Uncalled For Actions (4/?)
Days 22 – 28 of the experiment.
He checked to make sure no one was watching then carefully added some speech bubbles around the drawing before casually slipping the paper back to her.
She snorted softly, scribbled something else then passed the note back, lower lip caught between her teeth to keep from smiling.
This went on of most off the Baron’s impassioned, but ultimately, boring address.
At some point, Anevka gave up any pretenses of paying attention and slid into the Baron’s seat to be next to Gil. “Might you have some ink I could borrow,” she said, just loud enough for her father to hear.
Gil doubted the Prince believed the excuse by the low huff he gave before returning his attention to the proceedings. Nevertheless, Gil pushed the inkwell between them as they both pretended to take notes, their drawings becoming more and more absurd as time and boredom wore on.
The Baron eventually came to his final remarks, necessitating Anevka return to her original seat, but she continued to make faces at him behind his father’s back, much to Gil’s delight–maybe if Anevka stuck around the summit, things wouldn’t be as bad as he’d worried.
That thought soured the mood because he knew he’d have to face Tarvek eventually–there was no getting around it.
After what seemed like an eternity where his emotions bounced from elated to anguished, the morning’s meetings came to a close and the apprentices were dismissed to an adjoining room for lunch.
Gil was out of his seat before his father could even gather a lecture, strolling over to Anevka with a shy grin.
“I’m Gil,” he said, holding out his hand like they hadn’t spent the last four hours goofing off together. “Your Highness,” he added respectfully if a little late.
She giggled, hand over her mouth. “Please don’t do that–it’s just Anevka. Don’t you find titles just so stuffy and dreadful?”
His grin slid from his face. “Uh, I guess?”
Anevka missed his discomfort as she continued to rant about life in the royal court and never getting to be her true self, but he managed to shove the smile back on his face when she turned towards him again.
“Don’t you think?”
They barely made it into the gathering room before they were accosted by a pint-sized red-head wearing approximately a kilometer of pink taffeta and too much of her mother’s perfume.
“Anevka!” she shouted, grabbing the princess’s arm and dragging her away from Gil.
At the last second, though, Anevka snatched his elbow, hauling Gil with them on what turned out to be a wild ride through the rumor mill of Empire royalty.
“Can you believe Cecil had the nerve to show his face here after what he did to Gretchen,” the girl whispered loudly enough for several passers-by to shoot her curious looks. She pulled Anevka closer. “And look at what Vivica is wearing–is that silk? In this weather?”
Anevka managed to untangle herself from the younger girl’s claws. “Seffie, what even are you doing here? This luncheon is for apprentices only.”
Seffie’s jaw dropped then her eyes narrowed. “You’re not an apprentice.”
Anevka didn’t fall for the bait. “I’m filling in for Tarvek at the moment. Besides, this is my house–I can go wherever I please,” she said calmly.
Seffie looked as if she wanted to argue, but seemed to finally notice Gil still hanging from Anevka’s arm. “Who’s this,” she purred which coming from a girl that looked no more than eleven was more than a little disturbing, but Gil forced a smile on his face.
“Gilgamesh Holzfäller, miss,” he told her with a gallant bow that got an approving giggle from Anevka.
Seffie practically glowed from the attention, fanning herself dramatically and batting her long eyelashes that had to be fake.
Anevka laughed again. “Gil, this is my cousin, Seffie von Blitzengaard–feel free to ignore her since she doesn’t belong here.”
Tarvek hadn’t talked much about his family when they were kids other than to say they were all crazy, dangerous or both–Gil had a feeling that Seffie, as young as she was, fell into the “both” category and didn’t need anyone to tell him the best course of action was to stay far away.
Unfortunately, Seffie had other ideas. She sidled up to Gil, taking his other arm, and gazed longingly at him in a way that made his skin crawl.
When extraditing himself from her grip proved futile, he shot Anevka a pleading look, but she only rolled her eyes–Gil had a feeling he’d fallen into some kind of trap.
* * *
Tarvek waited until only his father remained in the Great Room before slipping out from behind one of the tapestries. Everything would have been fine even if he’d been a little late, but when he’d peeked out at the receiving line, his heart stopped at the one person he never thought he’d see again.
In his castle.
The shock kept him safely ensconced behind the tapestry as he watched his boyhood friend meet-and-greet representatives from the Fifty Families like he was born into the world. And the dignitaries accepted him as one of their own.
An unwanted flare of jealousy surged through him followed by an even more appalling swell of protectiveness–these were the same people that shunned Gil his entire life, and now, they treated him like he always belonged.
He let the anger roll over into the memories of betrayal, of being forced out of Castle Wulfenbach, of the abuses he’d sustained since returning home. That felt better.
