It was never really silent in Figaro Castle. Edgar knew that as well as anyone; better, maybe. Even in the smallest hours of morning, there were the footsteps of the night guards, the quiet bustle of the bakers in the castle kitchen starting the bread for the next day’s meals, the rustle of chocobos in the stables, the subtle sounds of the castle machinery ticking and grinding deep belowground . . . and, even below that, the ever-present shifting and whispering of the sands, the song of the winds around the towers. Low and deep as a horn, high and thin as a flute, still a moment and then starting up again: the wind, blowing a constant patter of sand against the castle walls.
It was never really silent in Figaro Castle. But this night it was . . . more quiet than Edgar was used to. Two weeks ago, he could have gone ten feet down the royal wing and heard his father’s snoring, like a bandsaw caught on the knot of a piece of tough wood. Three days ago, he could have gone those same ten feet and heard the rustle and murmur of doctors and healers trying to save the king’s life.
Until last night, he would have only had to go to the next room to hear Sabin’s steady breathing, deep and calm and even.
Now he could walk any distance in the royal wing and hear nothing but his own footsteps. If he rang the bellpull, a servant would be at his side in less than a minute. If he called out, a guard would be at his side in less than half a minute.
But there was no one who filled this place with him as an equal.
He stood in the hall and listened to the opening emptiness, the lack of a snore, the lack of deep breathing, and heard all the sounds that filled that silence: distant rustle, distant tick-and-grind, distant song of the wind. And then he drew his sleeping robes more tightly around himself, and returned to his bed, and lay there until the dark and the empty night swallowed him.
He dreamed of a coin in a sky full of stars.
Edgar knew by both training and observation how to hold court. When he was tiny, his nursemaids had brought Sabin and him to stand quietly and watch as his father received reports and listened to petitioners. When he was older, he’d taken his turn standing to the right and a little behind his father’s chair, and sometimes his father would quiz him: how would you answer this question, smooth this dissent, resolve this argument?
"You always want to resolve an issue with an eloquent word and a small concession," the king had told him once—and then, turning to Sabin, "And you always want to resolve it with decisive action. But both are needed, so you must always remember to help one another."
But Sabin wasn’t here anymore. So it’s on me, then. Edgar allowed his bodyservant to help him into the stately and somewhat less than convenient cloak of his office, and then he stood before his mirror to make sure he looked as kingly as possible. As kingly as could be expected, given that he was only seventeen. Brocade doublet smoothed, trousers free of lint, cloak falling in stately folds. Hair drawn back off his face—that helped quite a lot, to make him look older. Funny that he’d grown it out, not that many years ago, in an attempt to appear more mature and sophisticated, and now it was those very long locks that threatened to make him look altogether too young.
"I thought you were going to cut your hair," Sabin had said, loitering so that just a sliver of his shoulder showed in the mirror’s reflection.
Edgar frowned, pushing his hair back from his forehead, then pulling it forward again. "I did." He was fourteen, he’d killed the antlion (well, with help, but still), he deserved an adult look, he thought.
"Madame Mirseka forget to put blades in the shears, or what?"
"I asked her to trim the ends and even it up." Edgar tied it back, and then made a face at his reflection. Definitely not like that.
"You got her to give you girl hair on purpose?"
"It’s not girl hair." Maybe if he used a second hair tie? Ah, yes, that was a lot better. "It’s fashionable. It’s all the rage at Doma."
"Not very practical." Sabin always got his own hair hacked off as short as possible.
"Women like a man who takes pains with his appearance," Edgar said, loftily. "I wouldn’t expect you to understand that."
Sabin’s eyebrows climbed, and his mouth started to twitch at the corners. Uh-oh. Edgar had clearly, quite inadvertently, just given him something new to tease about. "Since when do you go after women?"
"Since now." Edgar finished fussing with his hair, satisfied with the way it looked clubbed back with two ties, and turned with—he thought—quite a stately flourish.
The effect was ruined somewhat by Sabin’s guffaw. "After you, Prince Fussy."
"Don’t mind if I do, Prince Barbarian," he replied.
"Don’t mind if I do," Edgar murmured to the mirror, and then turned and went out. Head held high, shoulders back. Bad enough for the kingdom that their old king was dead, bad enough that there was suspicion of political murder; worse yet that one of the young princes had vanished without a trace. For their sakes as much as for his own, Edgar would have to be twice the king.
In the audience chamber and at the high table, and even in the council rooms, Edgar missed, acutely, the presence of both father and brother.
In his workshop, he didn’t feel alone.
Maybe it was that Sabin had never joined him there. As alike as they were in some ways, they were completely different in others, and one of them was this: Sabin didn’t like the basement, didn’t like the workrooms, had no knack for machinery, and didn’t care to learn. So even when they’d lived so close as to be in one another’s shadows, Sabin hadn’t joined him down here, any more than he’d joined Sabin in his pointless multi-mile runs through the desert.
So, when the silence at the heart of night got to be too much, Edgar wrapped himself in his cloak (blue and gold, blue for the sea, gold for the sand) and descended from the towers, down and down and down and down, until he could feel the dry of the desert give way to the cool damp of the cellars and undercellars, low enough that even in Figaro the stones felt the clammy touch of dew.
