A is for Affliction (Donovan Foxx)
It started with tired eyes and a weak smile.
Foxx noticed it first during the winter months of his twentieth year. He was a welcomed and honored guest, kept in high esteem through his friendship with the young Prince Kyros, and practically family. While his studies and training demanded much of his time, he’d always made a point to visit the Tarrospur capital of Altrar at least twice a year, typically for the Festival of First Snow and the prince’s birthday. Thus, his time away from the royal family had made the King’s diminishing strength all the more poignant to his fresh eyes.
“Father’s just tired,” Prince Kyros had assured him, sensing Foxx’s worry. “He and Dominic’s uncle have been working really hard on some treaty to more closely ally our countries. It takes a lot of his time, and he’s writing and reading late into the night.” He smiled while Foxx continued to be unconvinced. “Besides, if something were wrong, I’d sense it. You know that.”
It had been a snowy eve, no more than a few days after the Festival’s start, when the dark brown eyes of King Ethan lost their focus and glossed over during dinner. A quiet man by nature, it wasn’t unusual for his participation in conversation to be minimal at best; a comment here, or remark there, perhaps inquiring about Foxx’s studies at Equitas. But while the Queen scolded Prince Kyros for something or another, as she tended to do, Foxx noticed from the corner of his eye that the King had stopped moving altogether. Closer inspection found that the King’s chest still rose and fell with steady breath, but the fork in his hand hovered above his barely touched food, and his eyes stared unblinkingly at the candles in the center of the table.
A small frown of concern pulled at the corner of the young Legionnaire’s mouth. “Your majesty?” He kept his voice low, discreet, so as not to draw the attention of the man’s wife or son, but didn’t get a response. Glancing to Prince Kyros and his mother found the pair in a heated argument, the likes of which would normally incur King Ethan’s wrath, wrath that never came. Kyros wouldn’t sense his concern; he was too overwhelmed with his mother’s anger and for that, Foxx was grateful. “King Ethan.” He was louder this time, firmer. “Are you alright, sir?” Silence was his answer.
When the fork suddenly slipped from the King’s slack grip, clattering against the ceramic of his plate loudly, both Queen Charisse and Prince Kyros fell silent, frozen in the midst of their argument. Time seemed to stand still as fear gripped the hearts of all in the room. Equitas training snapped Foxx from his stupor first, and before the Queen even had time to call for aid, he was at the King’s side. Where words and noise had failed, a firm grasp of his shoulder was enough to rouse the previously inanimate man.
King Ethan blinked a few times as he recovered from the spell, and Foxx took barely a step back, close enough should the King need help, but far enough to give the man some space. King Ethan slowly looked around the dining hall, and seemed confused when the servants had finally arrived with the royal physician. Heading the group was the King’s attendant, Owen Dales, an older gentleman who had served the king for years.
“Your highness, is something the matter?”
The King shook his head. “Everything’s fine.”
Owen heaved a tested sigh, strands of his white mustache floating with his breath.
The monarch refused to be evaluated. Foxx watched in horror as a dismissing wave sent the physician and the servants away. King Ethan stood from his seat, wavering only slightly; Foxx placed his hand on the King’s shoulder once more just to be safe, and Owen stood just a bit closer.
Worry was etched deep in the prince’s expression, but whether it was concern of his own or just what he felt to a smothering degree in the room, no one could be sure. Foxx could only meet Kyros’ amber eyes briefly from behind his father before he forced himself to look away. “Father?” Kyros’ voice was meek, frightened.
The King sighed, and rubbed his eyes with a trembling hand. “I’m fine, son.” And while the answer was convincing in its tone, Kyros’ reserved expression told Foxx that the young boy didn’t fully believe his father, but didn’t want to distrust the man, either. “I think…” Looking to Foxx, a pained expression flashed through his tired eyes only briefly before he forced a smile to his face. “I think I’ll retire for the evening. Donovan, if you wouldn’t mind escorting me?”
Foxx stole a glance at Owen, looking for some sort of intervention; wasn’t it the Attendant’s place to escort the King? But when the older man gave the barest of nods, the Cadet gave the King a shallow bow at the waist. “It would be my honor.”
The path from the dining hall to the royal chambers was short on a good day. Foxx could remember many a race along the exact same path with both Prince Kyros and Prince Dominic hot on his heels. Vast windows lined the right side of the hall, offering a stunning view of the palace gardens, and the tapestries that hung from the high stone walls smelled of dust and age and so much history, and sometimes he would wander in this direction simply for the sake of appreciating everything the castle had to offer. This time, however, the trek seemed ominous, and while the King didn’t quite lean on Foxx, the way in which he clutched his arm, somewhere between desperation and urgency, left the young Legionnaire uneasy.
“Donovan,” the King said, breaking the quiet that enveloped them, “before anything else transpires between us, I want you to know that you have my utmost respect. As a father, I can’t deny the good your friendship has done for my son, and I am eternally in your debt for the companionship and understanding you have offered him over the last few years. As a king, I have faith in your leadership and compassion; I know you will do great things for the Academies, and for Tarrospur, through its alliance.”
Foxx’s heart pounded in his chest, and he blinked at King Ethan in a shocked stupor. The weight of the honor wasn’t something he could ever put into words, and while he scrambled for some sort of response, he instinctively knew that if a statement that heavy was anything to judge the tone of the conversation, the gravity of the situation would be enough to swallow him whole. “I…you honor me, your majesty,” he offered, with a slight tilt of his head. “I will certainly do my best to prove your faith well placed.”
King Ethan smiled, but it was one of those forlorn smiles, wistful, and Foxx was compelled to somehow reassure him. If he felt it was in any way appropriate, he would have hugged the man who’d acted as a second father to him. “I want to share something with you,” the monarch announced when they reached the doors to his chambers. “But you have to swear on your honor that it does not leave us. Is that understood?”
The Cadet’s back straightened a little more, and he gave a firm nod. “Of course, your majesty. On my honor, I shall keep your confidence.”
“Good.” He released his grip on Foxx’s arm and opened the doors to the lavish apartments in which he spent most of his leisure time.
Foxx followed right behind him, distrustful of the King’s unsteady steps and the exhaustion found in his sagging shoulders. He closed the doors behind him and stayed close to the older man until he was comfortably seated on one of the large, plush couches tucked into a corner of the room. Gray eyes scanned the apartments, recalling many a time when he and Prince Kyros would play chess at one of the tables or some imaginative version of tag through its large spaces. Sometimes, wrestling and pillow fights would result in complete disarray of the normally tidy area, ending with both of them scolded by the staff and servants for the mess they’d have to clean.
“You’ve played in here with him a lot,” King Ethan commented, as if reading Foxx’s thoughts.
