Duplicity: Part Twelve
Giles ran over to his freed father and jumped on him with open arms the moment he saw him. The small Xweetok smiled as Garrington weakly ruffled his mane. Dark circles surrounded the duke’s eyes.
His wife, the duchess, pinched her nose and nodded along. “Yes, yes, we miss you very much. I think the dungeons have done a number on you.”
The family chatted, laughed, and argued as though the blue Lupe standing beside them was absent. Jeran watched patiently, arms crossed behind his back. He preoccupied himself with how he was going to clean up this little debacle. He tried not to think about Giles at all.
“Thank you, Prince Borodere,” he said with an innocent grin. “I know you did what you had to do, but I’m glad you stuck with father.”
Jeran could not smile back. “No need to thank me. Who you really want to send your regards to is Danner Toron, the captain of the guard. He uncovered the evidence at the very last minute.”
“That guy?” Giles pointed at Danner, who stood in the distance, finishing up a conversation with the warden. “Hey, mom, isn’t he the one you talked about? The guy who had strawberry jam splattered all over him at the ball?”
“Yes.” Duchess Garrington scoffed. “The height of class, I must say, but he can’t be as dumb as he looks. Rafael isn’t one to leave a ton of loose ends behind.”
“Speaking of Prince Rafael,” said Garrington, frowning. “I expect that justice will be served in due time, Prince Borodere.”
Jeran had remembered why he wasn’t exactly fond of the duke. Who in the world did he think he was? “Currently, we are having talks with Brightvale about this. I assure you, all of us are engaged to the greatest of our efforts to ensure justice will be served.”
An awkward silence took hold until Danner came. He walked past Jeran with some tenseness and addressed the Garringtons directly without so much as an acknowledgement of his existence: “This looks like a happy reunion. I am truly sorry for all you’ve been through.”
“Thank you for your . . . well-wishes,” said the duchess. Her son, however, was more enthusiastic. He thanked him graciously.
“For what?” Danner was confused.
“Well, for, you know, finding the evidence that saved my father,” clarified Giles. “Prince Borodere told me you were responsible for it all.”
“Really.” Danner’s eyes darted to Jeran. “Well, it’s just part of the job.”
Finding that his presence was no longer needed, Jeran excused himself and retreated from the dungeon areas. Jeran mindlessly walked the spirals of stairs up into his office and marveled at just how clean and tidy it was. In some respects, all the pins and maps reminded him of a war room.
I wonder if I can stay this organized, he thought as he engaged every lock on the office’s door. The last thing he wanted to deal with were unwelcome visitors, especially those he was actively trying to avoid.
It didn’t take much effort to avoid Danner, because Danner was trying to minimize his time with him. That Wocky was not the forgiving or understanding sort, and even if he was, it would probably take a long time for him to be on remotely good terms with Jeran again.
He addressed Jeran almost exclusively as “Prince Borodere,” in that monotonous, professional tone of his, except when habit failed him. He never stayed in the same general area as him for long, and on the rare occasion they did speak unnecessarily, it was filled with vacuous talk about the cold autumn weather.
Jeran would have preferred Danner’s old style of constantly insulting him whenever he did something stupid. It was annoying, irritating at times, but he wished he’d hear it again. For sure, Danner had the full right to cut ties, but Jeran didn’t expect it to be quite this difficult.
At least it was less difficult than facing Lisha. She was going to be as forgiving and understanding as possible to him, which was even worse than Danner’s thinly-disguised disgust for him. He didn’t truly deserve either. He didn’t want her misplaced kindness. She should have hated him.
Sighing, pulled unfinished paperwork out of his desk to deal with. It was better than stewing in his own thoughts, even though he knew he couldn’t avoid them forever, as much as he would have liked to.***
“It’s been absolutely dreadful in here,” said Lissandre as she grabbed a ball of fried dough from the platter Lisha had given her. “Can you believe that only ten people have visited me today? Unbelievable. I guess they can’t all come from all the way from the glorious kingdom of Brightvale.”
Now that she knew that Lissandre was the court dancer, Lisha realized how loud and slowly she spoke, probably to cover up a Darigan accent. “They’re all from Brightvale, huh? Do you really have no friends in Meridell?”
She shook her head. “I don’t really come here that often.”
“But you do have friends from the Darigan Citadel.”
“Of course I do, I work with Darigan on a regular basis,” she replied. “Really friendships of accident, but you can’t count on any of them to come visit me when I actually need it.”