His workshop was one room removed from the great mechanism that allowed the Castle to burrow underground in times of strife. He didn’t know who had created that mechanism, impressive as it was (drill and excavator, power source and sealing mechanism, propulsion and guidance system); he knew it was not his father or grandfather, but whichever king before him had planned and implemented it, he felt true kinship with. Maybe it’s not wholly a mistake that I be king, after all.
Now, in his workshop, the silence (save for the constant, steady grinding of gears one room over—gears that kept the castle firmly in place among the shifting sands, and waited for command to go elsewhere) didn’t bother him. It had always been quiet in his workshop. He lit a fire in his forge and set a kettle over it to make tea, and seated himself at his worktable. The parts of his hand-drill spread out across the table, and he studied them in silence for a time before reaching for a part. If he changed the diameter of the screw thread, he could perhaps optimize its mechanical advantage . . . .
The woman seated next to him at the high table was named Mellisandre. Mellisandre Trelleral. She was from Nikeah, a cloth trader. When she leaned close, her hair smelled like violets. Edgar remembered these things, because he had learned some time before that women were more inclined to be interested if you showed an interest in them first, and remembering things like their names and where they were from and what flowers they liked was a good way to show an interest. Five years of kingship had taught him that interest was an even more powerful aphrodisiac than power.
Mellisandre was dark-haired and bright-eyed, light on her feet and light with her wit, and not overly cowed with his title—all things he liked. He lead her in conversation that was now like a waltz, now like a sparring match. And so engrossed was he in his conversation that he almost missed the alert, thoughtful gaze of her hired guardsman, sitting on the other side.
What was his name? Something that started with a K, or maybe a C? Edgar had no designs on him, ergo had not committed his name and essential facts to memory. But there was something about his gaze, the same silver color as fire-heated metal, that kept nagging at the edges of Edgar’s mind. He looked altogether too watchful.
Edgar invited Mellisandre up to his chambers for an after-dinner drink, made it clear that she was free to decline. She accepted. He was thoroughly . . . distracted, for a while.
Not long enough, though. Night came, and though he left her sleeping happily in his ridiculously enormous bed, he himself could not sleep yet. Even with her quiet breaths the royal wing was far too quiet.
He made his way down, by candlelight, to the basements, to his workroom. He thought—was sure—was fairly sure that a bit of tinkering could increase the efficiency of his crossbow, and if so, the same principle could be applied to the gears that controlled the castle’s movements . . .
He was almost (but not quite) completely unsurprised to find the traveler there, eyes still watchful and bright-hot as metal in the forge.
"A bit bold, don’t you think?" Edgar said. "Spying on a king."
Whoever it was (Cole something, something Cole, he’d remember if he thought hard enough) gave him an altogether too cocky smile, all things considered. "What, pray tell, am I spying on? An exploded clock? I’m not sure who’d be interested in that."
"Well," Edgar said. "Stealing, then."
"I’m not a thief, either," Locke—Locke! That was the name, Locke Cole—said, and at that he seemed to bristle. "I’m an adventurer."
"Mm. And if treasures should happen to appear in my path while adventuring, well, then, is that my fault?"
Edgar repressed a smile. "You’re lucky it was me that found you. My guards have very little in the way of sense of humor. Lack of sense of humor is part of what I hire them for, in fact." Not that he had hired many himself, most had served under his father before, but this Locke didn’t need to know that.
"Ah, well, luck." Locke waved a hand carelessly. "Either it favors me, or else I choose to make my own. Your choice."
Edgar knew, then, knew completely and totally that if he were not so lonely he would have called for the guards. Should have called for the guards. But two minutes of being spoken to as an equal, and his gut, permanently clenched, had begun to relax. Well. Perhaps he could afford to be lenient.
"And what adventures," he said, "dare I ask, did you expect to encounter in my basement?"
Locke’s shrug was eloquent. "You don’t go to a place where you know there’ll be adventures," he said. "You go everywhere, and eventually you find some."
"A facile answer, but a foolish one."
"Maybe," Locke said. "But still true."
"Walk with me a while," Edgar said, gesturing with one arm. "The battlements are a better place to talk than the basement."
"Is that an order?"
"Say ‘no’ and find out."
Locke’s wry smile turned suddenly into a grin. "Actually, I think I’ve had enough excitement for one night," he said. He doffed his bandana as though it were a cavalier’s cap and bowed so low his hand brushed the floor, a gesture so over-elaborate as to be mocking. Then he straightened, a half-smirk on his face, his ashy hair falling a little in his face now it was out of its scarf. "Lead on, your majesty." Smug kid.
Edgar couldn’t find it in him to care.
After that, he saw Locke from time to time. Now hired on with a caravan traveling from Jidoor, now a personal guard for a lady traveling from Doma, and once in a while on his own. He moved so freely that it made Edgar aware of the bars of his own cage, and yet he could also—almost—live vicariously through the tales.