“I’ve never associated this place with anything beyond joy, until hearing the tone of your voice,” Foxx replied. “It’s hard for me to accept. After tonight, I won’t be able to look upon this room without remembering this conversation.”
“Then you already know what I wish to speak with you about.” It was a statement, not a question. King Ethan knew Foxx well enough to anticipate his perception.
Foxx responded in kind. “You are not well, your majesty.”
With a soft sigh, the King settled more comfortably into the cushions of the couch and glanced out the large glass doors that lead onto the expansive balcony beyond. The night was clear, calm, and stars shone brightly through the first flurries of snow. “I’m not.” Without looking to him, he gestured to the chairs opposite him. “Take a seat, Donovan. We have a lot to discuss.”
“I trust you will keep your feelings hidden. Kyros will sense your melancholy otherwise.”
The sun was breaking the blanket of night with the first wisps of pink and gray when the men finally had nothing left to say. Hearts bled and souls had been bared, with only the moon to witness what had happened between them. They discussed a future King Ethan would never see, a future Foxx would have to see to completion at the behest of the ailing monarch. Foxx was left exhausted and drained in ways he hadn’t been since his father had died, and King Ethan was looking more fragile than ever. The man’s eyes were still glassy, and Foxx felt the tightness of his cheeks where tears had dried.
“Of course,” he answered, and the way his voice cracked startled him. The anger welling up within him was undeniable, and if he was meant to be the keeper of such a secret, he had to know why. They had visited the past, and spoke openly and honestly with one another, but it wasn’t until the finality of the conversation set in—knowing that Foxx might never have the chance to speak with the man again—that he became angry. “I only have one last thing to ask you, your majesty.” He kept his voice clipped, struggling to remain respectful in the face of his fury.
“And what might that be?”
King Ethan offered Foxx a patient, if sad smile. “Allow me to be frank, Donovan,” he said, looking to his hands folded in his lap. “There’s no one else.”
“Bullshit!” Had he not been so affronted by the King’s claim, he may have been horrified with his outburst. “You have a wife and a son. A wife who has stayed by your side all these years! A son who worships you like a God! You owe it to them! They deserve to know the truth!”
“My wife has stayed by my side out of obligation, not out of love. Not out of love for me, and certainly not out of love for my son.” The King’s dark eyes narrowed in anger; any patience he had was little more than a faint echo in response to Foxx’s accusations, and the Legionnaire paled when the gravity of his transgression finally sank in. King Ethan, however, showed the young man no mercy. “Did you know she wanted Kyros killed when he was just a baby? Barely four and the woman tried to smother him.”
Foxx’s eyes widened. “What…?”
“The woman my wife was died when Kyros was born. His powers terrify her. She wants him gone. Do you know what that does to a marriage?” He stood from his seat, reestablishing his power; it was not lost to Foxx who nearly cowered beneath his anger. “He feels her hatred of him, but he doesn’t understand it. Can you imagine the toll knowing my condition will take on him? Not only whatever he may feel himself, but to also experience everything his mother feels? She blames him for any difficulty we’ve had to overcome. A curse, she says he is. But he is the most precious blessing the Gods have ever bestowed upon me.” Taking a deep breath, King Ethan calmed himself. “I can’t do that to him. And I’ll need you to look after him once I’m gone.”
The lump in Foxx’s throat made it nearly impossible for him to breathe. His chest tightened, and he felt the fresh burn of tears, though they did not fall. The impact of the King’s claims was enough to stop Foxx’s world from spinning, and he struggled to fully comprehend the ramifications of everything he’d just learned.
“I know you care for him, and I know you wouldn’t let any harm come to him. You already do the things I ask. I’m merely asking you to continue through the troubled times he has ahead of him.”
“I won’t abandon your son, your majesty,” Foxx choked.
King Ethan smiled weakly, tears glittering in his eyes. “Thank you.” He tentatively stretched his stiff muscles, then slowly, painfully, made his way towards the large bed on the opposite side of the room. “Collect yourself before you see Kyros. I’ve seen how you mask your emotions to lessen his burden. Do so thoroughly before you leave; I don’t want him even suspecting anything is wrong.”
Foxx nodded, then made his way to the door. Before he left, however, he turned back to the King who was settling onto the mattress, too tired and weak to even bother undressing. “He already knows something is wrong, your highness.”
“Then reassure him, Donovan. He trusts you.”
With the barest of frowns, Foxx nodded his consent, and left.
Just beyond the door, he found Owen standing against the wall, a grim expression pulled at his wizened countenance. He said nothing as Foxx passed, offering him only a sad smile.
“Where’s Dad?” Kyros asked when Foxx finally joined him at the breakfast table. Too conflicted to get any rest, Foxx had abandoned any thoughts of sleep and, instead, joined the Prince for a meal.
“Hopefully asleep.” He took his seat beside the Prince and offered him what he’d hoped was a reassuring smile. “We were up pretty late last night.”
Tapping his spoon idly against his cereal bowl, Kyros sighed heavily, his bangs fluttering up and out of his eyes for the moment it lasted. Amber eyes narrowed in concentration as he studied his friend from the corner of his gaze, and Foxx could almost feel the questions that clearly burned on the tip of the boy’s tongue. But of all the questions swirling behind that curious gaze, he only asked one. “Why?”
Foxx gave a casual shrug and turned to his own meal. Eggs, bacon and toast, and while his stomach rumbled for the food his body craved, his desire to eat it had faded, leaving him feeling sick. “He just wanted to talk to me about some stuff. Nothing big.” He moved the food on his plate lazily with his fork. “Told me how proud he was of you, how he was glad we’re friends.” Foxx allowed himself to touch into the pride he felt recalling how the King had honored him with such praise, his lips quirking upwards at the recollection. It was a safe emotion, and genuine enough to hopefully distract the Prince from the secrecy that shadowed Foxx’s heart.
Kyros smiled. He couldn’t tell if Kyros simply mirrored his emotions or if the Prince was legitimately reassured, but given the boy’s abilities, he assumed they were one in the same; better to feel someone else’s joy than his own sadness. And to see Kyros smile was enough.
“I’m glad we’re friends too, Donovan.” He ate his cereal without bringing up the subject again.
He watched the boy beside him for a few fleeting moments, seeing so much of his father in him. Conviction and compassion, and a true moral compass, Foxx just knew Kyros would grow into a just and kind ruler.
Foxx had never had much of a family growing up. His father did the best that he could, given the dangers and inconsistencies of being a Legionnaire, but it had always just been the two of them. After meeting the royal family of Tarrospur and befriending the Prince, however, Foxx quickly learned what it meant to have someone look up to him, to have someone to look out for, and to be trusted with such a great responsibility. King Ethan was like a second father to him and Queen Charisse assumed the maternal role he had lacked as a child. Kyros was the younger brother he never had.
