The next morning at breakfast, even Cerdic could tell that something was wrong with Medea. Not the usual, anti-social type of wrong either. It was something different, but no one, not even Oskan could begin to guess the specifics. Medea was quiet and moody as usual, sitting just a few feet away from the rest of her family yet somehow managing to maintain the illusion that there was some grand chasm separating them, but that was normal. She never socialized with anyone, with the rare exception of her father, but she hadn't even spoken to him. Although she normally wouldn't have cared, Cressida couldn't help but notice that Medea kept looking at the housecarls' table as if she was wishing it would spontaneously burst into flames.
Purely out of concern for the safety of her men, the heir to the throne approached her introverted and vengeful sister.
"So what happened?" she dared to ask. Medea didn't even look up.
"Nothing happened." she responded flatly.
"Do you miss her?"
"That girl. You're looking at her a lot."
"I don't know what you're talking about."
"Medea, don't hurt them." Cressida warned. "I don't know what that girl did to make you upset, but you can't take it out on the housecarls."
"What the hell are you talking about?" Medea demanded. "Who said anything about the housecarls?"
Cressida was silent for a moment.
"You're looking at the housecarls like you want to kill them or something."
More uncomfortable silence.
"Do you like her or something?"
"Do you like that housecarl? You're… you're kind of looking at her funny. I mean, not that there's anything wrong with that, I was just wondering because-"
"I. Don't. Like. Girls." Medea said, her voice a deadly whisper.
Yeah, you don't like anything. Cressida thought to herself, but managed to refrain from saying it out loud. "Medea, if you do, you know it's okay, right? I mean, you might not be sure yet, but sometimes it can be confusing…"
Medea looked horrified. Oh god! She's actually trying to act like my older sister! Anything but that!
"Cressida! If I've told you once, I've told you a thousand times! I do not like girls! Never have, never will! So shut up!" She huffed, getting up and starting to walk away. Cressida shrugged.
"Okay, okay, just saying…" she trailed off, glancing over at the housecarls' table. "Looks like she's got a boyfriend anyway." She added as an afterthought, watching her younger sister for any type of reaction whatsoever. Medea's step faltered, and she turned around.
"Don't be ridiculous Cressida, there's no way she's…"
"Look," Cressida interrupted, pointing to the housecarls' table, "Right there, see? Near the end." Medea's eyes followed in the direction of Cressida's finger, and sure enough, there was Alyssa, sitting next to a boy with short cropped brown hair. She watched as Alyssa whispered something in his ear and he chuckled, kissing her on the cheek before getting up to get a drink. Alyssa watched him go, smiling.
And although she didn't know why, Medea's blood boiled. She quickly got a hold over herself, before looking back at Cressida.
"Well that's wonderful. I'm happy for her." She said, her voice completely devoid of any intonation.
"No you're not!" Eodred protested, "'cause you're Medea and you're not happy about anything!"
"Yeah!" Cerdic agreed, looking thoughtful, "You didn't even get drunk at yuletide last year!"
Cressida looked at him sharply, raising an eyebrow. "And you did?"
Cerdic laughed, trying to look unbothered.
"Who, me? Never!" He said, wishing he knew how to sound convincing.
"Cerdic!" Cressida scolded, her tone of voice somewhere between irritation and disapproval. "You're fourteen years old! Who on earth told you that you could drink?"
"Well you were doing it!" Eodred protested, heroically leaping to his twin brother's aid. Cressida tossed back her head, frustrated.
"I'm eighteen years old and heir to the throne of the Icemark! Of course I was drinking!" She said, starting to raise her voice. Eodred chuckled.
"Oh, trust me, we know you were drinking…"
"Yeah Cress, you're fun when you're drunk!" Cerdic added helpfully. Then he smiled evilly. "Remember that time with the housecarl-"
"On the table-"
Both boys dissolved into hysterical laughter, and Cressida turned a brighter shade of pink than Medea had thought humanly possible.
"Okay, well that was just once, and that was his fault, not mine-" Cressida spluttered, trying to protest, but Eodred cut her off.
"Yes, definitely his fault. He probably possessed your brain or something and made you drag him up onto the table and kiss him in front of five hundred people."
"And mom and dad." Cerdic chided happily.
"Yes, and mom and dad." Eodred agreed.
"Now wait just a minute, it was widely acknowledged that we were both drunk at the time-" Cressida began to protest, but Cerdic cut her off.
"Not as I recall it. If I remember correctly, that poor guy was completely sober."
"Now wait just a second! That poor guy? Are you saying I'm a bad kisser?" Cressida fumed.
"Dunno sis, why don't you ask him…"
The sounds of their pointless argument faded to silence as Medea snuck away, over towards the huge double doors of the mess hall. Alyssa had a boyfriend! She didn't know why she found the concept of such a thing so irritating, but she couldn't stand it. She hated seeing Alyssa look at him, she hated seeing Alyssa whisper to him, she hated seeing him kiss her cheek. She hated it, and she still didn't know why. She decided to confront Alyssa about it some other time, but for now… For now she would wait, until she knew why she was feeling the way that she was. She had never felt this way before, but she remembered a word that her father had once used when telling off Cressida for teasing her as a child.
