This is Issue #27 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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“The last hunt,” he said. “Did you see it?”
“No,” Nixus murmured. “I was on maneuvers.” It was only a little bit of a lie — she hadn’t seen the hunt, but she also hadn’t been on maneuvers. She looked at him over the back of the curve-backed chaise upon which he rested, and took note of his nearly-empty glass. Plucking it from his hands, she said, “Let me refill that?”
“Pour some for yourself, too Nixie, and come watch.” It was hard, being around her father, who so obviously wanted things to be warm and kind again, but had no idea how to achieve it.
“Yes, Father,” Nixus murmured. She busied herself with the liquor, pouring herself little more than a splash, while she topped off the glass from her father by filling it with the aetheris from the shelf.
Her eyes flicked up to the vid screen of the highlight reel of the Prince’s last hunt. She stood quietly, watching the Prince she swore to obey lay a hand on her brother’s brow, as though in blessing, and then shift to thrust a blade into his chest. Her eyes went wide as she watched Coryphaeus twist just enough to evade the brunt of the blow, going down on his back, pinned, beaten.
She looked at her father’s face as he watched the Prince kneel against Cory’s hips, pulling out a knife and putting it to her brother’s throat. She had heard from others how close her brother had been to death in those moments, but she had not realized the full of it.
She moved to sit down with her father, her face expressionless as she drank when her father drank, stared when he stared, was silent while he was silent.
She watched his expression, so hopeful, so desperate, and her heart felt light to see the need in his eyes as her brother escaped death in that instant.
Her father’s face changed, however, when Coryphaeus whispered forgiveness quietly to the prince; something shaded his eyes, and she could no longer discern the emotion on his face.
“Right there,” her father said, shaking his head, all but spitting his aetheris. “Right there is when your wretch of a sister made certain our name would be forever stained,” he said lowly. “I’ve watched this a thousand times or more. Worthless stain in my line couldn’t even die with dignity. I guess it’s true what they say of twins — you split up what gifts you’ll have while still in the womb, hmm? You were given strength and brilliance, and there must’ve been nothing left for her.”
Nixus frowned slightly, watching the way Immanis pulled a knife and put it to Cory’s throat. She glanced over at her father, but before she could say anything, he laughed cruelly and said, “Don’t worry. I don’t think of you as a thief. Even if you’d left Phaedra anything, she wouldn’t have known what to do with it.”
“You called me,” Nixus said, to keep herself from calling Coryphaeus her brother. To keep herself from saying his name.
“I did,” Exosus Aecus said, turning to look up at Nixus. “I’ve found you a match.”
“What?” Nixus said quietly, feeling her knees weaken, feeling her heart cease to beat and fall, leaden in her chest. “A match? You were looking? I thought–”
“My darling Nixiana,” he sighed, smiling at her in a way that made her heart ache and her throat tighten. By heaven how she hated the sound of that name in his mouth.
“This war — the Northern aggressors will rape and pillage their way through our lands. You’ll be in danger on a battlefield. We both know your brother will never live up to being the rightful heir. I won’t live forever. I won’t have a son to carry on our family name, but I’ll be damned if our blood goes on only in bastards,” he explained, shrugging.
“But I don’t–” Nixus looked shocked; she had no plans to marry, to dress fine, to be a lady and attend court. She had battles to fight and men to lead.
“Hush now,” Exosus said, lifting up his glass. “He is a respected man. He is moneyed, and he will keep you far from the war front. Fill it again.”
“Far from the — no, father, I’m not–” Nixus felt bile in her throat as she took the glass, struggling to figure out a way to escape from this sudden trap.
“Fill it again, Nixiana. You are my daughter. Mine. You will listen, and you will obey.”
Silent, Nixus walked the glass back to the liquor, and poured a generous measure of aetheris into her father’s glass, her head aching, her breathing tight. She thought of the power he held over her, of his say over her future, and the fury in her grew. She stared down at the glass, as though the silver blue liquid within it might be able to tell her something perhaps comforting.
“One of you little whelps must give a legitimate man his due. I couldn’t pay a pauper enough now to bed Phaedra, and even if some drunken beast ruts with her, she’s fallow ground and couldn’t hold an heir,” he grumbled.
Nixus lifted her head and turned to look at her father, at the man whose blood ran in her veins. She tried, terribly hard, to find some measure of love in her heart for him, tried to understand his anger and maleficence toward her brother…
But she couldn’t.
“Give it here,” Exosus said, holding out a shaking hand.
Nixus stared at it, long and hard; the man was older than she’d realized. He’d grown grey and was well past his prime, while she was yet in the height of hers. He was a patriarch of some weight, with many allies, and many who feared him.
She was beginning to realize, however, that she didn’t.
“Give it here, you silly cunt,” he said, waving his hand. “Have you taken too many blows in the head? It’s a good thing I’ve found you a husband before you lose your mind and shame yourself like Phaedra.”
“He’s not fallow,” Nixus said, walking back toward her father, holding the glass in one hand.
“What? What are you talking about? Your match? Heavens no — he’s as virile as they come,” he lauged.
“No. My brother,” Nixus answered.
“Of all the ridiculous things you’ve said –” Exosus sighed. “Mirus was everything but fallow. He’s had how many bastards we’ve had to take in at this point–”
Rather than hand over the glass, Nixus drained the aetheris and closed her eyes briefly, picturing Coryphaeus’s face. She cleared her throat and smacked the glass down on the table near her.
The jolt of noise made her father turn his head toward her, his watery eyes narrowing.
“I’m not talking about Mirus,” Nixus hissed. “I’m talking about Coryphaeus, father. My brother. My twin. Your other son.”
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