"We didn’t have much trouble on the seas," he said, the time he was escorting the lady from Doma. "Of course, we were in a frigate and had an escort, and I imagine that kept the pirates at bay. But there were bandits in the mountains."
"Banditry’s on the rise again." Edgar leaned back against the stone crenellations, looking at the sky. Stars out tonight. He’d once talked to Sabin on the rooftops like this. (Where was Sabin, now? Safe, happy, alive?)
"Mm. Some are hardened criminals." Locke rubbed his hands together absently, one over the other. "But I think many of the new ones are people who couldn’t pay their taxes and keep a living. Our Imperial Majesty in his great wisdom has raised them again."
It was not the first such hint Locke had dropped. Or the second. Or the third. Edgar had declined to pick up any of them, though. He hated Gestahl with an urgency that was all the stronger for being held in silence—hated him all the more every time he thought of his own father, hair falling out, skin gone thin as parchment—but he was king. It might be satisfying for him to enter open rebellion, but he would do his subjects no good and possibly great harm.
Locke looked at him sideways, just a glint of vision. "I felt for a lot of ‘em. Half-starved farm boys, way more desperate than skilled. But we could hardly let them kill us, either."
"No, I imagine not," Edgar said, drily. Locke looked at him, a silent query in his eyes, and Edgar thought, Not now. Not yet. Figaro can’t risk it, we’ve lost so much. Give me time.
Locke traveled very often in the company of women . . . women who then, often as not, flirted and danced (and sometimes more) with Edgar.
"You don’t mind?" he asked, once.
"I’m not sleeping with them," Locke said, looking out at the horizon. You could only tell where sky became land by the absence of stars on the dark dunes. "I don’t especially care if you want to, as long as they’re willing."
"I’ve known you three years now, and I’ve never once seen you with a woman you showed any interest in."
"Mm," Locke said. Not encouragingly.
"Or is it that you prefer men?"
"If I say yes, will you leave me alone about it?"
" . . . But no, I haven’t seen you in the presence of any attractive young men, either, in that time."
Locke’s mouth twitched at the corners. "Always excepting your majesty, of course," he said, lightly.
"Of course." Another smirk. "Or are you just asexual? Not that I object, I can pay enough attention to the ladies for the both of us . . . ."
Locke let out a long, aggrieved sigh. Edgar fell silent, and then was startled when Locke began to speak. "I was almost married once."
"It ended poorly, I take it."
"She died," Locke said. No fencing, no hedging, so blunt that it struck Edgar like a crossbow bolt between the eyes. And before he could think of anything to say, Locke continued, "And it was my fault."
For a long time there was nothing to say. Then Edgar said, simply, "I’m sorry."
A shrug. Locke stood with his back to the battlements, leaning back on his elbows. A deceptively casual pose. His chin tipped up, the full moon bright on his face.
The pieces were coming together, clicking into place like the teeth of a gear locking together. "That’s why you always take up guard contracts for women, when you travel with caravans."
"Yes." Locke knocked his knuckles against the wall, that small gesture the only . "And when I travel alone, I always try to help . . . people, women, when I can. I don’t know why. It’s not as though if I save a thousand women, I can bring Rachel back." His voice rasped.
"You don’t talk about her much."
Locke looked at him sideways. "You’re the first living person I’ve said her name to since I left my hometown."
"Mm," Edgar said. Silent another moment. Then: "Tell me about her."
Locke tensed, and for a moment Edgar thought he might leave, just like that. But then he said, "She was—she—Rachel had a laugh that nobody could hear without laughing along with her."
Locke talked for a while, in fits and starts, sometimes loquacious and sometimes forcing the words out. Edgar listened and made encouraging noises but said nothing, afraid that, once stopped, Locke wouldn't start speaking again. When Locke finally ran to the end of his story, and to the end of his self-recriminations, and then finally ran out of words entirely, Edgar offered his own.
"I am nearly positive that Emperor Gestahl had my father murdered. Poison. The official story is that he fell sick, but . . . ."
By night’s end, they had an agreement.
After that, Locke retired; he intended to rise early and go out exploring again. Edgar chose not to retire, but went up to the top of the tower where he had—so long ago now—tricked Sabin, trapped himself.
He still kept the coin, double-headed, his profile on one side and Sabin’s on the other.
"You’d be pleased, I think," he said, to the open air, the desert wind, his absent brother. "You always liked direct action. Father used to say so. I’m afraid I can’t indulge in rebellion quite as open as you’d like, but then, I was always better at the subtle approach." His lips quirked. "Father said that too."
He pulled out the coin and studied it for the thousandth time, a cool weight on his palm. "If I thought you could actually hear me, I’d tell you to come back. I wouldn’t try to make you share rulership. But I could use your advice again. Prince Barbarian."
Silence but for the sound of the wind.
"Fortunately I do have someone else for advice now. Maybe someday you’ll get a chance to meet him. I think you’d like Locke. He’s not the same as a brother, but he is . . . a friend."
The wind picked up, and Edgar took that as his cue to return inside, to the castle’s warm interior with its constant subtle click of machinery, and finally sleep.