"Cressida, stop being so mean to your sister! If you're jealous that you don't have her Gift, just say so." He had said.
Medea blinked. So that was what it was about. She was jealous of Alyssa's boyfriend! But why? Why on earth should she be jealous of him? After all, Alyssa was one serious pain in the ass. She should actually be happy that she had managed to scare Alyssa away. She was annoying, and she had been making Medea's life hell… But she was also fun, and perky, and exciting, and really pretty as well… Medea stopped herself. What on earth was she thinking? Alyssa was a girl! Still, now that it had occurred to her, she couldn't get the idea out of her head. Maybe Alyssa was annoying. No, scratch that. Maybe Alyssa was really annoying. But she was still the closest thing that Medea had ever had to a friend, and there was no way in hell that she was going to let some stupid boy steal that from her. No matter how much she denied it, there was a small part of her that acknowledged that she needed Alyssa in her life.
Perfect timing. Medea thought to herself, watching as the pair walked through the double doors and out into the hallway. They were happily chatting, and as Medea watched, Alyssa hugged him. Then the girl seemed to notice Medea lurking in the corner, and her smile widened as she skipped over to her.
"Medea! This is my boyfriend, Ryan. Ryan, this is my friend, Medea." She introduced them happily, and the boy named Ryan offered Medea his hand. Medea stared at it coldly until he got the point and let it return to his side, looking nervous.
"Riiiight…" He said awkwardly, not really sure what to think of the strange girl. He didn't know why, but he was getting the strangest feeling that she was viciously jealous of him for some reason. "I'm… You're the queen's daughter, right?"
"Yes, that's correct. Now if you don't mind, I'd like to talk to Alyssa in private. It's important." She said flatly, grabbing the girl's hand and dragging her into the hallway. Once they were out of earshot, Medea turned around to face Alyssa, her face a mixture of confusion and irritation. "You have a boyfriend? What hole did he crawl out of?" She asked, sounding completely disbelieving.
"I know, isn't it great? We've been together for a few months now, but he's a member of the Fyrd, so I don't get to see him a lot. It's a shame really, but-"
"Why do you like him so much? He seems like a total… a total…" Medea faded into silence as she searched for the right word to describe him, but she could only think of positive characteristics. That only served to incense her further. "He doesn't deserve you; you're better than him." She said at last, unable to think of anything better to say. Alyssa smiled lightheartedly, laughing a little.
"Thanks Medea, but he totally does. I'm glad you're looking out for me though. I really am." She said, still smiling. Medea made a frustrated huffing noise, then decided to change tactics.
"Alyssa, he's a soldier. His job is dangerous. He could die one day, and…"
"Yes, I know." Alyssa cut her off. "But so could I. We're both soldiers. We could both die one day. We both will die one day. So that's why we're making the most of our time together, no matter how short that time might end up being."
Medea was silent. For some reason, those words had struck her like a blow. They were like a slap to the face, a cruel wake up call. Alyssa could die. Alyssa could die, and there was nothing that she could do to stop it. Bellorum had returned. He was back, and that meant that by the end of the winter, Alyssa would be shipping out, most likely to the front lines. And while Medea wanted to believe that the housecarl would survive whatever the war threw at her, she knew that the chances of that were slim to none.
"Of course." Medea said tonelessly, feeling something inside her recoil in pain like a wounded animal as the words passed her lips. She didn't understand what she was feeling, because she had never felt it before. "You should. I just…It's just…"
As she stood there staring at Alyssa, lost for words, she felt her extremely logical mind beginning to put two and two together. It was like watching the pieces of a puzzle click into place, forming a picture that took her completely off guard and made her head spin.
I… Alyssa? But… that means… right? I'm not… I never… but she's… I don't… I can't… another girl? No way… but this is real! That's why I'm jealous, that's why I'm pissed she has a boyfriend… it all makes sense, I just… I can't…
"Medea? Are you alright?" Alyssa asked, concerned. She had never known the sorceress to back down from an argument before. It was also something about the way that the girl was looking at her; her expression was a mix of confusion… and… could it be possible? Was that… was it fear that she saw in her friend's onyx eyes? If it was, she couldn't begin to imagine what it was doing there. When Medea didn't respond, Alyssa's concern for her only grew. "Medea, what's going on?"
Medea blinked as Alyssa's voice brought her spiraling back to reality. Her mind was still reeling with the aftershock of the truth she had just uncovered, and she felt a jolt of fear pierce her heart like a knife. What is wrong with me? Why do I feel this way? This can't be normal. Then, with even more dread, What will Oskan say?
"Nothing. Forget I said anything." The cold fear that she had felt before had now settled itself firmly in the pit of her stomach, and she was finding it difficult to control. "I have to go. I'll… talk to you later." She said, struggling to keep her growing dread from creeping into her voice. Without another word, she turned and walked away, moving at a swift pace in the hopes that she could get to her room and sort things out before someone noticed that something was wrong.
