A/N: I always intended to finish this story, ever since I laid out the plot years ago. Life and a growing habit of not-writing got in the way. But I graduated and scored a Real Job, and I find myself with free time and the deep unsatisfied sadness of a neglected passion. I thought I'd continue this story as a way of getting back into writing.
The servant hurried up the stairs. The Prince was in a temper again, and he had been only too glad to remove himself from his highness's presence. Farah's illness weighed heavily on the Prince, and the exhaustion from caring for his bride showed in his recent quickness to anger. He was extraordinarily devoted to her, adamant that he alone could nurse his beloved back to health. He insisted on personally overseeing every morsel of food produced in the kitchens to be brought up to her room: only the freshest, most perfect fruits, the softest breads, the tenderest cuts of meat for his princess, he declared every day.
The servant fumbled with the heavy key, trying to balance in one hand the silver tray brimming with food. He felt a few grapes roll around on it and gulped - the Prince would have his head if he spilled. At last, the key turned in the lock and he timidly pushed the door open.
As usual, there was no sign of the princess. He did as he had been instructed and set the tray down just inside the doorway. As he went to close the door, he heard a hoarse voice.
"Help," it rasped. "Please. Help me."
The room was dark. He was sure it was empty except for the princess, but his mind refused to connect that voice with his spirited young ruler. It was feeble, hollow, desperate. He gripped the door handle more tightly and squinted.
A hand closed firmly around his wrist. "Thank you. That will be all," murmured the Dark Prince from behind him. From somewhere in the room, a low wail began.
The Dark Prince pushed him roughly through the doorway. The servant's foot bumped the tray of food, and he watched a mango fall off and roll a few feet away before the Dark Prince closed the door behind them both. The Prince's eyes bored into him, but his expression was inscrutable.
"Is she... is she much better, Your Highness?" the servant asked.
The Dark Prince's face fell into a sigh. "Worse, I fear." He glanced at the closed door and sorrow swept his fine features. "She passes through fits of delirium, speaking nonsense and fearing things unseen."
The servant bowed his head, feeling sorry he had asked. "I am sure that with Your Grace's faithful care, her recovery will be swift and complete." He feared he sounded obsequious, but the Dark Prince inclined his head graciously and appeared pleased. The servant bowed lower and left.
She deserves better than this. She's a princess, and a warrior.
The Dark Prince laughed, easily. "You really think appealing to my sense of empathy will work? Just how long have I been living inside you?"
Give her a chance to fight. You love a good fight.
This was undeniable; he had terrorized more than one cowering servant just for the feeling of his fists on human flesh. Grandiose plans were all well and good, but his black heart was in battles, in the shriek of steel on steel and the cries of enemies so easily slaughtered. But he could not risk upsetting his plans, even though he knew the voice inside him spoke only out of desperation.
"How much does it pain you, watching her waste away?" He smiled silkily. The voice said nothing in reply, but he could feel it seething, anguished, beneath his skin. He flicked a grape lazily at the girl huddled in the corner, losing interest even before it glanced off the chain that bound her ankle to a stone pillar. "Let me feel your tragic love beat hopelessly inside this pale, silly body." He laughed again. He was in an excellent mood today.
At least make her comfortable. Someone might notice the cuts or bruises and get suspicious.
"Ah, a much more sensible attempt," the Dark Prince applauded. "But you know perfectly well that no one dares enter this room. Everyone knows that the princess's illness is likely to be highly contagious, since I've hinted it far and wide. All the more noble of me for doting on her so, of course!"
When she dies, they'll see her body.
This actually impressed him. That the whimpering prince could stand to think that plainly of his lover's death spoke of a pragmatism that the Dark Prince could not help but admire. But it only raised his spirits higher.
"Maybe I'll set my lover's body aflame in my stupendous grief," he said, and he began prancing around the room as rage that was not his rose to the surface. He embraced it, cackling. Rarely had he appeared more like a demon than as he danced then in the low flickering firelight, red on his scarred skin, white teeth flashing. "Who cares! It will be too late by then. India will be mine."
India will always belong to its beloved princess. The people will never accept a monster like you-
"They will when the rest of the royal family is dead," he sang. "That's the beauty of the monarchy. Total power and no argument."
The voice was silent again. He could feel that it was straining to sense his plans, to catch an idea of his next step. He clicked his tongue. "As if there's anything you could do about it. How has it been going so far, reasoning with me from the sidelines? The wheedling voice begging most piteously for mercy on behalf of his precious love?" He made a face as though even the word was distasteful. "Sad wretch of a man. Save a shred of dignity and give up. Just go quietly into a corner of me and we'll both forget you ever existed."
The voice said nothing.
"He doesn't know," said Farah. "He can't. I think the very idea of hope is abhorrent to him."
The Prince nodded. "He does well with maniacal glee, but doesn't seem to have much grasp of other positive emotions."
Farah wrapped two hazy arms around his. All was warmth and light here, for now. But she saw shadows out of the corner of eyes and she dared not loosen her grasp, illusory though she knew it was.
Sure enough, the Prince winced. "I think he-I'm-we're waking up." Farah clung more tightly, but the Prince's arm was shifting in and out of focus and seemed to be becoming softer and softer, until her hands fell through it and found only each other. But she nodded as she tried to find his face in the mist. "Until next time," she said.