He’d been about to join the meeting, but then, Anevka hurried in to take his place which wouldn’t have been horrible except he had to watch her flirt–flirt!–with Holzfäller
The whole affair made him sick and angry and frozen in fascination at the way Gil smiled and blushed over whatever they were whispering about, opening up space for that pang of jealousy again.
That’s my friend, his brain screamed even as he chastised it–“he hasn’t been your friend in a long time if he ever was.”
Finally, the meeting ended his agonizing as Gil dashed off after Anevka leaving Tarvek more than a little confused over his unwelcome emotions. “Useless things,” he mumbled as he approached the head table where his father stood, glaring at some papers.
He took a deep breath. “Father-”
Tarvek’s words faltered at the sight of his father’s seething rage then Aaronev backhanded him hard enough to snap his head around.
“How dare you make a fool out of me in front of the Fifty Families, the Baron, the entire Empire. I am not a fool.”
Tarvek blinked back tears and gently pressed a hand to his cheek.
“I apologize, father–I was detained.”
“Detained by what?”
He couldn’t very well tell his father he’d been rescuing his Smoke Knight from a bully–that would just get them both into trouble so he chose the closest thing to the truth.
“I was working on an experiment in my lab and lost track of time.”
His father huffed, but his blind fury cooled at the thought of his son laboring away in a lab.
Technically, it was the truth–Tarvek had been in his lab working but not on any experiment or project his father would approve of and that was hours ago. It was a good excuse, though, as his father had impatiently been waiting for Tarvek to break through and prove the Spark ran strong in the Sturmvoraus family.
“I think I’m close,” Tarvek said carefully, not wanting to upset his father further. “The ideas and plans are making more sense–like they’re on the edge of my peripheral but I can’t quite make them out.”
This seemed to satisfy him. “It’ll get clearer with time and then one day it will be like you never actually understood color before that moment.” He clapped Tarvek on the shoulder with a genuine smile.
Tarvek let out a soft breath, relaxing slightly as his father’s anger diminished. “Did I miss anything of import at the opening ceremony?”
His father’s eyes darkened. “Only Klaus patting himself on the back for bringing peace to Europa as usual.” He picked up some papers. “Your sister did quite well at your job, you know. I might have made a mistake when choosing an apprentice–no one said the heir had to be a male. I think I’ll keep her around.”
Tarvek’s jaw dropped, but before he could respond, his father turned away with a wave. “You’re dismissed.”
He couldn’t believe what he was hearing. Did his father just replace him with Anevka because he was late for one meeting? He wouldn’t–not after all the work and training Tarvek had been doing since he came back home over five years ago.
He slammed his mouth shut, spun on his heel and marched out of the Great Room seeing red. This was unacceptable and he would do something about it. First, he’d find Anevka and then he’d make her–make her step down, yes.
Then he’d force her to tell Father she’s not at all interested in being his apprentice or taking over the kingdom.
His steps faltered.
Unless she is. What if this is a plot? He wouldn’t put it past Anevka to try to weasel in on his crown. Tarvek shook his head. No, that’s ridiculous–Anevka wouldn’t do that, and besides, the Lightning Crown belongs to a male heir; that was just fact.
His pace slowed further as he continued to contemplate this train of thought, but in the end, the only thing he could be sure of was that he could never be sure of his sister’s motives, and surprisingly, that settled him–it was familiar and understood.
He let out a breath. There was no point in worrying about Anevka usurping him at the moment–all he could really do was get back in his father’s good graces and that meant being the best apprentice.
That brought his forward motion to a complete halt. Charging into the gathering to angrily confront Anevka would not help his cause in any way. He needed to remain calm and in control of his emotions and the situation–like a real King.
Tarvek changed directions, heading back to his bedroom for a change of clothes and maybe a calming sip of the brandy he’d liberated from his father’s liquor cabinet after a rather arduous training session in the lab.
Fifteen minutes later, he was standing in front of his massive armoire in his unbuttoned trousers and undershirt, a snifter of brandy in one hand and a silk shirt in an understated lavender hue hanging from the other.
He considered the shirt for a moment then sipped his drink, feeling the blessed relief of the spirits washing away his earlier tension and misgivings. Of course, Anevka wouldn’t make a move against him–just last week, they’d sat together in this very room getting drunk on brandy and peppermint schnapps and giggling like they’d been school children over something ridiculous Martellus had said. Tarvek snorted at the memory, took another sip then put the shirt back, instead choosing one in a deeper shade–better, more commanding.