And then to know that such a feeling wouldn’t last for much longer.
He quickly pushed the thoughts from his mind and forced a brave face. “Hey,” he said, breaking the comfortable silence that had fallen between him and Kryos. “Want me to help you with your studies today? Afterwards, we’ll practice some swordplay. Sound good?”
Amber eyes immediately lit with delight. “Really? You mean it?”
“Sure, why not?”
The spoon met the ceramic of the cereal bowl with a loud clatter. “That would be amazing! I never get anything my teacher says, and I try to tell my dad, but he says I just have to try harder and I do, but I still don’t get it. And I really want to show you everything I’ve learned with the sword from your last visit. I think I’m getting a lot better!”
With a chuckle, Foxx tilted his head towards the door to the dining room. “Go get your books. We’ll get started right away. If you’re having so much trouble, we’ll have a lot of material to cover. And then, of course, a spar.”
“Okay!” The scamper of eager footsteps found Kyros abandoning the remainder of his breakfast in favor of lessons with his friend.
Once alone, Foxx sank into his chair and closed his eyes.
It just wasn’t fair.
Foxx returned to Equitas Academy less than a week after his discussion with King Ethan, and it was with a heavy heart that he stepped off the train in Rask City. He’d been reluctant to leave Altrar with the knowledge he held, and it was only at King Ethan’s behest that he return to school did he manage to board the train at all.
It was a few miles’ from Rask to Equitas, and Foxx used the time it took him to walk back to school to clear his head. The semester was going to be difficult, the first of many to come where he would train directly under Dean Langley, Equitas’ Director, and even though he was favored, he wouldn’t be the only student vying for the Director’s attention. He knew he would have to stay focused in order to prove his worth, but his thoughts refused to leave Tarrospur.
He would have to take time off from school, and it may put him at a disadvantage against his competition. As the son of Calder Foxx, his father’s name was heavy, got him quite a bit of attention, and set a high bar for him to meet. Be that as it may, he was struggling to prove his worth beyond what it was to be his father’s son. He’d been trained young, and he had an edge, but he was only beginning to make his own name for himself. By taking so much time off, everything he’d been working towards could be in jeopardy.
The words startled Foxx from his thoughts, and he quickly found himself standing in the doorway of his dormitory. His roommate, Corbin, stood leaning against the desk watching him with concern. He blinked a few times to clear his muddled thoughts. Had he really walked all the way to his dorm without realizing it? “What?”
Corbin arched an eyebrow and folded his arms across his chest. “I said, ‘you’re back.’ You alright? You look a little pale.”
Shaking his head, Foxx walked towards his bed and unceremoniously dropped his duffle bag onto it. The springs groaned in protest. “Yeah, I’m fine. Walked back, is all.”
Tilting his head to the side, Corbin scoffed. “Bullshit. What’s going on, Foxx?” When Foxx was silent, he pushed harder. “You have that same look on your face that you did when your dad died. You can’t keep shit like that in.”
“Corbin.” Foxx’s voice held a finality that rarely showed itself. “I’m fine.” He glared at his friend from over his shoulder, but couldn’t muster enough venom to make it stick. He sighed, and his shoulders sagged as he turned to stare at his bag. “Please. Just leave it be. I’ll be alright.”
A firm squeeze of his shoulder told him Corbin had come to stand beside him. “I know you’re hiding something.” Corbin clapped his back a couple of times, then headed towards the door. “I’m here when you’re ready to talk.” Without looking back, Foxx watched from the corner of his eye as he gave a casual wave and left.
“I can’t talk about it,” Foxx murmured to no one. “Gods, do I wish I could.”
Correspondence with Prince Kyros continued as usual for a few weeks after Foxx’s return to Equitas. They wrote to each other frequently, Foxx taking his role as mentor and older brother much more seriously after his discussion with the King. They wrote of menial things: Foxx’s classes, Kyros’ lessons, the Prince’s adventures with his best friend, Dominic Scorpio, Prince of Myrddin. Rasmus Scorpio, King of Myrddin, had married nearly ten years prior, and now that his son, Calvin, was old enough, Dominic and Kyros were forced to include him in their games. Kyros wasn’t pleased, Dominic even less so. It always brought a smile to Foxx’s face to know that the Prince was dealing with problems appropriate for his age. Given Kyros’ abilities, it was a relief.
But as the months went on, Kyros began to express more and more worry for his father in his letters. Phrases like, “I hardly ever see him anymore,” and “He’s so pale, it’s like looking at a ghost” drove Foxx to approach Director Langley and explain a version of the situation appropriate for his superior to hear: he had an ailing uncle, and he felt he would need to return home for the impending funeral. When one letter read, “My mother’s slowly losing her mind” and “Her emotions are like a storm, and I never know which way the lightening will strike next,” Foxx insisted that he leave sooner to help his uncle in his final days.
A letter from Prince Dominic, with whom he was also very close, was the final straw for Foxx: “Kyros doesn’t eat, he doesn’t sleep. His mother acts as if he doesn’t exist and has turned the servants against him. His father is too sick to defend him anymore. My uncle has allowed me to stay in Altrar just to make sure nothing happens to him. We need you, Donovan.”
He arranged to take his finals early, and hardly slept to assure that all of his assignments would be completed before his departure. His body ached and he barely functioned, but he would somehow manage to maintain good standing with Director Langley and also fulfill his oath to King Ethan. If he was going to be Director of Equitas himself one day, he would have to do the impossible and it was never too early to learn.
“I know this is a rough time for you, Cadet,” Director Langley said as Foxx stood before him. He tapped the pages of his report against his desk to even their stack then gave his student a sad smile. “But I admire your dedication. Many students would simply…leave. You’ve more than earned your time away—”
“Thank you, sir,” Foxx murmured with a tilt of his head.
“—even though I know you’ve been lying.”
Foxx’s head snapped up and stared at Director Langley with shocked horror. “Sir?” he stammered.
The Director, however, only gave Foxx an amused smile. “I knew your father pretty well, Donovan,” he began, setting the report down to be graded later. “But I know he didn’t have a brother. At least, one that would warrant your attendance at a funeral, anyway. I won’t deny you your leave of absence; you’ve earned it. But can you at least be honest with me?”
Swallowing the lump that had formed in his throat, Foxx glanced away nervously to collect what little he could of his spinning thoughts. “I…” He took a deep breath, then faced his superior squarely; he’d been caught in his lie, so it was pointless to continue. “He’s not my uncle. But he is dying, and he has been like a second father to me. I want to be there for him and his family.”
Director Langley’s eyes narrowed as he studied the student before him, leaving Foxx to wonder if he looked as ragged as he felt. It had been weeks since he’d had a full night of sleep, and his eyes never ceased to burn anymore. Even so, he tried to look as resolute as he could, ready to face whatever consequence the Director deemed fit for his dishonesty. “Why couldn’t you just tell me that?” he asked after a few long, painful moments.
