It had been a few days since sea sickness really bothered them. Ivan and his brother were now racing up and down the deck in childish delight, laughing as they tried to adjust their steps for the rocking of the boat and squealing with excitement whenever a wave hit particularly hard. Ivan's little brother was both the more excited and distressed of the two. He'd never been on a boat before, and the novelty of that hadn't warn off, even after several days. He was still small enough that the cruise ship seemed large as a kingdom, but he was also small enough that he wasn't allowed in the areas where people bought adult juice or rolled dice, so it was a kingdom that he wasn't allowed to explore much of.
Ivan had been on boat trips before, and he was old enough to pretend that they bored them. Keeping his little brother entertained was a good excuse to still have fun while maintaining his delusion of maturity. It also did help keep him entertained himself, because for him the trip had been a letdown. It was the first time he'd been brought on one of their daddy's business trips, but they had to spend the whole week in the guest suites with mommy. Even if they had gotten a pool and a hot spring and all sorts of yummy foreign foods and cool new clothes and even a chance to see Roland's soldiers, what Ivan had really wanted was to see Daddy at work. He'd wanted to help negotiate the treaty over the something-something-shores.
He had to stop running when his brother stumbled and fell over, bonking his head on the boat rail. The kid was still small enough that he could have tumbled right between the bars, so Ivan figured it was lucky that he hit his head. He'd rather explain to their parents that his little brother had a goose egg than that he'd fallen into the ocean.
"I'm sorry," his brother said automatically as Ivan pulled him up. "More careful now."
Ivan nodded. That was Mommy's rule. Nobility had to act proper at all times. There were other wealthy and powerful families on the ship and it wouldn't do if they were seen bashing into things. Even from a four year old, such behavior was hardly proper. "Don't fall again," Ivan offered for lack of any better advice.
His brother hummed in agreement, trying his best to put on a brave face so all the big people wouldn't whisper about him and Mommy and Daddy. He always got scolded when he made them whisper.
Seeing his brother's perfectly precious expression, a wicked grin spread on Ivan's face. "Rara, does this hurt?" he asked, tapping the area where his brother had hit his head.
His brother sniffed and nodded, unsure of if he should tell Ivan to stop poking him or to stop using the little kiddy nickname.
"You know I'd never let anything really bad happen to you, right Rara?"
"So I need you to trust me on this. When Mommy and Daddy come out for supper I'm going to poke you there again, and you're going to make that face for Daddy and tell him you fell and hit the rail."
"But Daddy will-"
"Rara you're being so big right now. You aren't crying!" Ivan's brother was so delighted with the praise that he continued nodding along to the plan. "When Daddy sees how mature you're being he's going to offer you a reward. You still like sweets, right?"
"So you can ask Daddy if we can have desert. Okay?"
"Okay." Ivan's little brother giggled. His big brother came up with the best plans!
Before Ivan could propose any more wonderful plans he took off, running down the deck again. Ivan had never said that his falling meant that their race was called off, after all.
The cruise ship was nice enough to have a ball room, but this had come at the cost of a nice dining hall. Regular meals were delivered to each room three times a day and anything else had to be purchased up by the front of the ship.
To make Ivan's plan work the two hid behind a corner in the hall, waiting a few minutes after a servant to come and deliver food to their room before going to eat. Daddy was spending the whole trip in their suite relaxing, having spent the whole trip in Roland working, and Mommy always retired to her room after sundown so they'd both be their already. Ivan prodded the bump on his brother's face as they stood just outside the door to force him to put his brave face back on, then the two stepped inside.
"Look who showed up," Daddy teased. "You two usually work up such an appetite that you're waiting at the door at meal time."
"We're sorry," Ivan fibbed, as if there was something horribly wrong with being a minute late to supper when you were on vacation.
"Sorry," his brother echoed. The slight waiver in his voice immediately had both parent's attention.
Immediately Mommy was on the ground, as close to eye level as she could get with her younger son. "Is something the matter, baby?"
Ivan pursed his lips and watched enviously as his brother shook his head and explained that he'd only fallen when racing. He'd been the precious baby of the family when he was too young to remember being doted on. Now, even if he did love the little kid, he had to be the mature big brother while cute little Rara was showered with praise and affection for being able to do things that came easily to Ivan.
"He hit his head pretty hard. He has a goose egg right… here." with their parents looking Ivan was careful not to actually touch the spot, but he'd prodded it enough times already to have conditioned his brother to sniffle anyway.
"Oh, you poor thing." Mommy leaned over and kissed it. "There. Does that help?"
Normally Ivan's brother would nod when she did that, but darn it, he wanted pudding.
