The cold, steely light of dawn sliced through sheer golden curtains and wove phantasmal shadows across rumpled bedding. The sheets quietly rustled and a strained gasp rose from the folds. The shadows shifted and the cold light waltzed a new pattern across aurulent embroidery and luxuriant silk. A low moan rattled the air, stirring faint notes of wormwood and fennel.
“What have you done to me?” an atrocious rasp escaped from the bedding. So quiet, barely perceptible, yet it echoed off the light fixtures, the windows. A groan, and another attempt to speak was stifled by a guttural temblor.
Soon it would be safe. Soon it would be quiet.
“I never did anything to you,” the child whispered from the receding darkness.
“You took her from me. You exist! You live!” the old man gasped.
“You won’t. Not ever. Not anymore. Hateful, mean man.”
Sevilen lurked in the shadows as the old man died. He was not scared of observing the death. In actuality, he was rather pleased. Eight years earlier, the old man killed Sevilen's mother in a fit of rage after the black-haired, indigo-eyed child was born under the light of a red-shadowed moon. The fair-haired, light-eyed man saw the child, and realizing the infant couldn't be his own, he strangled his wife. He didn't care who the child's real father was. Any male among his servants and staff sharing a single similar feature to the infant was punished for the suspected infidelity.
Sevilen didn't understand why the old man didn't kill him as well, but he often wished he had. The old man had alternately ignored and abused the child, and Sevilen's life thus far was misery. There was a strangely mesmerizing justice to what was happening before him now, and he couldn't look away. Sevilen allowed himself a brief moment of joy and contentment as the old man exhaled one last time and died.
He was gone. Gone forever. No more beatings, no more yelling. No more reminders of a worthless life. The vile beast lay vanquished and in its place remained only a frail and sunken corpse. Horrible thing, now reduced to nothing.
Sevilen tarried for some time behind the cascades of silken curtains in the old man's opulent bedroom. He gazed fearfully at the corpse, afraid the old man would spring from his deathbed and come thrash him once again for being in the room. The old man did not like it when the child wandered, especially not into his quarters. Sevilen was supposed to remain in the servants’ quarters and be forever silent. He was not supposed to be seen, he was not supposed to exist. He was always to remain a phantom.
“You can come out now, Sev. It is done,” Rastaban whispered, pulling the curtains back to expose the dark-haired child who hid behind them. Sevilen’s older brother was tall, handsome, and golden. He was the living image of the tyrant on the bed. At sixteen years old, he already carried himself with the grace of one much older and wiser. He was elegant and articulate and unapologetically remorseless.
“I'm scared again, Ras,” Sevilen whimpered, pulling his frayed jacket close around his chest. The fear he entered the bedchamber with swelled again in his chest, brutally stomping out the slight and transient euphoria. The old man wasn’t really dead, he couldn’t be. He was going to sit up any moment and finish the task he first attempted after Sevilen’s birth, and every so often in the years thereafter.
“Don't be afraid. He's gone now, we... you're safe,” Rastaban responded, pulling Sevilen to his feet. He embraced the slight boy affectionately. “He will never hurt you again.” Rastaban had always been very protective of his younger brother, but Sevilen feared him nonetheless. Maybe it was the resemblance to the old man, or maybe it was the arrogant ambition Rastaban carried behind his cool eyes. Or, it could have been the gruesome task he just finished, and the vindictive smile he now allowed to settle on his lips.
“Does this mean you're the king now?” Sevilen asked as Rastaban led him from the chamber.
“Yes, it does,” Rastaban replied flatly. He smiled as he hid the vial in the folds of his robe. They slipped down the corridor and out of sight in time to avoid the well-groomed servant who had awoken the old man to his breakfast every morning for the past thirty years. Rastaban pulled Sevilen into a shadowed alcove and waited.
“The King is dead! King Faraban is dead!” the servant yelled after a moment. He ran down the hall and out of sight. Rastaban rubbed Sevilen's shaking shoulders. The pressure of his slender fingers released the knots chewing at Sevilen's muscles. The child wearily allowed his head to rest against Rastaban's chest.
“What happens now?” Sevilen asked, looking up at his brother's handsome face. Rastaban's elated eyes betrayed the serenity of his expression.
“Now, it is my turn,” said Rastaban, and he nudged his brother out of the alcove so they could escape downstairs. Sevilen did not want to be in the palace. He did not want to watch his brother accept the crown of Ganebra. No good could come of the ascension, but Sevilen was too afraid of angering Rastaban to mention his intense reservations.
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