“I, um…” Foxx frowned for a moment, confused. “I…didn’t think you’d let me take leave if it wasn’t for family.”
“Son, I had to force you take leave when it was family.” Foxx looked away and felt his cheeks redden. The Director stood from his desk, chair scraping across the floor, and circled it to stand before his student. With a lop-sided grin, his placed his hands on Foxx’s shoulders. “You don’t have to prove your dedication to the Academy. Everyone already sees it.”
A relieved smile pulled at Foxx’s mouth. He forced it a little further for the sake of Director Langley, as proof of his gratitude. “Thank you, sir.”
“You’re welcome,” he replied with a nod. “And take your time. Report to me when your business is finished.”
“Yes, sir,” Foxx said, his happiness and relief a little more genuine. “Absolutely, sir.”
“So, you’re leaving again?”
Looking up from shoving his clothes into his duffle bag, Foxx offered Corbin a wry smile. “Yep.”
Steady, intentional steps brought Corbin to Foxx’s side where he made no secret of rooting through what Foxx had packed. When his hand brushed against the rough material of the formal Equitas uniform, he turned to his roommate, eyes narrowed with accusation. “Care to tell me what’s going on now?”
Foxx sighed, and shoved the uniform back in its place at the bottom of his bag. “It’s a funeral, Corbin. You wear your formals to funerals.” He felt, rather than saw, Corbin reel in surprise. Silence fell between them, and Foxx used the time to grab a few more things to shove into his bag.
“…who passed away?” Corbin ventured to ask, and Foxx heard the unspoken apology laced within his words. It was like a balm to his prickly mood, but he avoided Corbin’s gaze and continued to pack.
“He isn’t dead yet, but it won’t be long now.” The words were easier to say than they were to think, than they were to consider, and if he just kept packing, maybe he wouldn’t have to, not yet anyway.
As Foxx moved to toss a few toiletries into his bag, Corbin snatched his wrist. The toothbrush and deodorant he’d held went clattering to the floor as Corbin grabbed him by the shoulder and forced him to face him. “Who is it, Donovan?” The intensity of his friend’s gaze was enough to make his throat go dry. He wished more than anything that he could confide in Corbin, but he’d sworn to keep the King’s confidence.
“I…I can’t tell you.”
Frowning, Corbin released Foxx’s wrist, hints of betrayal clearly etched in his emerald eyes. Without meeting Foxx’s pleading gaze, he picked up the fallen toothbrush and deodorant, tossing them into the open duffle bag. “But you’re going to miss them, aren’t you?”
After biting his lip for a moment or two, Foxx closed his eyes against the torrent of sorrow he felt beginning to tear through him. Around Director Langley, he had to be the model student, worthy of his father’s name. Around Kyros and Dominic, he had to be the mentor, the older brother, a source of guidance and authority. Around Corbin, however…he was just Donovan. Corbin was his best friend, and there was no need to force himself to be strong now; there would be plenty of time for him to do that once he was back in Altrar. “…yes,” he finally confessed. “So much.”
His eyes snapped open when he was suddenly wrapped in a pair of strong arms, but he only hesitated a moment before he returned the embrace. “Corbin…”
“I’ll be here when you get back. Write me while you’re gone.”
“Thank you. I will.”
The palace was in chaos when Foxx finally arrived after a ten hour train ride, and when the screams of Queen Charisse’s rage echoed through the stone corridors, the Equitas Cadet was grateful he’d managed to get what sleep he could on the commute.
He spun around to find Dominic, Prince of Myrddin, racing across the grand entrance hall to meet him. His eyes were wide and his face pale; it was a look of terror that adorned his face, not a look of excitement. “Dominic!” Foxx dropped his bags and met the panicked boy half-way, hardly prepared for how he clung to him. “What’s going on?” He felt the young prince flinch against him when what must have been a ceramic pot of some kind crashed into one of the stone walls.
“It’s the Queen,” he said, his voice trembling. He yanked himself from Foxx’s grasp and grabbed him by the wrist, dragging him along as he ran deeper into the castle. “I think she’s going to hurt Kyros.”
It was all the prompting Foxx needed. He quickly broke free of Dominic’s hold and bolted through the castle. Finding the woman was easy; he simply followed the sounds of her shouts and screams and the bewildered and horrified servants. It wasn’t until he drew closer, however, that he heard the sobbing. He rounded the corner into one of the many parlors of the castle, and nearly slid to a stop from the shock of the scene before him.
Queen Charisse, normally the perfect picture of composure, was a demon of swirling rage. Her fine clothes were tattered and torn, stained with dirt and grime, splashes of crimson on her sleeves. Her hair felt in wild tendrils from its normally pristine headdress, her eyes were wide and crazed, almost rolling within her skull. Her face was blotched and red, streaked with tears. In her hands, she held a large potted plant high above her head, one that Foxx didn’t think she’d be able to lift, let alone prepare to throw.
Cowering beneath her at her mercy was Prince Kyros. He, too, had his face stained with tears. Blood ran down the side of his face from a gash above his eyebrow, and a dark bruise was found under his eye. His clothes were ripped as well, scratches from long fingernails—obviously his mother’s—raked down the sides of his arms and across one of his cheeks.
Foxx reacted barely a moment after he’d arrived, and tackled the Queen to the ground. The pot slipped from her grasp, shattering on the stone floor with a deafening crash, but harmed no one. Queen Charisse struggled against the weight of the Equitas student that pinned her firmly to the ground. Foxx grabbed her by the wrists and slammed her arms into the ground. She was practically spitting as she cursed him and her son, and leaned forward to try to bite him. Foxx easily jerked out of her reach while still keeping her restrained.
“He’s a monster!” she screamed. “That devil has killed my husband!” She threw her weight into another attempt of breaking Foxx’s hold, and Foxx responded in time by slamming her into the ground once more. The battle between them continued until the fight left her in a flood and she simply fell back onto the ground and cried.
Since she was no longer a threat, Foxx pulled himself up onto trembling legs. He turned to the servants that loitered near the doorway, gawking at the domestic horror into which the royal family had devolved. “Don’t just stand there!” he roared. “Fetch the damned physician!”
While a few of them heeded his order, the rest tentatively entered the parlor to tend to the Queen. “Take her to her chambers. Don’t release her unless the physician gives his blessing.”
“She is the Queen!” one of them argued, giving Foxx a scathing look. “We will obey her orders only.”
Storm gray eyes narrowed dangerously, and Foxx squared his shoulders. “I have been charged by the King with the protection of his son,” he growled. “She has made an attempt on the Prince’s life, an offence punishable by death. She is clearly not well, and she will be tended to by the physician before she is allowed to walk freely. Take her, or I will take her myself. The fact that this insanity had been allowed to continue for so long is a disgrace. Have you no respect for your country?”