Alyssa watched her go, wondering what was really bothering the other girl. Part of her was very much inclined to follow Medea back to her room and try to weasel the truth out of her. But the other half was feeling far more logical, realizing that Medea was in no fit state to talk about her problems. The sorceress hardly ever was; the fact that Alyssa had managed to uncover the truth about the girl's issue with her family had been a minor miracle, and she wasn't expecting a repeat any time soon.
Medea stepped into her room, closing the door quickly and leaning up against it. She shut her eyes, letting the back of her head hit the door and taking a deep breath. She needed to calm down. It's not as big as you're making it, she tried to tell herself, it's just a little crush. It must be. You've only known her for a few days. You're overreacting. Calm down.
But she couldn't.
There was something about discovering such a new and alien feeling such as love that had left her utterly breathless.
She laughed shortly. It wasn't a happy laugh, it was a nervous one, and she smiled in disbelief, shaking her head as she thought about what her family, no, anyone, would think if they saw her like this. She was a complete mess. She slid down the door into a sitting position.
What am I going to do? This isn't normal. It can't be. I might not be the spitting image of normalcy, but this is taking it to a whole new level… For the love of the goddess… what would Oskan say? And Cerdic! He'd never let me hear the end of it!
Her thoughts were interrupted by a knock on her door. She jumped to her feet, startled. "Who is it?"
"Me. Open the door."
Her heart skipped a beat, and she almost panicked as she realized that her father was on the other side of the door. Does he know? I can't let him see me like this! Then the more logical part of her took over her. Although she was alarmed that she could no longer assemble her emotionless mask on at a moment's notice, she decided it didn't matter. Of course he doesn't know. How could he? And if he notices that something's different, I'll just blame it on being grounded. After all, I have plenty of reasons to be worried and depressed. It's okay, Medea. Calm down. Take a deep breath and open the door.
She did exactly that, taking a deep breath and putting on a false smile as she turned the doorknob and opened the door. "Father! What are you doing here?" she asked, trying to sound pleasantly surprised. He smiled at her.
"Just checking on you. I haven't seen you in a while."
"Yeah, well I've been grounded." She said, hoping to start a conversation that didn't involve all of that 'choice' nonsense that her father had been shoving down her throat since her thirteenth birthday.
He nodded. "Ah, yes. That." He said, looking sympathetic. "I'm sorry, but I'm not going to lie. You deserved it. You had no right to speak to your mother like that." He reprimanded.
She sighed. "Yes, I know." She said, trying not to gag on the very thought of admitting she was wrong.
"So may I come in?"
She blinked. "Yes, of course. Come in, sit." She said, sitting down on her bed. He sat down next to her, glancing over at the star-snake that she had created sleeping in it's cage.
"Did you make that, Medea?" he asked, and she could hear a tense note in his voice. She realized that he was probably recalling the last time that he had seen one of her creations. She remembered it quite clearly as well. He had created a mouse, and she a snake. Thinking that her father would be impressed by her ability to control what she had created, she had made the snake lash out, killing the mouse. But he had been far from impressed. If anything, he had been angry, immediately destroying the snake and berating her for her lack of control. And as he had turned to leave, she had voiced her thoughts:
"But I did control it, father. I controlled it perfectly."
The words had sent a chill down his spine.
"Yes, I did." She informed him, looking over at the snake.
"And you've been maintaining it for all this time?"
"That's very good, Medea. That must take a lot of concentration."
She snorted. "It's hardly as if I've got much else to do around this godforsaken place." She said pointedly.
"Of course." He said at last. He couldn't quite put his finger on It, but he had a feeling that his daughter was hiding something from him. There was a wall between their minds, a barrier that had been weakly constructed at the last minute in order to keep him from reading her thoughts. He wondered what his daughter could possibly be thinking that would merit such defenses. Rather than knock down the wall, which he could easily have done, he decided to ask her about it. He doubted that he would get an honest answer out of her- he rarely did- but it was still worth a try. "Is something wrong?"
She visibly tensed. "No."
"Are you sure?"
"Absolutely." She replied, not meeting his gaze.
He frowned. "Medea. Don't lie to me."
"I'm not lying."
He felt the wall around her thoughts rebuild itself and grow stronger as he attempted to discreetly break it down.
"If you're not lying, then why aren't you letting me read your thoughts?"
Medea put on her best scowl, trying to act frustrated. "Because it's creepy." He looked unconvinced, so she began to desperately improvise. "And I'm a teenage girl. It's hardly as if you could even begin to process, never mind understand what's going on in my head."
He shrugged, defeated. "Fine. But if you ever want to talk about anything, then I'm here. Remember that."
He got up, walking out. She followed him to the doorway, shutting the door behind him. Then she walked back over to her bed, lying down. The wall around her thoughts dropped, and she felt her conflicting emotions come rushing back.
If only you knew, father. If only you knew.