That much was true. Well, half-true. Lissandre was more honest about her life than Lisha would have expected her to be. “Darigans can be a bit flighty sometimes.”
“I suppose so,” said Lissandre, curling her tan bedsheets around her finger. “You know, Lisha, you’re probably one of the better assistants I’ve had in all my years at Brightvale University. Which, granted, isn’t much, but if you ever needed it, I would definitely recommend you very highly.”
“I wouldn’t be so quick to say that. The research isn’t quite done yet.”
Lisha put her hands into the pockets of her robes and pulled out a small sack. Lissandre’s expression weakened immediately. “Anyway, I think this is yours,” she said, putting it on the bedside table.
“You’re welcome,” replied Lisha with a thin smile.
Both Aishas knew their current courtesy was fragile. Both knew that they were little more than actors, putting on a show for nothing and no-one but themselves. It was, after all, easier to act than to address the uncomfortable reality.
“I guess I should be thanking you, though,” said Lisha. “You know, for helping Jeran.”
“Oh yes, that . . . that was no trouble at all.” Lissandre retreated back into her bed. “He wouldn’t have been helped if there wasn’t someone like you looking out for him. How is he, by the way?”
“I don’t know. Haven’t talked to him.” The last thing she’d heard from him was a short “sorry” with a shaking voice on the verge of crying. After that, well, she hadn’t even seen his face, and Danner didn’t seem keen on helping her locate him, either. He wouldn’t be for a long while.
At that moment, the door to the room swung open and a nurse’s head popped in. “Miss Lissandre,” she said, “Prince Borodere would like to pay a visit. Should I allow it?”
Lisha narrowed her eyes, crossed her arms, and huffed. Was he seriously planning to talk to Lissandre before even looking at his own sister? Whatever, she thought. He can’t run away from his problems forever.
“I’m guessing he wants to speak to me alone,” said Lissandre.
“That is correct,” replied the Eyrie nurse in a soft voice.
Lissandre looked down at her feet for a few moments before answering. “I suppose you can let him in. I have nothing against it.”
“All right, I shall inform him, then.” The Eyrie nurse smiled sweetly. “And, um, Lady Lisha? I’m afraid you have to leave.”
“Sure,” said Lisha. She had other things to do, anyway. Her best friend Kayla had just come back from her alchemy trip, and she’d been planning a bit of a surprise for her return. She made her leave, and Jeran arrived shortly thereafter.
The stinging, metallic scent of medicinal potions permeated through the room. Every piece of cloth was white, with the exception of the tunic Lissandre wore. A small window with a decent view of Meridell was beside the bed.
“Hello,” Lissandre greeted.
“I’m sorry to intrude on your recovery.” Jeran’s frame bent under the low ceiling. “I know you have some reservations against me.”
“Why would I have anything against you? I mean, sure, you tried to kill me, and then you ever-so-rudely shuffled through all my memories, that stuff’s all why I’m in here in the first place,” replied Lissandre, “A lesser person would be angry, but I have moved past that.”
“That was quick,” replied Jeran. “Not something people usually forget all that easily.”
“I think it’s safe to say I had it coming. You shouldn’t forget who I actually am.”
“Trust me, I don’t forget my enemies.” Yet “enemy” was not what Jeran would have said about Lissandre—Chantelle—now. No matter how much he’d reminded himself what she had done, what she had allowed, he couldn’t bring himself to hate her that much. She had helped Lisha, and, in some respects, she was like her.
“Good. You shouldn’t be too sorry about it, then. I’m not worth that much.”
Jeran widened his eyes. “That’s a . . . rather unhealthy attitude to take toward yourself.”
“It’s not really unhealthy if it’s true, though,” said Chantelle. She stared up and the ceiling and sighed. “I doubt you’d understand any of it at all. You’re an accomplished hero of your kingdom, known for his many noble acts. I’m little more than a sorry enchantress who is only known for being a pawn in Kass’s invasion plan.”
“Good actions can sometimes come from a hard heart, and bad actions can come from a good one,” said Jeran, stifling his urge not to laugh at Chantelle’s previous comment. “Those few moments during the war don’t necessarily define you.”
“Maybe not, but they were big moments.” Chantelle shut her eyes and took a deep breath. “Very, very big moments that impacted the lives of thousands.”
“Well, you’re here, you’re alive, and the nature of your research suggests you’re trying to help people. That’s always worth something, doing the good that you can.”
