Note: Originally written for Yuletide 2007 for karennia. I do not own Memory, Sorrow and Thorn.
Josua waited for what seemed like ages in the cold hallway, his eyes taking in the rough grain of the door and what looked like singe marks around the edges of the frame, until finally his plaintive knock was answered. He started a bit, as the air was sucked past him a bit too harshly, and the old man's face came into view from the shadowy corridor beyond.
The doctor's visage was irritated at first, looking out into open air, then glancing down it shifted into a curious grin, taking in the mousy-haired young prince. His mouth made a whiskered "O" upon noticing Josua's black eye.
"Anaxo's bones, highness. Did you just go twelve rounds with a mill wheel?" Morgenes said, and never one to stand on ceremony, scooped a wiry arm around the prince's small frame.
He guided him down the hallway as if in a hurry to get out of it, towards the torchlight at the end of the tunnel which seemed to flicker green. Josua tried not to show his nervousness, but he couldn't help an uneasy gulp as he shuffled forward. Sometimes his curiosity with Morgenes paid off, sometimes it just gave him nightmares. The green light changed to a friendly orange as soon as they crossed the main threshold. Odd that.
This room, a converted barracks, had only recently been claimed by the doctor. He had just moved here from a much smaller place, what was almost a lean-to in the Outer Bailey. Already Morgenes had made himself at home and was hard at his curious work. His collection of specimens, animal, mineral and vegetable, which came from all over the known world and beyond, were already scattered high and low; they were out from the crates Josua remembered from the last time he'd visited.
He had acquired a sturdy set of bookshelves at some point, though they hardly seemed to contain the half of the man's library. Books lay in various poses and piles around them in fact, waiting patiently for a clever mind to delve their secrets. Josua doubted he would get a chance to look at any of them today.
"What?" Josua said. "No, no. Elias was just getting a bit of revenge on me at weapons practice. I scared off his lady-love yesterday." He wrinkled his nose a the thought of seeing his older brother squirming about in a corner with some girl he didn't recognize. His own private corner, that dog.
"Lady-love? Scaring off? I suppose he is already at that age." Morgenes scratched at the sparse salt-and-pepper growth that hid his chin, and shrugged. He hefted a pile of books off of the table he used as his workbench, desk and eating place. "Here, I made some room, highness. Why don't you sit down and explain why you deserved a trouncing."
The prince frowned. Why did being fourteen years make Elias act this way? "It wasn't my fault. He was with her in the loft I like to read in during the afternoon, since it's always so warm there. My head popped up the ladder and she squealed and scurried past me like she had seen a demon and Elias looks at me, his face a storm and finally I'm alone." And he hadn't felt much like reading then.
Morgenes laughed, and poured himself something that smelled beery, from a covered bucket he'd hauled out of a corner into a most disheveled tin mug. "I'm sorry. Perhaps it's just as well, highness. The heir can seldom afford to get into trouble with a young lady's father. There could be political repercussions."
He shook his head. "I doubt anything political like that. I don't think she is actually a lady - just one of the staff if her dress was anything to go by," Josua said. She had been pretty though, even in that dark wool and white apron, from the brief look he had gotten of her. But not a Lady. "Usires bless it. I don't want to be a telltale, doctor." Why did Elias have to be like this anymore? Josua used to do all sorts of things with him - hawking and riding and stealing pies from the kitchen, making jest of their father's courtiers and just last winter they'd made the biggest snow fort in the history of Osten Ard. "Why is he so angry?"
"You simply caught him doing something he knew better than to do. Particularly when he has to live up to the honorable standard your father has established. I imagine it is very difficult, for on one hand he has to try to be a saint while on the other he's just nearly a man and surrounded by pretty girls who like him. You'll find yourself the center of a certain type of attention soon enough."
"I don't care. How am I supposed to be his right hand and best supporter like Father Clemen says, if he's being stupid and beating me up for no good reason?" It felt bad to say such things, but this was not the way he'd wanted to spend the winter holiday. He only had three weeks to spend with his family. Then it was back to Nabban and the seemingly endless toil and study at the cloisters there, until far off midsummer. Elias would return to foster with the Duke of Nabban and likely learn to beat his little brother even better with a sword in the meantime.
Morgenes sharp blue eyes caught his own. "I suspect, highness, you need to let him know how you feel, as you are the closest person he has to an equal in this world, and you have every right. No doubt he needs to hear it, too. You would also do good to keep in mind that his feelings for that girl are likely temporary, whereas you will always be his beloved brother. He can be forgiven for a bit of silliness now and then." He grinned, trying to perk up Josua's sullen mood. "Just as your father forgave Lord Karolis for his bit of indiscretion with the castle treasury."
The prince laughed a little. "I don't wish to blackmail Elias into doing anything though." He recalled that his father now had in his keeping a very lovely stallion with a pedigree more extensive than his own, along with a fine set of tack and armor for the beast, all because of that carelessness on the lord's part. All Josua wanted was the old Elias back.
"You don't have to, but it's good that you understand the serious nature of his actions - and that you are paying attention to what goes on in court elsewhere," said Morgenes, nodding to himself. "Things will right themselves soon enough - and if they don't, well, come see me and I'll show you something to take your mind off of it. I've got those maps of the Far West from Warinsten finally." He pointed to a hide-wrapped bundle on the floor not far from where they were sitting.
Josua's face did perk up a little at that. Perhaps this midwinter wouldn't be a complete wash. "I'll remember that. I'd best go, they'll miss me at the table," he said, as they both heard the supper bell begin to toll.
Surly or not, he and Elias would be face to face again in a matter of minutes.
The two princes arrived in the massive, high-raftered dining hall at the same time, Elias with melting snow still in his hair and on his heavy black boots. He seemed to flinch a little as Josua caught his gaze, his injury easily visible.
There, perhaps that was a pang of guilt in his brother's heart? Josua kept his expression cool though, pinning his eyes on him as they were seated across from one another. Elias wasn't softhearted, but neither was he cruel - and he never could keep anything in.
The elder prince looked away a bit, as if to make sure no one was watching, in particular his friends, or maybe to avoid Josua's harsh stare. Their father hadn't arrived yet. "Sorry," he mumbled. "I'm sorry. I was careless." Elias' face was uneasy, studying his frighteningly composed younger brother, as if he were uncertain whether he'd be forgiven.
Josua shrugged. "Apology accepted."