distant sound of the library doors banging shut had faded, Azriel turned to find both Alaïs and Anis regarding him with appraising looks.

“Well, guess we know what Father’s move is,” Alaïs said, voice hard as rock and as cold as ice, eyes dark as the deepest of ocean waters where the blue fades out to black. “Let us go prepare ourselves to meet him blow for blow. Rhyshladlyn cannot fight this battle alone.”

“I concur, dearest sister,” Anis replied and followed her as she took the same path Rhyshladlyn just had.

Azriel just stood there staring after them with muted shock.

“Don’t just stand there, Azriel, come with us now,” Anis called out without looking back.

“Yes, Azriel, move along now,” Alaïs added, throwing a smile over her shoulder at him that nearly matched her younger brother’s in how dark and terrifying it was.

What in the names of the High Ones have I gotten myself into? Azriel wondered as he did as he was told and followed them out.

No answer came, but then again he wasn’t really expecting one.

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