Jeran and Chantelle stayed in a dull silence for what felt like hours. Visible through the window were the deceptively warm colors of autumn. Chantelle gazed tiredly at the scene until he spoke again: “Is what you did in the court really all that bothers you?”
“What do you mean?” asked Chantelle.
“Your ‘brother,’ you wouldn’t have let him fall under their influence. You’re clearly a powerful sorceress, ambitious, too,” replied Jeran. “I think you must tried a lot to stop them, but judging by the events of the war, you were not successful.”
Chantelle crossed her arms. “If you’re suggesting I’m somehow envious of Lisha—”
“That’s not what I was suggesting.” Jeran sighed. “Do you ever think that because you failed him, you were responsible for starting the war in the first place?”
“That should be a ridiculous question,” said Chantelle, turning her head away so that Jeran could not see it. She’d hoped Jeran would have truly been the bumbling, antisocial prince she’d heard about, but he probably wouldn’t have been appointed to that position if that was actually the case. “Why do you care, anyway? You hardly know me, and I hardly know you.”
“You don’t really have to know someone that well to sympathize with them.” In truth, Jeran was responsible for Chantelle’s current condition, and he wanted to see her well off. As well off as possible, anyway.
Chantelle smiled slightly. “You’re a lot different from the last time I saw you.”
“I would hope so.”
“You don’t feel different?”
Jeran had not once felt like anything he was doing was out of his control, like his hand was forced to do anything. He shook his head. “Not really.” Perhaps more melancholy, but that was on par for the course.
“If it matters, you can take my word for it,” said Chantelle. “I know it’s not worth much.”
There she went again. “It’s worth as much as mine, or anyone else’s,” replied Jeran. “Whatever the case, I know it was myself, and that was probably true of Kass too. What Kass did was his own fault, not yours.”
Then why did it feel otherwise? Everything Jeran said made sense logically, but . . . but . . . if she was just a little smarter, just a little more careful or methodical, perhaps she could have succeeded. If she were just better, it wouldn’t have happened.
Chantelle blinked back tears. “I don’t believe that.”
Jeran placed a hand on her shoulder lightly for no more than the minimum amount of time it took to show any warmth. “It’s a little hard to, I know.”***
Kayla came into the castle with her arms outstretched, her red-and-blue cape draped over them. She took a good breath of that stale castle smell, and she knew she was home. More importantly, she was away from nature. If she had to classify another flower in her life, it would be too soon.
Now, she could put her mind toward more relaxing things, like sitting for hours at a time in her dim little workshop, mixing and matching a huge variety of potions that could later either be sold, or used to pull pranks on the knights.
Lisha waved at her as she walked through the entrance hall. “Hey, Kauvara!” she yelled. “Over here!”
The red Zafara rolled her eyes. “Kauvara? Please. I’m a million times worse than her. Just stick to calling me The Amazing Spaz.”
“Yes, but that’s not a particularly nice thing to say to you after a . . . four-month? Five-month? Whatever-month absence.”
“It was five. And let me tell you,” said Kayla, “am I glad to be back here. It’s always so nice and quiet here. No getting chased by giant Noils, no trying to figure out whether the berries you’re trying to eat are deadly poison, none of that.”
“Peace and quiet, sure, if you want to believe that,” said Lisha. “Dull, maybe. I can’t recall anything of note happening in the past few months. Just studying and more studying.”
Kayla took off her witch’s hat which was covering her entire face. Relative to her small frame, that thing looked absolutely huge. “The ball, though, that must have been something.”
“Maybe for like a day, but after that, no interesting trouble, really,” Lisha lied. “Need any help getting your things to your normal room?”
“No need. That’s what the castle servants are paid for. Fyora knows I’m not hauling all that junk up there. What about His Chubby Majesty, is he all right?”
“Getting better. Last I heard, he might be ready to rule again in a week or so,” replied Lisha. And Jeran wouldn’t be regent anymore, if all goes well. He just needed time, she assured herself. Time to think about it all and come to terms with it. Lisha certainly planned on taking a break from fretting for a while.
“Huh, it sounds like everything’s fine, then,” said Kayla.
“You have no idea,” muttered Lisha under her breath. Between the unstable situations of the king’s health, the assassination, Jeran almost becoming a crazy despot . . . all of it was so close to happening, all of it as probable as everything just turning out fine.
But in the here and now, steering away from all the what-ifs and what-could-have-beens, she supposed Kayla was right. All was well in Meridell.