Nothing more was said as the hysterical Queen was collected and escorted to her chambers. The parlor soon emptied of spectators, leaving Foxx alone with Kyros. But when he turned to face the prince, he found that Dominic had entered at some point during the chaos to attempt to tend to his friend. He approached the boys, kneeling at Kyros’ side opposite Dominic, and with a hiccupping sob, Kyros wretched himself from Dominic’s grasp to cling to Foxx.
“Thank the Gods you came,” he cried, and Foxx felt an unfamiliar ache in his chest. He wrapped his arms around the boy and simply held him.
Dominic placed his hand on Kyros’ shoulder, giving him a reassuring squeeze. “I told you he would.”
The swift click of shoes against the stone flooring announced Owen’s hurried arrival. “I was with the King. I came as soon as I could. What in the name of the Gods happened here?”
“She was going to kill me.” Kyros clutched the material of Foxx’s uniform, trembling from head to toe as he buried his face against the young man’s shoulder. “I felt it. She was going to kill me.”
“No one will hurt you,” Foxx murmured to the boy. “Not while I’m here, anyway.” He turned to Owen, an angry scowl contorting his normally cool expression into one of simmering rage. “The Queen attacked Kyros.”
The horror etched into the older man’s face was not lost to Foxx, but he was too angry to be concerned with it. Owen tactfully didn’t remark further on the incident, opting instead to take action. “We’ll discuss it later, then, Donovan? I trust I can leave Prince Kyros in your care.”
“Very good. I’ll see to the Queen. Thank you for your intervention.” Giving the Cadet a curt nod, he excused himself from the parlor.
He looked to Dominic, who wore an expression far too grave for someone barely fourteen years of age, and frowned. Turning back to the crying boy, he said “We have to get you cleaned up, Kyros.” He paused for a moment, his grip tightening ever so slightly. “And we have to tell your dad what happened.”
Looking to his friend, who still cried and refused to leave Foxx’s embrace, Dominic sighed sadly and rubbed Kyros’ back in comforting circles. “The King fell asleep a few days ago and hasn’t woken up. That’s why the Queen was so upset.”
A pitiful wail ripped itself from Kyros’ throat. “It’s not my fault.” He pulled away just enough to meet Foxx’s gaze with a pleading expression. “I swear it’s not my fault.”
Offering the young Prince as reassuring of a smile as he could, Foxx nodded. “I know it’s not.” He sighed softly. “Let’s get you cleaned up at least, okay?”
“The doctors think I’m a monster.” Kyros only released his hold on Foxx once Dominic stood protectively at his back; how the boy still shook with terror worried Foxx.
The Equitas Cadet climbed to his feet and frowned at the blood that stained his shirt from where Kyros had clung to him. “Then it won’t be the doctors that bandage you up. I can do it.” He looked to the boys as if nothing was amiss, as if he didn’t just stop the Queen from murdering her own son, and forced a confident smile to his face. “Dominic, do me a favor and go get some medical supplies from the physician. Kyros and I will wait for you in his chambers, okay?”
The Myrddin Prince nodded once, then immediately left.
Foxx’s hand found its way to Kyros’ shoulder. “It’ll be okay,” he said, but he didn’t know if it was meant to reassure the crying boy or himself.
The next hour found Foxx tending Kyros’ injuries, chewing his lip in concentration as he did so. He tried to keep his emotions locked within him, but every cringe made when antiseptic met tender flesh added that much more fuel to the fire of Foxx’s anger. By the time the blood was cleaned, ointment was applied to wounds, and bandages were secured, Kyros’ tears had stopped and the boy had descended into worrying silence. Foxx clamped down hard on his feelings, and Kyros offered him a grateful, if tired, smile.
His soft voice shattered the din of the expansive chambers when he said, “You’re a really good friend, Donovan.”
Foxx felt his lips quirk in response. “I try.”
“You too, Dominic.” The Tarrospur Prince turned to his friend, and offered him a smile. “I don’t know what I’d do without you two.”
“Aywei vein funen lok,” Dominic replied, and Kyros’ smile broadened.
Foxx didn’t understand what Dominic had said, but he’d spent enough time with the princes to know that they shared an ancient language known only to the royal families and priests. Sometimes, Foxx didn’t need to know how the words translated into common tongue to know what they meant. The smile Dominic’s words brought to Kyros’ face was enough to know they’d served their purpose.
“You boys should probably try to get some sleep,” Foxx offered, gathering the remaining bandages to put them away. “I know it might be tough, but you need to get some rest. Tomorrow is going to be a big day.”
Kyros frowned and bit his lip, eyes glassy as if he were ready to cry again. “Why?” Despite Kyros’ obvious aversion to sleep, he didn’t fight Dominic as the Myrddin Prince led him away to change into his pajamas.
While the boys were in one of the other rooms of the apartments, Foxx took the opportunity to change as well, rifling through his belongings and doing so quickly. “I have to meet with the Council tomorrow and explain what happened.”
“No!” Kyros dashed back into the bedroom with his shirt barely over his head and a slipper on only one foot. “You can’t tell the Council!”
Foxx sighed, tying the drawstrings of his pajama pants. “The entire palace knows what happened, Kyros. Imagine how much trouble I would be in if I didn’t tell them and they found out some other way. I’d lose my credibility in their eyes, and I wouldn’t be able to protect you.”
“Tried to kill you,” Dominic drawled, returning to the bedroom dressed for bed. His hands rested on his hips as he gave his friend an annoyed scowl. “The only way for Donovan to defend you is to bring the matter to the Council immediately. Your mom’s gone batty, Kyros. You can’t be left alone with her.”
“She’s still my mom!”
“No one is denying that, Kyros, but she isn’t well.” Foxx closed the small space between them, ruffling the boy’s hair and offering a confident quirk of his lips. “Your mom will be okay. She’s being taken care of by the physicians, as is your dad. It’s you I have to worry about.” He then turned away from him and walked towards the large, lavish couch that would serve as his bed for the duration of his stay, blowing out the few lit candles along the way. “Besides, this won’t be the first time I’ve spoken with them. Your dad thinks very highly of me, Kyros, and they trust his judgment. It’ll be okay.”
“He saved your life. They have to listen to him.” Dominic shrugged, then climbed into the second bed within the bedroom, the one that had been placed in Kyros’ rooms specifically for his visits.
The frown on the young Prince’s face spoke of how unconvinced he was. Reluctantly, he climbed into his bed and settled under the covers with sigh. After a few moments’ pause, he looked to Foxx through the darkness, and while the Equitas Cadet couldn’t see the Prince, he certainly felt the weight of his gaze. “Will you make sure nothing happens to my mom?”