"Look how mature he's being though," Daddy pointed out. "Not a single tear. That's my boy. You're growing up to be quite the young man. How about we get something to celebrate?"
Ivan's brother giggled at Daddy's praise and smiled up at the man, rocking back and forth on his feet. "Pumpkin pudding?"
Daddy laughed and nearly patted his son's head before thinking better and switching to the boy's little shoulder. "Sure. Pudding it is. Ivan, would you like some too?"
"Yes, please!" He'd have preferred ice cream, but if he forgot to relay that to his brother beforehand it was his own fault.
Their mommy shook her head and gestured to the table. "No pudding for anyone who doesn't eat dinner. They're serving dishes from Norad again. I can't say the boat's chef is the best at local cuisine, but it's better than anything we ate traveling by land."
Neither boys were old enough to care much about how many stars the chef's cooking got. As long as their meals were sweet than it was just fine with them. They climbed into their seats and began scarfing down their food while Mommy began telling Daddy everything that was wrong with it and how when they got home their personal cook was going to do a much better job.
They were half way through their meal when the sound of rain became audible. Forgetting his meal and the promise of pudding for being mature, Ivan's little brother squealed and ran over to the window. He then had to rush back to the table and drag his chair with him to be able to see outside. Watching the droplet get absorbed by the sea fascinated him.
"You still have food silly," their daddy reminded him.
"Oh, he ate enough," Mommy dismissed. "More than I could stomach. They had a better idea what they were doing when they tried to make Roland's dishes instead."
"I think it's yummy," Ivan argued.
"That's good sweetie."
"Yummy!" Ivan's brother cheered. "Ships have lots of yummy food and pudding and the rain falls down into the water and nothing gets any more wet!"
The deck was drenched.
His brother had managed to fall while the floor was still dry, so Ivan kept a firm grip on his the kid's hand as they walked to the window selling sweets. Daddy laughed at the two and strolled through the heavy rain with them. Mommy clung to the sides of the walls, trying to avoid as much water as she could on their cruise trip.
All three boys laughed at Mommy's behavior, and she snapped back that they were all lunatics before retreating inside again.
The rocking of the boat was no longer as fun as it had been earlier that evening. Though his brother maintained his footing, Ivan found himself struggling not to slip on the wet deck as waves tossed the boat whichever way it pleased. Eventually he gave up and clung to his daddy for support. He told himself he was too busy watching his little brother improvise a song and dance about how great pudding was to pay attention to his own footwork.
After starting church school Ivan had likened his brother to an angel. A much better one than in the preacher lady's books. Those angels just delivered messages and fought demons. His brother made everyone for miles around smile. Just from that Ivan knew that not everything the church said was right. He was about to lose faith in the church's claims, because he'd always been told hell was fiery. That night Ivan learned better. Hell was very, very wet.
Hell started sloshing over the railing while their father purchased pudding. The man selling the sweets closed shop afterward, advising they stay in their room until things settled down. Daddy agreed. Ivan agreed.
Ivan's little brother did not. He skipped through the rain, happily licking pumpkin pudding off of his spoon and laughing whenever a wave splashed him.
He stopped laughing when one knocked him off of his feet, though only because what was left of his dessert went flying when he fell. He was scurrying over to try and salvage it when hell swallowed the boat whole.
Ivan had been too busy keeping an eye on his brother to see the wave until the boat was being turned sideways by it. He fell, hitting a cabin wall and quickly fastening his grip tight to his daddy. Daddy clung tight to the cabin.
Then the boat went upside down.
Daddy was a good swimmer. Noblemen were expected to have some degree of athletic prowess. He carried Ivan away while calling out his younger son's name, searching frantically for the small child while ducking around chairs that had fallen off of the capsized ship. He hadn't been more than ten yards from them. He couldn't have gone that far.
"Thank you for doing this. I didn't think we'd be able to make the shipment on time and-"
"It's no problem," Ivan said, cutting the man off. "Even if Sech is causing us some concern right now there's no reason for trade to come to a complete halt. I'll send a message to the border guards, but until an order is issued this permit will work for reentering the country. Whether or not the Sech will let you cross is another matter."
"It won't be a problem," The merchant insisted. "I handle a lot of transportation myself. The guards see me cross through all the time. I was there just two days ago, and I saw a few other citizens of Norad during my stay, though I'll admit they were a bit more hostile towards most of them."
"Well, everyone knows something's about to happen, even if the citizens haven't gotten the details. The people from Sech were just less friendly than usual when I went to deliver my goods. There was one boy they seemed to be avoiding completely, even though he was in need of help. I didn't have any room in my caravan, and the town I'd come from didn't trust him. When he got close and asked for directions to the nearest town they'd led him away! Isn't that horrible? I gave him some food and told him the direction to the nearest town in Norad. That boy should be on this side of the border."
