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Deep Breath Before

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Before Jaron had left, Darius hadn’t seen his brother that often. It was not that surprising, he’d always been busy. There was always another lesson to be learned and another thing to get right. He knew, even as a child, that he was never going to have a normal childhood. His mother tried, and he loved her for that, but even the Queen couldn’t stand against his responsibility.

And he was happy for his brother— let one of them have a normal childhood. Well, for a certain definition of normal. But he still mourned what could’ve been, had he not been the Crown Prince. Sometimes when he snuck out of the keep, always careful to hide who he was, he caught glimpses of siblings. Each one left him with a pang of what could have been. And that was true now more than ever.

He loves Jaron. And he knows Jaron loves him back. But it was not the same. There would always be the distance of responsibility between them. Even before anything else. When they were younger it was easier to ignore. There were years where it wasn’t as weighty.

Indeed, some of Darius’ favorite memories were when he and Jaron would sneak out. More often than not it was to float carved boats down the Roving River. In his memory the days blended together. They became one long day where endless tiny boats floated down the rushing river.

But as he grew older, the lessons increased and more was expected of him as Crown Prince. Indeed, it sometimes seemed that by the day there was more to know.

There was politics and diplomacy. The regents, Avenia, Mendenwal, Gelyn, Bymar, Bultain and a whole host of others. And even when Darius didn’t like them, he would have to work with them. Mendenwal in particular would've made good allies. But Darius didn't like the way their king insulted his mother. He'd only heard of the reason afterwards, but if Jaron hadn't issued a challenge, Darius would've. And he would have caused a incident. His actions had more weight.

There was fighting, too. Sword-fighting and archery. Horsemanship. Tactics. More family names than he ever wanted to know. Dancing. Etiquette, so much etiquette. Reading and writing. It didn’t take Darius a long time to figure out that Carthya was in a precarious position. He saw this. Carthya needed stable leadership. And because Darius was expected to be the Crown Prince, that is what he became.

A few years previously, he had learned their father knew he and his brother had snuck out. In hindsight it made a lot of sense. He’d heard the story of his father’s love of music. His father, too, knew the pressure of being the Crown Prince. It was a small bit of kindness, the only bit his father could give him. It wasn’t enough, but Darius appreciated it for what it was.

Sometimes, on the nights when he dragged himself half-asleep back to his room, he’d see his younger brother. And he'd see him scaling the castle walls. It had started a few years after Darius had gotten more busy. After Jaron’s bet with the page, their father had been a bit more strict with Jaron.

That had been perhaps the only time Darius had been scared of his father. He knew why his father was so hard on Jaron. Even a few weeks after the incident rumors were swirling of the misbehaving prince. It didn’t reflect on Carthya well. But he thought his father was still too harsh. 

At first it had seemed like Jaron had listened. Darius had not been fooled, and he didn’t think their parents had been either. But Darius was pretty sure he was the only one who had figured out how Jaron continued to sneak around. The first time he’d seen his brother climbing the walls, he’d nearly jumped out of his chair. As it was in the middle of one of his boring family history classes, it was a good thing he hadn’t. But it was a bit shocking to see his younger brother climbing up the wall like it was nothing in broad daylight.

He could’ve told someone, but he never did. Darius couldn’t do much for his brother. He no longer had the time to play and couldn’t be seen as childish anyways. He couldn’t hug him, lest he be seen as too affectionate. If he had favored him too much now, that would always follow his brother. (Later he would regret that). Especially since he had wanted his brother to one day be his top advisor. Perhaps even prime regent, for no one could deny his brother was noble enough. So he had let his brother climb, to grant him some small bit of happiness like his father had done for him.

It had still terrified him to see his brother high up on the walls. And so when he’d finally ‘stumbled’ upon his brother, he’d sat him down for a chat.

“Careful, Jaron,” he had said, having ‘caught’ his brother in the act.

Jaron had jumped, eyes flicking over to Darius in terror. But he covered it well. If Darius didn’t know Jaron that well, he would’ve missed the worry on his brother’s face. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Jaron had said, words stumbling. 

“You also didn’t know you were two stories up?” Darius had said, wryly. Jaron had looked away, but Darius could tell his brother wasn’t guilty. Darius had sighed. “Come on, let’s go sit down for a second.”

Darius had pushed Jaron in front him. Jaron was slippery and would’ve gotten away if Darius didn’t push him along.

“Going to put an end to your future embarrassment?” Jaron had bit out, not really angry, but scared.

And Darius hadn’t known what to say to that. How could he explain that even though he’d been more distant he still loved his brother as much as before? That his brother could never be an embarrassment?

But Jaron had plowed on, taking Darius’ silence as agreement. “Of course you are. Well, then. Do what you must.”