Foxx hesitated for a few heartbeats before answering. The Queen was sick and clearly needed help, but he couldn’t risk Kyros’ safety simply to spare his mother from proper proceedings after such a heinous crime. “I…will certainly try.”
“Promise me you won’t let anything happen to her, Donovan.”
“Kyros, I can’t—”
“She’s my mom, Foxx!”
Taken aback by the sudden outburst, and being addressed by his surname, Foxx felt silent. When he answered, he did so before he fully recovered his sense. “I promise.”
He regretted the words as soon as they left his lips.
Storm gray eyes snapped open when a shuddering breath ripped past the Prince’s lips.
Ragged pants shattered the silence within the bedroom where they slept, grasping sobs soon following as if Kyros’ body couldn’t get the air it needed. He clutched his chest, doubling over in a fetal position with his forehead pressed against the mattress of his bed as he coughed and wretched.
Foxx and Dominic flanked him, rushing to his aid, and while the Myrddin Prince was clearly horrified, Foxx grabbed Kyros by the shoulders and forced him to uncurl. Helpless on his back, the Tarrospur Prince teetered on some dangerous precipice between choking and crying. “Kyros, what’s wrong?” Reining the terror that clamped his heart like a vice, Foxx pried the boy’s hands from his chest and quickly forced his shirt up to check his chest for any outward signs of distress. Even in the pale moonlight filtering through the windows, red trails of where the prince’s fingernails had clawed at his chest were visible. Beyond that, however, there was nothing obviously causing his distress.
Shocked, Foxx sat back on his heels for a heartbeat as confusion him had him momentarily frozen. Kyros quickly returned to his curled and protective position. This spurred Foxx into action once more, and his hands were on the boy’s shoulders, uncurling him again, but he couldn’t pry his hands from his hands from clawing at his chest. “Get the physician, Dominic,” Foxx ordered, his tone barely controlling the fear that coursed through him. His attention immediately returned to Kyros once Dominic dashed out of the room. “Kyros, you have to tell me what’s wrong. What’s wrong?”
Between coughs and gasps, Kyros managed a weak, “It hurts,” then fell back into the throes of agony. He rolled onto his side and brought his knees to his chest as he continued to clutch at the flesh over his heart.
“Kyros! Kyros, look at me. Look at me!” Foxx grabbed him, hands clamped on either side of his face to force the prince to meet his gaze. Despite the near-darkness, he could see nothing of the prince’s amber irises when he looked into his eyes, and he feared he was going into shock. “You have to calm down. Do you hear me? You have to calm down.”
Kyros opened his mouth to speak, but his lips couldn’t form words around his labored breathing and hiccupping sobs. Tears streaked his face, and when he curled into a fetal position once more, he did so with his face against the Cadet’s shoulder and into his awaiting arms, as close to Foxx as he could. “My dad…” he choked. “He’s…”
When the door to Kyros’ chambers flew open with a resounding crash, Dominic stood in the doorway, chest heaving and panting heavily. Behind him, however, Foxx could see the frantic madness of servants and attendants rushing around in a frenzy of shadows and candlelight.
“It’s the King,” he said, voice cracking under the gravity of his words.
Foxx’s heart plunged into his stomach. He paled.
“He’s…he’s not breathing.”
Dominic’s shoulders sagged as he slowly sank to his knees.
Kyros’ fingers dug into Foxx’s shoulder as he clung to him and wailed.
Clenching his jaw against his own despair, Foxx tightened his grip on Kyros, holding him close.
The sun rose the following morning as it always did, offering warmth and light without paying heed to the tragedy that had befallen the castle during its absence.
Any semblance of rest had eluded Foxx. With the King’s passing, he’d stayed up with the boys until they’d cried themselves to sleep; his bloodshot and tired eyes were a testament to his vigil, while their mild swelling was proof of his grief. He couldn’t have slept even if he’d tried.
Shortly after dawn, the princes slept soundly, and Foxx felt it safe to escape the bedroom to shower and dress. Cold water had offered his appearance meager relief, and he frowned at his reflection as he later stood before the full-length mirror. He was pale and worn, the shadow of dark stubble drawing attention to the circles under his eyes. Groaning inwardly, he tied the tie of his formal Equitas uniform and resigned himself to looking just as horrible as he felt.
As he turned to leave, Kyros’ screams still echoed in his thoughts. It forced him to stop, and glancing over his shoulder, he found no solace in how peaceful the boy looked as he slept. His rest had been fitful at best, and it seemed that only the when the night and all its horrors gave way to a new day did the prince finally drift off; curled near Dominic, close but not touching, he seemed to finally find peace.
When he finally woke, his father wouldn’t be at the breakfast table to greet him.
Foxx’s throat went dry at the realization, and he was nearly crippled with the memory of the first morning after his own father had died. He’d been so lost, and so utterly empty. Foxx had gotten the news of the accident while in the thick of final exams at the Academy and had shut down. A ghost of his former self, he managed to maintain his impeccable performance, his feeble walls only strong enough to protect him until his academic responsibilities had been met. Corbin had poked and pried, and even Director Langley had expressed concern.
After weeks of grief slowly eating away at his insides, he had finally broken down and cried.
With a nauseating ache in his chest, Foxx forced himself to leave the room. Kyros would not wake for some time, and when he did, it wouldn’t be to an empty room; the Cadet felt no confliction in leaving to tend to his own wounds.
“I’m glad you were here last night,” a kind voice said once the door had closed behind him. “He needed you.”
Foxx turned to Owen and offered him a wry smile. “I’m just doing whatever I can.”
Owen gave a small nod. “Which is exactly what Kyros needs.” He glanced down the hallway. “Walk with me. There are important matters we need to discuss.”
Curious, Foxx obliged, and followed the older man as he meandered through the corridors of the castle.
“King Ethan knew he was ill. He knew for a long time, even before he spoke with you this past winter.” The King’s Attendant kept his eyes forward as he spoke, arms clasped casually and comfortably behind his back; composed and professional as always. It was only by the barest traces of red around his eyes could Foxx tell that the man mourned the death of his King. “He had taken…precautions…in anticipation of his untimely departure.”
“What sort of precautions?”
“He’s knighted you, Donovan.”
Foxx stopped dead in his tracks, gawking at the older man without heed. “What?”
“The title will allow you the rights and provisions you need to fulfill your duty to Prince Kyros.”
“No,” Foxx shook his head, and refused to accept what he was told. “When did this happen? Isn’t there supposed to be a ceremony or something? There was no ceremony. And don’t I even have a say in something like that? Because I don’t think I want this…”
Owen turned to Foxx with a small frown, vague disappointment visible in the lines of his face. “Ethan had official documentation of his final wishes to be carried out before his son assumes the throne.”
“Kyros is thirteen, Owen. He’s not ready to be King.”