"That's good. Kardia hasn't been getting many visitors since tension built up with the Sech. They're mayor even submitted a complaint recently about it," Ivan said absently, looking through his papers for the documents he needed to be reviewing next. As the head of trade he didn't want to close off a border to merchants, but the logistics of letting the best people for a smuggling operation cross borders when there were concerns for war… it was a nightmare. He'd pulled an all-nighter for this man who was too busy chatting to let him work.
"Poor kid, though. I'd have liked to help him. He looked really lost. Actually…" The merchant paused, thinking about it. "He looked a bit like you."
"Did he now?"
"Well, his hair was a few shades darker than yours, but he had the exact same eyes. It was almost uncanny. You two almost could have been brothers." Ivan winced at the choice of words. It had been over a decade since his brother had drowned, but it still hurt to think about. "He was even around your age. Maybe a few years younger."
"I see. I'm sorry, but I actually have a lot of work and-"
"Oh yes. Of course. It's just… well I heard you had a younger brother who got lost at sea. I didn't think about it until we'd passed him but… that boy just really looked like he could have been the one."
Ivan sighed. He couldn't get his hopes up, but…
"Did you get his name?"
"I didn't think to ask." The merchant bowed. "I'm sorry. I'll let you get back to your work."
Though work was now the furthest thing from Ivan's mind. His brother had practically been a baby. Well, he'd practically been a toddler at least. Kids that small couldn't swim to safety in stormy waters in the middle of the ocean, but it was possible someone had rescued him. Ivan himself had only survived the incident because his father could swim. If his brother really was alive somewhere… then all he had to do was tell someone who is father was and he'd have been returned long ago, or at least held for ransom.
Ivan shook his head and looked back down at his papers. The important reminders, tasks, policies, concerns, and political implications all blurred into incomprehensible scribbles. He'd been at this too long.
Forget it. He set the papers aside and went to look for His Highness. The king, as was his habit at that time of day, was sitting in the throne room listening to the various complaints from his subjects. Anything from "The army trampled over my field and failed to pay compensation for my ruined livelihood" to "my neighbor's cat keeps wandering into my yard." What Ivan would give to not have any concerns more serious than a neighbor's cat.
He waited patiently for the room to clear out before stepping forward and making his presence known to his second cousin.
"Good to see you." Gilbert's face didn't look like he meant it at all. If he was as tired of hearing complaints as Ivan was of working out the disaster that was the Sech border than he could understand why. "If you want me to speed up the allowance to our border crack down I'm afraid we don't have enough men to cover to border itself, let alone carry messages back and forth. In a few days it should be cleared up."
"Actually," Ivan paused. Actually what? How desperate would this sound? Did he really want to go ahead with this? "I… I heard someone say they saw a man who might have been my brother. He should be arriving in Kardia soon. I was hoping I might be excused from my work to go and confirm this."
"I can find someone to take care of your work in your absence, if this is important to you, but a high ranking noble going close to the border may get some negative attention from the Sech."
True. Ivan bit his lip, trying to come up with a good response. "A merchant like all the ones who are still trying to cross the border wouldn't attract notice. I wouldn't have to cross either. More than half of our larger industries have notified me that they're stopping shipment to the Sech until they're sure it's safe. I can claim I'm doing the same."
Gilbert considered it. Ivan's brother wasn't a much discussed topic, but everyone knew it still weighed on Ivan's mind. This couldn't just be about skipping work either, though that may have been an added incentive. You didn't suddenly decide to leave looking for someone who'd been assumed dead for years just when people were most likely to call any excuse bull unless you genuinely hoped to find the person.
"Very well. I'll make arrangements. Kardia is a small town, so I'll pick merchandise for you that doesn't usually make it out that far. Be sure to train someone to fill your position while you're gone."
"Thank you. I don't have very high hopes but-"
"But there's a chance, so you really ought to be going over the mess you're working through with whichever poor soul you're dumping it on."
"Yes. Thank you." Ivan bowed and turned to leave.
"Oh, and Ivan?"
STA: I am so done with this. I started writing this (for a second time) in July. How did it take me two and a half months to write a 3000 word one-shot?
Well... I'm not sure I'm totally satisfied with the final scene, but to be honest I'm just too thrilled to have one less project on my desktop to think about. After this I have to finish Dominant, then take Quiet Magic off hiatus and finish that, then I have my original stories, one of which I'm still waiting to get written feedback on before I start my second draft (I think they just forgot to mail it T.T) And I really need to write the second mini Seven Beast story too... ugh. I picked up a lot of projects over the summer and now that school's back in session I can only wonder what the hell I was thinking.