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The Other Royal Children

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The Other Royal Children

by Laura Fox

based on the anime
Allison & Lillia

 

Treize had been out of sorts for days; maybe it was just a bad mood that he was going through --- in the six years since he and Merielle were born, Fiona had seen her share of those --- but this was so intense and went on so long that she couldn’t help worrying. Even Carr, the last time she pointed it out, had frowned instead of reassuring her as he usually would.

Their son wasn’t eating or sleeping well, and his behavior was totally unaccountable. For the first time in months he had cried when his parents had to make a public appearance and left him alone in the lodge, and the nursemaid said that he had barricaded himself in his room until they got back. As Fiona went about her work, she would find him looking in the door at odd times as though to check that she were still there, but when she started to get up or even smiled at him, he ran away. When they were together in a room, he hung anxiously close to her or to his father but shrank from her touch into evasive silence, even when she spoke to him as sweetly as she could. If his twin sister harangued him, it was normal for him not to be loud or assertive enough to resist, but now he took it without a word, and when Carr tried lifting him onto a couch and asking, with an arm around his shoulder, if he wanted to go out for a drive in the fine summer weather, he had sat there stiffly, looking painfully desperate, then gone missing for several hours and turned up for dinner covered in dust as though he had been in the attic.

Fiona had thought of consulting the royal doctor, but Treize didn’t seem to be sick, just disturbed. She couldn’t think of anything that had happened when it started, but one never knew what could be a terrible matter to a child, and whatever this was, it must be terrible, so much that it seemed as if... The way Treize acted gave Fiona a certain intuition whose name she hesitated to admit, but she had turned it over slowly and finally had to recognize it. He had suddenly begun acting as if he couldn’t trust anyone. It struck his mother deeply because it was a feeling she had seen before, very close, but that had been a different time and place, and now in her son it made no sense to her.

She knew that she tended to be too officious, especially with Treize --- with the child she had left out of the royal line, whether it was guilt or the empathy of experience --- but at this point she simply couldn’t sit by any longer, and she decided that that night after dinner she would take him up to his room herself and try to sort it out.

Through the meal, she watched him pick dispiritedly at his food as he had done these several days, and when she gave up hope of him eating any more, she excused herself from the table and walked around behind his chair. “Treize, if you’re finished...? I heard that you’ve had trouble sleeping, so I thought I’d come up and read to you.”

“Ah --- you don’t have to! I’ll go right to bed!” he insisted.

That note of panic had its sting, but she was prepared. “Oh, no, I’ve been looking forward to it all day. It’s no trouble at all.”

“Stop acting stupid!” Merielle leaned into him from the next chair. “You’re not supposed to talk back to the Queen, are you?”

“Now, there’s no need for that,” Carr told her patiently.

Fiona just offered Treize her hand. “Come on.”

He took it and held it in a tight grip all the way up the stairs, although he avoided her eyes and kept a little away from her so that their two arms hung down between them. When she had watched him brush his teeth, she took him to his room, seated herself on the edge of his bed, and patted the mattress beside her. “Come here; sit with me.”

After a little hesitation, he climbed up and again sat in that rigid posture.

“Something’s been bothering you lately, hasn’t it?”

He shook his head in unconvincing denial. “I’m okay! You don’t have to worry!”

“You’ve been so different, I can’t help worrying,” she said, stroking his hair with the backs of her fingers.

He drew in tighter. “I’m sorry. I--- I’ll do better!”

“I don’t want you to be sorry,” she assured him. “I want you to be happy. Like when we all went out to the woods Saturday, and Merielle showed you the eagles’ nest? You looked like you were having so much fun.”

No reply; he just stared at his hands, nervously kneading them on his lap.

“Did something happen after that?”

This time he didn’t try to deny it, and his silence was increasingly tense. There was something there, building pressure to come out, if she just persisted a little longer... She pivoted and turned him a little so they sat facing each other. “You can tell me. If there’s anything at all I can do to make it better...”

He looked up at her, and a small spark of hope flickered across his desperate face.

“It’s all right. No matter what it is, you can tell me.”

A small whine escaped through the first crack in his resistance, and then it broke free: “Mama, please don’t send me away!!

It shot straight through Fiona, a stunning, hollowing blow. “Wha--- Why---??”

Her expression couldn’t be reassuring; Treize held back with tears in his eyes. “Merielle said there was a law! That the king and queen could only have one child and the other one--- The Guard takes them away and nobody ever sees them again!

His mother seized him and hugged him tight to her chest. “No!” she declared. “That won’t happen to you! Not ever, I swear it!”

As he started crying in earnest, she needed to hold him, but she also needed to press him close where he couldn’t see the pain and anger in her face. Merielle had gone too far --- but Fiona also knew at once that she’d been a fool not to tell him herself. She and Carr had wanted so badly not to let him think he’d been deemed inferior to his sister, had always told him that the choice had been made on the simple chance of a coin toss, but in trying to spare him the implications it would have had in the past, she had left him to discover them haphazardly. Now she could only count herself lucky that he’d been told that recent and merciful version; at least her son hadn’t begged her not to send him to an orphanage in another country, or abandon him at the seventh crossroads, or worse yet... After reading in history books about the bloody succession fight that had produced that law, Fiona could understand the things her ancestors had done, but understanding was not proof against horror. He could have heard about and been menaced by any of it --- and on the toss of a coin! She and Carr were lucky he hadn’t been hiding from them in the attic all week.

As if what he had been told weren’t bad enough; Fiona of all people knew that it was. That, she would still hold back from her children until they were older and could understand and keep secrets --- that she had also been the “other” child.