The older man shook his head dismissively. “Regardless, the King officiated the enacting of these decrees upon his death. Whether you want to accept it or not, Tarrospur recognizes you as a Knight of the Realm. It’s an irrelevant detail for the greater matters at hand.”
“Such as the fact that Tarrospur currently doesn’t have a King, Donovan.” The man’s narrowed eyes and furrowed brow made Foxx’s idiocy clear to him. “And you have a meeting with the Royal Council later this afternoon. You’d better prepare for what lays ahead.” When Foxx only stared in stunned silence, Owen continued. “You have sworn to keep Kyros’ best interests at heart, and you have to address the Council, a group of politically driven men all vying for a throne Kyros clearly can’t occupy. As a Cadet, you have no hope of being heard. As a Knight, you have as much right to speak as they do. Not only that, but it’s clear that the palace is unsafe for Kyros so long as his mother resides within its walls; you have to convince them it is their best interests to want his safety.”
Frowning, Foxx dropped his gaze to the stone floor at their feet, unable to meet Owen’s intense gaze. “I…”
“Are you prepared?”
Foxx clenched his jaw and forced a deep breath into his lungs. He met the older man squarely, and offered the barest traces of a smirk to pull at his lips. “I am.”
He wasn’t, but he still had time.
Dominic shook his head and scoffed as Foxx adjusted his tie for the fifth time in as many minutes.
They stood in the foyer of Kyros’ chambers, Foxx facing the full-length mirror that hung on the wall. The Tarrospur prince was showering after having slept most of the day away, leaving Dominic and Foxx to converse in private. The younger of the two hadn’t left Foxx’s side the entire day, biding his time until he could speak freely.
“What?” Foxx shot the young prince an irritated look, brows furrowed and frown firmly in place.
“It’s not your appearance you should be worried about,” the boy said with far too much wisdom for his age. He folded his arms across his chest and leaned casually against the wall. Foxx continued to fuss with his attire anyway. “Besides, your tie is fine. What are you going to say to them?”
Foxx’s hands stilled as he reluctantly turned to the young prince beside him. “I…don’t know.”
Ice blue eyes narrowed with dangerous indignity. “What do you mean ‘you don’t know’?! Isn’t this something you should have been thinking about?!” With a growl, Dominic spun and slammed his balled fist into the wall. “I can’t believe you!”
“Relax, Dominic.” Foxx sighed softly, and rested his hands on his hips while he regarded the angry youth with patience. “It’s not as if this is my first rodeo, alright? No, I haven’t written a speech, but that doesn’t mean I’m going in there completely unprepared. Have a little more faith in me, okay?”
“There’s a lot at stake, Donovan,” Dominic growled. “You could ruin Kyros’ life, and may the Gods help you if you do.”
A small smile tugged at the Cadet’s lips; how protective Dominic was of Kyros was endearing. It was a close, brotherly bond that Foxx was a bit jealous of, but was happy the boys had with each other. After all, who better to understand the struggles of a young prince than another young prince? It gave Foxx a sense of comfort to know that even after he would eventually return to Equitas, he wouldn’t have to worry too much about Kyros. “Have I ever let you down before?”
Dominic scowled, and glared at the floor, anger bubbling beneath the surface of a silence he could barely maintain. Moments ticked by as the prince seemed to legitimately consider his answer, and while the time made Foxx a bit uneasy, he was at least confident enough that everything he’d done had been with the best interests of the princes at heart. “No,” Dominic said finally. “But that doesn’t mean—”
“Then why would I start now, when it really counts?” Foxx interrupted.
There was another long pause before Dominic spoke again, and when he did, it was without meeting Foxx’s gaze. “Don’t screw this up.” He promptly pushed himself from the wall and made his way towards the door. “Good luck.”
The door slammed and Foxx was left with his thoughts.
When Foxx entered the Council Chambers, the creek of the door hinges were like fanfare, while each step of his boots on the stone floor were gunshots in the eerie silence that permeated the large and expansive room. The heavily weighted gazes of all twelve council members were trained on him, scrutinizing him. Some held understanding and pride, while others held indignity and resentment. All of them, however, were clearly unanimous in a prevailing shock of Foxx’s perceived audacity: who was he to call a meeting of the Council?
Foxx had been permitted to enter the Council Chambers only once before, and that was during one of his first preliminary visits to the castle. It had been in the company of Director Kirk Pearson—a lewd and disgraceful piece of garbage that had done nothing but shame his title, company and Academy before Dean Langley had taken over as Director. It had been Langley who had earned back the respect and honor of the position. Foxx’s memories of that brief visit were fuzzy at best, but he did remember how King Ethan had stood at the far end of the room while his Council members sat in a semi-circle around him during their debates and discussions.
Now, the semi-circle faced the doorway in which Foxx stood instead of away from it, and none of the men before him bothered to mask their displeasure.
Owen was already standing before the Council, a stack of papers held against his side in a relaxed grip. It was as if no matter how the Council members tried, they couldn’t shake the old man, and perhaps they couldn’t. The man had served the King, after all. Foxx hoped to follow his example, and quickly strode to stand at Owen’s side.
“Good evening, gentlemen,” Owen said without acknowledging Foxx. “I present to you Sir Donovan Foxx, bestowed the honor of knighthood and sworn guardian of Prince Kyros upon the King’s death, given all rights and privileges therein by royal decree.” He closed the distance between he and the large table at which the Council sat and unceremoniously dropped the documents upon its surface. With that, he turned to Foxx, and gave him only the barest of nods, indicating that it was his right to address the Council.
Offering the stoic men before him a scarce smile, Foxx bowed his head respectfully before speaking. “Good evening, gentlemen. I’d like to start by thanking you all for your attendance. Crisis doesn’t pay heed to our lives or schedules, so I am grateful for the lengths to which you have all gone to be here today.
“As you are aware, King Ethan Ambrose has passed away during the night after a long battle with an ailing body; it was mere hours ago that Tarrospur lost its leader. And it was only a few hours before that when I had called this upon this Council to discuss the future of this country on a two-fold issue: the decay of the royal family. King Ethan wasn’t the only one who has been declining over the past few months.”
He looked around as he spoke, meeting the eyes of every man who looked down upon him, hoping to see some sort of spark or recognition to the importance of what he said. What he was met with, however, was stone cold apathy. Regardless of the weight of his words, there was no response, no acknowledgement, and the silence became smothering.
Swallowing the lump that formed in his throat, he turned his attention back to what it was that needed to be said, despite how it was being received. “When I arrived at the palace yesterday—”
“Young man, just who do you think you are?”
Foxx stopped short, silenced by the unexpectedly blunt question. The color drained from his face as his voice was momentarily lost somewhere in his throat. After a few heart-pounding moments, he finally recovered enough from the shock to reply. “I’m sorry?”
