This is Issue #61 of DeathWatch, Book II: tentatively called Heart Of Ilona, an ongoing Serial. Click that link to go find DeathWatch, the first in the series, or start from the beginning of Book II!
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No one who had truly known Exosus Aecus was under the impression that the mourning of his passing was anything but a formality. If Ilona knew the man to be a monster, it also knew that monster fed the city well. No doubt there would be many who would come looking to seize control of the family’s businesses, its harbors and ships and commodities.
They would be disappointed, wholly, to know their machinations had already been subverted — Venustus Aecus had long since prepared for the death of her husband. She knew her only true chance for freedom was his demise, and though she had been a dutiful wife, she had longed for his untimely end since he drove her children to misery and madness.
Now that he was well and truly gone, it was up to her and the family to give him the send off the people expected, and as they received the public in their stages of open mourning, they would have to play the part of the grieving left-behinds.
In private, however, Venustus and her sisters and cousins sat in her rooms, drinking wine and talking with one another as they had not been able to in years. Exosus had kept Venustus hidden from so many; her beauty and charm had made him monstrously jealous, and to keep his ire low, she had kept quiet, kept hidden. Soon, however, that would no longer need to be the case.
After Coryphaeus had reconciled with his mother, he returned to his childhood room, where Jules waited quietly — where he had left her. Nixus was sitting on his bed, reading a book, and Jules stood nearby, her head bowed, her hands clasped. She waited, doing nothing, touching nothing.
He watched her, curiously, but it was Nixus he went to. As she rose, he wrapped his arms around her, pressing his cheek to hers.
Nixus could feel the wet of his tears; she held him tightly, her heart pounding in her chest. “Coryfrater?” Her voice trembled, and it startled her, the way it sounded shaky.
“All is well.” Coryphaeus’s voice was low, smooth — confident in a way she had not heard him before. He pulled back, squeezing her hands, and said, “Thank you for convincing me to come. It is good to be home.”
Nixus’s whole expression changed — her face lit up with a genuine smile. The look was so foreign on her features that Jules nearly squawked in some mixture of alarm and glee. Instead, she cleared her throat and dropped her eyes again, frustrated as she realized she’d been looking up, unbidden. She’d been watching other servants come and go; they paid little to no attention to her, save when she was in their way as they dusted the room, brought in fresh water and fruit, tended the plants. They handled her as though she were a piece of furniture that could move itself.
It had grown disconcerting, and then boring, and then somewhat depressing, as Nixus joined in on the fun. She was determined to show the Summus she could be every bit as proper as was necessary.
She needn’t have worried in that instant. Neither Nixus nor Coryphaeus were paying attention to her. As a servant came in and announced the arrival of the Guardian and the Queen, they went to leave, slipping by her as though she were nothing. It wasn’t until Coryphaeus went to pull the door shut that he saw her standing there; his eyes widened. Out of sight of the hall and servants, and Nixus as well, he leaned in to cup her cheek with his hand.
His touch was warm, and Jules hadn’t realized how she’d looked forward to his attention. Her skin flushed with as much pleasure as frustrated embarassment at herself. She smiled shyly while gritting her teeth, and said. “How shall I serve you, Lord? By accompanying you, or waiting here?”
Coryphaeus looked earnestly pleased, saying, “Stay with me.”
She nodded, following him out, and the three of them went, preceeded by the servants who had summoned them, to the receiving hall, to stand with the family, as the Guardian and the Queen of Ilona came to pay their respects.
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When the Guardian and the Queen stepped from the carriage, servants of House Aecus had already roped off an area to let them get to the house without too much disturbance. Writers and publicists for the information vidfeeds as well as hundreds of the nosy public stood at them, pressing close, wanting a real glimpse of royalty. Though the palace publicists were less than pleased with it, Jet and Lucida ignored the press and the people, but allowed everyone to see the vast assortment of mourning gifts being brought in by their retinue. Gossip flew as chests, slaves, and animals were brought in by the dozen.
The goods were immediately dispatched to a rear entrance, while Jet and Lucida were ushered in the front.
Though he had tried in van to get Jet’s attention, Secta had found himself serving Lucida; he did so without complaint, with love, with kindness. Though Gemma had behaved abominably in the end, she had still been Lucida’s closest lover and confidant, there was no way the Queen had recovered from such a loss. While he and Jet were at odds, he felt it reasonable he should treat his Queen with as much love as he was not afforded to give to his Lord.
He walked in with both Lucida and Jet, but upon catching sight of Jules, he nearly walked into the back of them both. He blinked, stunned — he had thought she would leave the city itself, as quickly as she could. What was she doing here, and with the Legatus, no less?
When she noticed him, her expression didn’t change; she kept her eyes mostly on Coryphaeus, and occasionally, her surroundings, to see what she should be doing next.
Lucida walked directly to Venustus, who rose from her pillowed seat. It was not common for the Queen to be so close to her subjects, but Lucida preferred intimacy in her dealings — she embraced the woman without restraint, whispering quietly. “Bonum est te viden.” They kissed one another’s cheeks, and Lucida then went to greet the rest of the family, likewise.
The Guardian stepped forward, saying, “I am sorry for your loss, Domina. Lord Aecus–”
Venustus went to one knee, startling him. “Et mortuus est. Ego Domina Venustus,” Venustus said softly. “Et domo mea semper servierit tibi.”
Coryphaeus watched Nixus’s face as their mother knelt and in one stroke, disavowed their father, changed their house name, and promised their unending service to the Guardian of Ilona.
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