She could never hate the Royal Guards who had raised her. To a person, they had always been loyal and kind. The ones who hadn’t passed on or retired still were; they gallantly kept her secret as well, and she smiled to see them watching over her own children, but she could never forget that old, horrible truth. When she had been only a baby, they had taken her away, to that village hidden deep in the woods where no one was ever supposed to see her again.

It still touched her that those people had been willing to devote the rest of their lives to caring for her and protecting her, but they had also decieved her, raising her to believe that she lived in a normal, humble village --- a village where everyone else was older than her by at least fifteen years, and where no one ever came or left. She somehow knew that there was a world outside, but it danced, dreamlike, beyond a forest as wide as an ocean, as unreachable as an aurora in the sky.

Then, when she was ten years old, her twin sister Francesca had come, like a tropical bird blown in on the wind only to fall in a snowdrift and die. At first Fiona hadn’t understood the meaning of the pendant her sister had given her, but it took on its own meaning perhaps more powerful, and she wore it to keep the proof at her fingertips that that night had actually happened, that there really were other little girls like herself and a world beyond the trees.

The old doctor had been the only one to finally tell her the truth: what the pendant really meant, who she really was, who the “villagers” who had raised her really were... The phrase people used for a thing like that was ‘the scales fell from her eyes,’ but Fiona felt more as if scales had suddenly sprung up in front of her eyes, hard and translucent, separating her from everyone she had always known. For a time, she must have acted a bit like Treize had been acting; that sudden loss of trust... As she had come to think of it much later, it was like discovering that she was living on a movie set; the village elder, the woodcutter, the baker, the old couple she lived with... Who were they really? Who had they been before? What were they really thinking about her, their cast-off princess, and the roles they were playing for her sake?

She never lost the heart of her warmth toward them and was never ready to confront them or run away from them on her own, but after that, she had taken to walking and working out in the woods when she could, alone among trees that didn’t lie, and it was there one day that she had met Carr. At first she had bristled at this strange creature, a man who didn’t know his lines, but then maybe she had fallen in love with him when she realized: he didn’t know his lines because he wasn’t acting.

Maybe she had fallen in love with cameras the first time she held a photograph in her hand and saw proof that the moment on film had actually happened, that that much, at least, had been real...

Her reverie had fanned a hot coal deep inside her, but at the same time, she had relaxed, and Treize had mostly cried himself out; she held him more gently, stroking his hair. No; a child spirited away into an isolated life of smoke and mirrors --- it wasn’t going to happen again. Not as long as she could help it. Certainly not to her son.

Fiona had suspected early on that she was carrying twins; her family had an ironic tendency that way, she’d been told, and her belly had seemed to grow twice as fast and exhaustion and morning sickness strike twice as hard as could possibly be normal, although a first-time mother especially could never be sure of such things. What she had been absolutely sure of was that if it did happen, she would need a firm resolve already in hand. It hadn’t even been a decision, but arrived as a commitment already made. It wasn’t going to happen again. If it came to a choice between the throne and a child, justice had already been done for her family, and Ixtova had proven that it could function without royalty.

That was what she had told the Senators with her firm resolve, and the crucial point had been hers at once. No one had wanted an empty palace again, but there had been a strong traditionalist element that wouldn’t countenance repealing a centuries-old law just for her, and so they had arrived at this awkward compromise: it was enough if the other royal child didn’t publicly exist. Treize could grow up with his family, but could never be known to the outside world as the Prince of Ixtova, “Queen Francesca’s” son, Princess Merielle’s brother.

It had come with its own moments of pain --- having to leave him behind at any public appearance, or, if the Guard brought him along separately, having to ignore him even if he fell down and was crying... Perhaps her resolve hadn’t been enough; perhaps she had weakened to accept it. Perhaps another generation would see it as too cruel, and another king or queen would say to themself “never again; not to my child,” but for Fiona now, it was enough to hold Treize under her arm and have words that could put his fears to rest.

“It is true that such things used to be done,” she said gently, “but not anymore. I promise I won’t let anyone take you away from me.”

“Not ever?” he sniffed, looking up with reddened, still-glistening eyes.

Never was a big word; she took a breath on it and smiled. “Well, not until you grow up and get married.”

“Then I’ll never get married!” he declared.

“Oh, you don’t have to think about that for a long time,” she said, nuzzling him. It would do no good to tell him he would see the matter differently later; he would have to find that out for himself before he could understand it.

From outside the room came the sound of hurried footsteps thudding up the stairs; they rushed straight to the door and brought a sharp knocking. “Queen Francesca??” It was the nursemaid.

“Yes? Come in.”

The woman threw the door open with a hurried curtsey. “Your Majesty, there’s a bit of trouble.”

“What is it?”

“Well, Princess Merielle, she... She said that her brother was... was overreacting to something she had said to him, and His Majesty your husband, he... When she insisted she wouldn’t apologize, he told her they had scary traditions where he came from, too, about what happened to children who did mean things...”

“And then...?” Fiona normally trusted her husband completely, but a bit of worry was creeping in.

“He took her over his knee and spanked her, Your Majesty.”

She sighed, half relief and half something else. She wasn’t glad he had done it, but in a certain way he had come to her rescue again; her own anger might have been worse than his, that deep, burning coal that she would not have wanted to face her daughter with, but now she could call it finished and let it go.

“When I left, he was just sitting with her quietly, but she was still screaming,” the nursemaid explained.

Fiona turned to Treize. He looked a bit concerned, but with an underlying inquisitive energy she hadn’t seen in days, and she felt sure that he was all right now. “Do you think we should go and try to cheer up your sister?” she asked.

He nodded, eye-to-eye with her, and took her offered hand.

 

** * FIN * **