“You seem to be drawing rather unsavory conclusions from evidence that is…well, what evidence do you have, exactly?”
The Cadet recognized the voice as belonging to Lord Keith Gatland, the man who governed the southern-most province of Tarrorpur, Sansater. Foxx had only ever crossed paths with him, and truthfully, any of the Council members during the Festival of First Snow, and occasionally at Kyros’ birthday celebrations. He had struck Foxx has a cynical man, a man who desperately used the power of his station to demand respect, and held his position in higher esteem than was typically warranted. Foxx quickly realized his miscalculation and cursed himself for not having done any sort of research on the men he’d be facing; he should have known he’d be met with doubts of his credibility instead of any desire to tend to the needs of the kingdom.
“As far as I can tell,” Lord Gatland went on to say with a condescending purse of his lips, “you’re a just an Academy Cadet that the young Prince happened to take a shine to. And while many of the Lords beside me scarcely have the time to visit the capitol for anything beyond business or a few holidays, I’m hard pressed to believe you hold any sort of right or credibility to call this Council to order, regardless of what King Ethan may have believed in his final moments.”
“King Ethan had been showing signs of senility for months before his demise,” another voice commented. Foxx’s gaze turned to Lord Quintin Ladarius, overseer of one of the western provinces. Its name escaped him, as did most of his other thoughts, as Lord Ladarius ignored his presence and addressed his fellow Council members with a saddened frown.
“Even King Rasmus expressed some concern,” another Lord remarked, and Foxx didn’t bother to try to identify the voice.
The Cadet’s tongue was moving before he had the mind to stop it. “The King did no such—”
“What we should be focusing on is how the country will continue on. Historically, the Prince takes the throne upon the King’s death.” A voice from the left.
And then another voice from the right. “But Kyros is only thirteen years old.”
Conversation devolved from individual voices to a hazy din of sound.
Gray eyes chanced a glance at Owen, who had kept his expression unhelpfully neutral, and Foxx found himself utterly alone. The Council members were quickly becoming wolves, slowly circling in on their prey, and Foxx had no more resources at his disposal than did a wounded fawn. As he continued to stare at Owen, silently begging him for something—anything—that may help his cause, he saw the man’s lips turn downward in the smallest of frowns. When his shoulders began to sag, something within Foxx snapped.
He wouldn’t let it end this way.
He wouldn’t disappoint King Ethan, the second father who had placed so much faith in him. He wouldn’t betray Prince Kyros, the young boy who so trusted him. He wouldn’t disappoint Prince Dominic, who was so relying on him to do right by his friend.
He wouldn’t dishonor his father, who had given him everything he possibly could, by doing nothing at all.
“Kyros isn’t ready to be king!” Foxx bellowed. His voice echoed off the stone walls of the chamber with a force he couldn’t have predicted, effectively silencing the twelve men before him.
“And just who are you to make such a declaration? Title or no, you are effectively a stranger to this land.” A snipe from the shadows, hidden from Foxx’s attention by the dim lighting and his focus on defending himself. The Cadet snarled.
“I am Donovan Foxx, son of Calder Foxx, and one of ten students with the honor of training directly under Director of Equitas Academy, Dean Langley. I am friend and confidant to Prince Kyros, and have been knighted by the late King Ethan. I am the one Princes Kyros and Dominic contacted within the last few weeks while King Ethan slowly fell to illness, and Queen Charisse slowly fell into madness. I am the one the King personally requested to look after his beloved son. I stopped the Queen from murdering her own child in a fit of grief.
“If anything qualifies me to speak on behalf of the family that has been torn apart by tragedy, it is the simple fact that out of everyone in this Gods forsaken room, I am the only one who has BEEN THERE FOR THEM!”
By the time he’d finished, his throat ached with the shouting to which he had ultimately resorted. Chest heaving, Foxx felt his pulse pounding in his cheeks, and he scowled with disgust at the men who gaped at him in horror.
“What have you done, sitting atop your separate thrones, to offer any support to your country’s leading family? Had I not arrived when I did, you would have lost not one king, but two.”
Bold strides carried him from his place beneath them, where they had looked down their noses at him, to the table at which they sat, where he leaned forward and towered over them; his position was clear, and Donovan Foxx would not be brushed aside.
“So this is what I propose…”
It ended with a grand procession.
It ended with honoring a fallen King.
Foxx could hardly pay any attention to the ceremony that spared no expense. The pathway from the castle to the royal crypt was crammed full of people on either side, all loyal subjects wishing to pay their leader with one last honor, one last goodbye.
King Ethan had been a just and kind ruler, and remarkably had few enemies within his borders. The entire country would truly miss him.
Absently, Foxx placed his hand against Kyros’ back, sliding his palm up to the boy’s shoulder, where he gave him a reassuring squeeze. Nothing was perfect, but Foxx had honored everyone’s wishes when he’d confronted the Council.
And they had complied, much to his relief.
Queen Charisse would be spared capital punishment in exchange for being tended to through her grief and ultimately assuming control of the country until such time that Kyros would reign as King. She was a smart, cunning and capable woman; a leader by her very nature. She knew her husband better than anyone, and could run the country in a similar manner. Lord Edmund Caine was voted to assist Queen Charisse as a Regent of Tarrospur, and to assure the Prince’s safety while he was in Tarrospur.
Prince Kyros would be looked after by Lord Caine, Owen and King Rasmus of Myrddin while Foxx continued to attend Equitas. Queen Charisse’s hatred for her son’s powers had been a festering wound for too many years for there to be any hope of her raising him to adulthood. It was the best solution available that would offer the boy both guidance and security.
It spared the Queen the hang man’s noose, and spared Kyros the responsibility for which he was in no way prepared.
Beneath his hand, he felt Kyros’ shoulders tremble. Concerned, Foxx turned to the boy beside him and found him gritting his teeth against the tears that made his eyes glassy, and shame for his perceived weakness refused to let them fall. He watched as the sobs that wanted to escape the young boy instead left his body as shuttering breaths.
Foxx was careful to keep his own sorrow bottled up tightly within him, lest he upset the young prince beside him further. The emotions of the people at large were a raging demon he couldn’t fathom facing, but knew Kyros had little left in his reserves and wanted to offer what support he could. Much to the dismay of both of them, propriety forced Dominic to be kept on the opposite side of the funeral procession, far away from being able to console his mourning friend.
“Why did he have to die?” Kyros forced between clenched teeth.
Without an answer, Foxx frowned, but could offer no words of comfort.
“He’s the only one who ever…who ever…” Foxx could hear the boy’s feeble walls begin to crumble.
Without hesitation, he pulled him close. “You don’t have to be strong for me, Kyros.”
A desperate grip clutched his uniform, and the prince let his tears flow.