Disclaimer: Do not own.
Fandom: Crown Duel
Nimiar hears them laughing. They don’t see her, though she has not hidden herself away. No one folds themselves into corners here, not in Galdran’s court. The safest place is encompassed by the range of his gaze. She holds her smile firmly and keeps all outward attention fixed on Orbanith beside her, tilting her head to hang on his words and trying not to flinch as the king’s eyes scrape over and past.
Orbanith says something close in her ear, and she laughs appreciatively at whatever it is, lets the comment slide to the one for whom it was meant. This is what she is – she is the chink through which the lovers whisper, she is the code tapped between cells. They see her kindness and love her for that and the fidelity they recognize but do not understand. She will not force understanding upon them.
Laughter, again the same laughter, spilling out rich into the heavy air of the ballroom. She knows that if she could see Shevraeth’s face, she would not know him, not with his mouth loose at the corners like it never is, not with his eyes so open and relaxed only a fool or a stranger would not see that he is lying with the very easiness of his motion. Nimiar saw him earlier, draped against a pillar with the torchlight sparking from the jewels in his clothes and leaving languorous shadows in the opulent folds. There may have been a feather in his hair. She tries not to think about it.
The first time they met was in the king’s forests outside the city, she remembers, and doubts he does. Then, when they were very small, they could leave the palace sometimes. Nimiar remembers the sunlight in the long grass, and her mother beside her on the blanket, tossing her little fruits that she tried to catch with her mouth. Shevraeth and his mother had come across the meadow towards them, and they’d scrambled up to curtsy. She’d forgotten the flowers in her hair for the berry stains on her dress, and blushed as he smiled and bowed. They’d stood and stared at each other silently while their mother’s low voices washed around them.
Later, as always unnoticed in her quietness, she watched through the trees as he trained with Savona, saw him fall, and fall again. He was so slight beside the other boy, and he almost held his own. Nimiar wonders now if she will find that same young man, like fire or snow, if they are ever free of this.
Eventually, they stopped fighting, and collapsed in the shade of a tree across from where she watched. She started to creep away when she saw Savona start to cry, because it wasn’t nice to watch people cry when you couldn’t help them, and her mother had told her that his parents were dead a very little while ago. Already, she’d understood death.
As she turned, she saw Shevraeth grab the new Duke’s hand, anchoring him with unexpected strength. When her own parents died, she remembered.
These days she doesn’t see him much – he is training with Savona, traipsing with this hour’s flirt, stepping in to one party and another. A few years ago, when she was still playing, he sometimes stopped in to listen with Elenet. Nimiar hasn’t made a song of her own for months. There are no words in her head at all, and there is no music in her body. When she was a child, she never stopped singing. Now, she feels heavy with silence, and there is no reason for her to see him anymore.
The dancers fall in and out, as precise as the beat of the drums. It seems that every skirt makes the same half-turn. Like birds taking flight, they hold the pattern.
Shevraeth steps into view, and Nimiar looks up at Orbanith again, tilts the corner of her mouth a fraction more teasing, angles her fan in a coquettish play. It means Close Attention, and the bright figures blur before she can will her fingers to stillness. She wonders if Shevraeth sleeps at all, and considers what he might use to hide the stain of dreamless nights.
There’s another young man in the room to watch, as lovely, and as dangerous. Flauvic Merindar, just returned from the Sles Adran court, and they say this ball is in his honor but from all Nimiar’s seen of him he’d rather be anywhere else, despite his training. She knows the duties of pages include serving at balls, though little else about what such service entails. There are rumors, of course, and she would not believe them, because there is already far too much believing of rumor in this court. However, these – are probably not rumors, from what she’s seen.
She used to stand with the other girls, watching him from behind the painted fantasies of fans. Watching that fine sliding hair catch the torchlight and send it flying back with a tilt of the chin, a flicker of a glance. Nimiar thinks she may have a habit of standing in unoccupied wooded areas, though, because a few weeks past she stopped and watched him, and now for all his beauty she cannot find it in herself to want him.
He reached out and stroked a finger down the petal of a perfect iris, almost arrogant in the way it stood so proudly thrown up from the earth. She wondered what it felt like, watching him, feeling the branch she had held from her path press against her skirt. Could he feel the individual tiny bubbles, him with those lovely hands? Was it smooth, or tacky, or stiff, resisting to the touch, or soft? Nimiar couldn’t remember the last time she had touched a flower for the pleasure of it. She thought she had laid a finger against a lily yesterday in a moment of flirtation, but could not recall the feel of it against her skin. She shuddered and closed her eyes with the sudden intensity of imagined yellow hair sliding through her fingers, of that same finger stroking her lips.
When she looked up again, his sister had joined him, and Nimiar turned away. Fialma… for all that Nimiar could tell, she was just as she appeared – arrogant, elegant, cruel. Rumor had it that she was the one who had tricked and maneuvered to send her brother away, rumor had it that she hadn’t wanted him to come back. That she preferred the reason to be a lack of breath. But he had returned, eighteen years old and more beautiful than when he’d left, and she’d not improved in looks or temper. And now Fialma was twisted and old, whereas before she’d just been bitter and plain.
Flauvic turned at the hiss of silk on grass, and his face closed into the same smile he had given Nimiar a hundred times before. It seemed to hold no grudges, as far as she could tell, but she remembered the peace in the stillness of his face as he touched the flower, and thought she might not be standing in the circle of his admirers at the dinner that night.
She didn’t listen to what they said, and didn’t leave for fear of the rattle of leaves against her shoes. As far as she could see they were perfectly polite, but Fialma crossed her arms over her chest in the space of a reply, and Flauvic stood loosely, like Vidanric did before he began a match. She wondered what it was, who it was, that had set them against each other so. Siblings knew each other their whole lives. There was nothing they could hide from each other. For those siblings she’d seen at court that deep knowledge was a precious thing.
Here, perhaps it was a terrifying one. She looked at the delicate embroidered fish swimming down the blue of Fialma’s sleeve. They shivered in the sunlight.
When Fialma left, an impatient turn, a circle of torn grass and earth where her shoe had twisted, Nimiar looked at Flauvic again. Behind him, the summer grass was stained with the shreds of five purple petals.
He’s watching her watch him, now, and she wants to smile at him, a little friendly smile, something undemanding. Flauvic freezes for a moment, his eyes widening fractionally. It’s more emotion than she’s seen him display since the garden, and she looks away. It’s time for the night to be over, she wants to go to her chambers and rest at her table, drink a cup of tea. Have her hair combed out for the night until all she can think of is sleep. Nimiar doesn’t want to see them, these beautiful boys and girls, frozen into masks and surprised by trivial kindness. She doesn’t want to be one.