And Darius had smiled sadly at his brother. The castle gardens were one of the few places he felt safe to let down some of his guard. “I’m not going to say anything. Only, be careful. You’re my brother.” Darius had said.

Jaron had looked bewildered for a second at Darius’ pronouncement. But then he’d nodded. “Oh. Of course.” He had said.

And five weeks later their parents had been forced to send him off to Bymar. The pirate attack had been devastating. Darius fought with his father about being allowed to search. It was his mother that finally convinced his father. She told him Darius wouldn’t get himself killed searching for his brother.

The rumors by that point were that Jaron had died— and while Darius knew it to be possible, he doubted it. He had to. He had always known Jaron to be canny. And he knew that his brother was mad at being forced to leave. So Darius slipped from town to town in a desperate search. And he hoped beyond belief that his brother was still the rule-breaker he’d been before.

Darius sometimes drew attention to himself. But he covered much more of the search area as an anonymous man. To his surprise, it was him being conspicuous that led him to finding his brother. Relief did not cover how he felt at finding Jaron. If not for the watchful eyes of those around them, Darius would’ve hugged him.

But Darius feared someone might try to take advantage of his brother. He knew he didn’t have the supplies to take Jaron with him anymore. Indeed, he didn’t even have enough money on hand to buy the necessary supplies. So even as he told his brother about how their parents were grieving, he came up with a basic plan.

He would tell the priest it wasn’t his brother. That way, no one would think his brother was here and no one would think to take him for ransom or some other ill. But Darius would also pay for him to stay. The priest was kindly. In fact, he probably would have taken on his brother for free. But Darius would not make him. He would see the priest rewarded more substantially eventually. Until then, his small plan would keep his brother safe. And alive. It would be up to his father to decided how to bring his brother back.

He had no idea his father would turn it into his brother’s exile. Upon his return to Drylliad, he’d met with his father quietly. His mother had taken ill with grief, else he would’ve told her immediately too. He’d been gladdened to see his father’s grief eased as his had been. His father had told him not to tell anyone yet— and had left. Darius had assumed he would return with his brother.

He was wrong. When his father had returned without his brother, Darius was furious. His mother still wasn’t getting better and Darius had had a very fretful week running the castle. Darius was not one to normally get very emotional. But this time he all but grabbed his father for a private meeting in a side chamber. That was about as private as he could get in the castle. So as always he was worried about prying ears.

“You left him in Avenia?” He hissed at his father without preamble. His father looked weary, but Darius gave him no mercy. “What madness took you?”

His father sighed. “It is for his good, Darius. He will be safe and outside the regent’s reach.”

“He’s your son.” Darius said, struggling to not shout. “He’s my brother. He belongs here.”

“But he is safer there. No one will target the dead second son. And he will have a chance to be free.” His father said.

“And I suppose the fact that you won’t have to declare war if he doesn’t come home has anything to do with it?” Darius said, frustrated. “He’s been on the street.”

His father shook his head. “Of course that’s part of it. What do you think will happen if we end up at war? I would have a country for both of you to live in, not a war for you to die in. Jaron is smart— I am sure he will find his way. And I will leave a way for him to come back if he needs to.”

“But I won’t see him again. Not unless something goes wrong.” Darius said.

His father nodded. “You know that if something goes wrong it is best that he won’t be affected.”

“And if nothing happens? You would see me deprived of one of the few nobles that would support me?” Darius said, desperately. He knew his father was right about the war, but still wanted his brother safe.

“I know you have heard the regents, Darius. Of late they have been more against us than usual.” His father said. “It may still be yet possible to reintroduce him during your reign.” But he heard his father’s doubt.

Darius said, voice shaking in anger. “But not during yours.”

“Yes.” His father said. “This is what the country needs, Darius.”

“Fine.” He sighed. “You’d better be right about that. And you get to tell mother about this.”

His father shook his head. “I can’t tell your mother. Not yet. You know she won’t be able to keep it a secret.”

“Oh, like she kept your relationship a secret?” Darius snorted. “If you’re going to do this, father, you’d best take the consequences too.”

“That was only a week, son. And you know she has had much more visible grief. If she suddenly gets better, I fear we will have suspicion placed upon us.” His father said.

“As you wish, your highness.” He said, sharply. “Just know if he dies from this, you’ll wish we’d gone to war instead.”

His father nodded wordlessly. And Darius saw a glimpse of the grief and love beyond his father’s cold logic. That was when he knew he would forgive his father for this, one day. That his father’s hand had been forced by other factors and that his brother would be okay. But as he went to bed, he couldn’t help but think of the endless boats on the river, and his brother’s grin when he climbed. Most of all, he thought of the other siblings, in town and how much he envied them.

And he wept because his brother wouldn’t be able to come home, not for many decades to come, if at all. He cried knowing come morning he would be forced to be the Crown Prince once more. And that his brother was out on the streets, alone.