Nearly forty minutes and half a decanter of brandy later, Tarvek flattened down his collar and adjusted his sigil, nodding at his reflection. “Very good,” he told himself with a dignified smile–well, an attempt at dignified; he might have gone a little too hard on the brandy.
He repressed the rising snort of amusement, tugged his shirtsleeves taught then nodded again before turning on his heel. He could do this–he was going to be Storm King and he wouldn’t let Anevka or Holzfäller ruin that for him.
Gil meant nothing to him so wouldn’t be a problem at this summit, at all. Tarvek grimaced at the sheer lie that threatened to crush him.
* * *
The luncheon for the apprentices was set up buffet style with a long catering table staffed by a dozen attendants in black slacks and white shirts along one wall and a variety of round and rectangular tables in the center of the room. Groups of sofas and chairs in the corners allowed for lounging, menial chit-chat and the normal wheeling and dealing that took place at these sorts of things even among the children.
Gil sat squished between Anevka and Seffie in one of the corners, securing a small sofa for themselves.
“And that one there with the unkempt red hair is our cousin Orrik Avantgarde–of course, Avantgarde isn’t their real last name; they just think they’re being clever but they’re not fooling anyone.”
“Seffie, my dear,” Anevka said with a grin, “they all have unkempt red hair; it’s kind of a family trait.”
Seffie giggled, but Gil figured out who she’d been talking about easily enough. Orrik was a hulk of a man, his ginger hair sticking out at odd angles, wearing a horribly clashing royal purple greatcoat and burnt orange trousers–he looked mean and irritable even from this distance.
“Of course, he wanted to be a Smoke Knight but just couldn’t hack it,” Seffie continued. “Too big and slow to be sneaky. And dumb.”
“Seffie,” Anevka scolded, smacking the younger girl’s hand.
“So, he talked Uncle Edvard to take him on as apprentice–he’s about as good at that as he was at being a Smoke Knight.”
“What’s a Smoke Knight?” Gil asked suddenly, surprising even himself after not saying anything for a solid thirty minutes while Seffie prattled on.
“They’re our personal guard,” Anevka explained. “Most come from certain branches of the family tree, but others are recruited or come from their own long lines of Smoke Knights in service to the family for generations.“
“So you all have these bodyguards?”
“Most of us,” said Seffie. “At least the important people.“
Gil’s eyes darted around the large room looking for hidden crevices and dark corners.
Anevka shook her head. “You won’t find them if you look–they pride themselves on being invisible.”
“But they are here, right?”
Both Anevka and Seffie looked around thoughtfully. “Probably some of them,” said Anevka, “but we’re relatively safe inside the castle so most of them are probably off doing other things.”
“The usual–training, training, more training, and spying,” answered Seffie with a devious grin that left Gil feeling suspect of her apparent innocence. Her smile suddenly faded, though, and Anevka stiffened next to him, setting Gil immediately on edge.
Seffie forced another smile on her face. “And the dumb looking ape heading our way is my brother, Martellus. Don’t get on his bad side.”
Gil had a feeling he’d already found Martellus’ bad side by the way the older boy scowled as he stalked over. Great–been here four hours and already have two enemies. The week was looking better and better.
Anevka hopped up–her sudden absence causing Gil to topple over into her vacated seat and for Seffie to fall over into his lap.
Martellus looked homicidal.
“Tweedle,” Anevka said, placing a hand on his chest. “You’re looking a little overheated–you might see to getting some air, dear cousin.”
“Out of my way, Anevka.”
Gil pushed Seffie away and sat up. “Tweedle? You’re called Tweedle.”
He wasn’t sure what came over him; he didn’t remember having a death wish but the fact that this supposedly scary boy was called Tweedle of all things struck him as overly amusing, and he needed a good laugh today.
Now Seffie jumped to her feet just as Tweedle grabbed the lapels of Gil’s coat, hauling him to his feet.
“Martellus,” she said under her breath, “not here–you’ll get in trouble.”
Tweedle glanced around at the few curious onlookers they’d caught the attention of. “Good call, Seffie. Let’s go.”
He dragged the unstruggling Gil from the room into an empty hallway and slammed him against the hard, cold stone wall. “What the hell do you think you’re doing with my sister?”
“Martellus,” Seffie said, rolling her eyes, “stop–we were just talking like everyone else.”
Tweedle ignored her, focusing all his rage on Gil, giving him another good shake.
Gil straightened, shoving Tweedle’s hands from his coat then flattening the lapels, taking his time like he didn’t care that the older boy was breathing fire down his neck. “I wasn’t doing anything–just talking like she said.”
Anevka placed another hand on his arm. “Think before you act, cousin–this is the Baron’s apprentice.”
[ Part 5 ]