Hi all! I’m surprised I got this finished in time. I wrote this to get more in the mood for rewriting NOCTURNA next month. It’s the story of Alexei’s father’s assassination, and Alexei’s feelings towards it which was briefly mentioned in the book, but I always wanted to write a story about it.
Content and Trigger Warnings: abuse, death, poison, sexual assault of a minor
Alexei would never admit it to anyone, not even to his cherished sister, but the young prince was sulking. He stood hidden in the corner of the throne room, glaring at the already intoxicated crowd from the corner of his eyes. Surrounded by glowing faerie lights and ribbons with alcohol flowing freely from servants’ jugs, the annoying conversations and raucous laughter set his beast on edge. His father hosted these revelries weekly but hardly ever attended, forcing him as the sole heir to the throne – being the first and only draconic son born of the king – to oversee the long evenings in his stead. All he wanted was to go back to his room. His half-sisters were lucky. As the many concubines’ children, they weren’t invited to the celebrations. He was currently waiting for the appearance of his sister, the only other child born from his father’s chosen queen. She was running late again.
The nine-year-old sighed again, tugging at his itchy human garb. The parties always had the attendees in human or semi-human form, to make it easier to fit everyone into the hall. The robe’s clasp bit into the skin below his throat and he wished for the millionth time that he could escape this torture. Maybe he could sneak out for a fly around the city. It would be nice to spread his wings for once.
“Well, you look like you are enjoying yourself,” a snide voice commented from beside the young prince. Alexei turned his glare on the ward of his father’s most trusted council member. Julian was his name, he remembered. The crow demon was irritating at the best of times and outright infuriating at the worst, like now. He followed Alexei around the palace, constantly teasing and taunting him until he got a reaction out of the broody prince. He was a nuisance but a decent fighter and intelligent strategist, which is why council member Faustus was grooming him to become Alexei’s advisor when the prince eventually took the throne.
“Did anyone ask for your opinion?” Alexei bit out, his icy blue eyes narrowing as his pupils turned to slits. He flexed his claws then curled them into fists to restrain himself. His father would punish him if he made a scene at one of his parties. Once he heard the news, at least.
“Touchy. No need to get worked up, little prince. But I suppose it cannot be helped since I am older than you and thus more mature,” Julian smirked, tilting his chin up smugly.
Alexei rolled his eyes. “By a few years.”
“I am taller too,” Julian added.
“Silence,” Alexei hissed, his skin crawling with the desire to shift and rip him apart with his claws. To tear the whole hall apart. He forced his inner beast back, quaking with the amount of strength needed to restrain it.
“Are you bothering Alexei again, Julian?” Diana asked and Alexei’s head whipped up, seeing his older sister approaching with a gentle smile on her face as she looked at him.
“My dearest Diana! Long have I been bereft of your radiance,” Julian said, grinning brightly as he stepped in front of Alexei. The prince glared daggers at his back while Diana’s expression shifted to annoyance. Julian stepped forward, reaching out for her hand, but she side-stepped him with ease, continuing on her path to greet her little brother. Julian was left staring after her like a kicked puppy but his smile returned soon enough as he bounded after her.
“Have you been lonely without me?” Diana teased, making Alexei roll his eyes once more.
“I have! I have missed you, my dearest princess,” Julian crowed beside her. She ignored him just as easily as before, though her smile took on more of a strained appearance.
“You have nearly missed the entire celebration. If anything, I am envious,” Alexei commented dryly, making her snicker.
“The burdens of being the crown prince,” she commented with a teasing grin. If only that were the extent of the burdens, Alexei thought quietly. Especially with their father involved.
“Indeed,” he agreed instead.
“Well, when you take the throne, you will not have to have celebrations. Happy?” Julian spoke up, grinning down at the stoic boy.
The band began a new song and Julian’s eyes lit up. “Well, my dear, I think it is time for us to dance,” he said, wrapping his arm around Diana’s waist. She flinched, fear pooling in her eyes as she quickly twisted out of his grip and clutched Alexei’s arm, plastering another smile on her face as Julian stared at her confused.
“I think I shall share my first dance with my dear brother,” she explained, tightening her hold on Alexei to get him to stop glaring at Julian. Her reaction wasn’t his fault but ever since the incident with their father, she had been wary of men touching her. Only Alexei was allowed, since he was the one who rescued her and hid her away from their tyrant of a father.
“Of course, sister,” Alexei agreed with only a little reluctance, letting her lead him to the center of the room where others were dancing. She moved to the upbeat jig, light on her feet as she spun around the room with her face lit with joy. Alexei was tugged along with her movements, pulled this way and that as she tried to get him to loosen up.
“See, brother? Celebrations aren’t all bad, you stick in the mud,” she commented with a wry grin. Her joy was infectious and he fought to suppress his smile, but she giggled as she noticed it anyway.
Alexei froze suddenly, his shoulders stiffening as he sensed his father approaching. Diana slowed to a stop as well as they both turned towards the double doors that the guards were pulling open. The music halted and the crowd turned to bow to their king. Alexei scowled darkly as Gideon’s gaze landed on them. He stepped in front of his tense sister protectively, shielding her from the monster as he approached. The crowds parted for him without a word.
“Alexei, my son and heir, how are you this fine day?” Gideon asked, stopping before him. He clamped his hand down on Alexei’s shoulder in a mockery of a greeting and squeezed tight. The prince tried to hide his wince of pain, but Gideon smirked in satisfaction anyway.
“I am well, Father,” Alexei forced out with a stiff bow of his head. Gideon’s smile tightened for a moment before his gaze switched to Diana. No!
His dark eyes lightened and his tight smile relaxed as he looked at his daughter with increasing fondness. “Diana, how have you—?” he began, reaching out for her, but froze when she flinched back. “Diana…” he breathed, glancing away ashamed as she stared at the ground.
“Excuse me, Father,” she said with a quick curtsy, rushing off without a single glance back. Alexei couldn’t blame her. Not after what she experienced during one of his drunken stupors. Gideon’s shoulders slumped and he trudged off without another word to his son, throwing himself into his throne. Alexei scowled at the king as he accepted a large golden goblet of wine from a servant. His concubines and other women desperate for the king’s affections quickly surrounded him, each fighting to keep his attention so he would choose them to bed for the night. They would never receive a shred of his love though. That had disappeared when Alexei and Diana’s mother had died giving birth to Alexei. Gideon’s beloved queen, Lucianna. Her death was the cause of Gideon’s descent into madness, his negligent attitude towards the problems of the kingdom, and the endless nights of debauchery.
Alexei was blamed for his mother’s death. For years and years, Alexei was forced to endure Gideon’s beatings and hatred without saying a word to anyone. The drunken slurs and the bruises and shame. Back when he was young, he was alone. The only one who protected him, his nursemaid Meera, died because of him. He wouldn’t allow anyone else close, but eventually Diana and a few of his half-sisters squirmed their way into his heart. Julian was getting close too. But he couldn’t afford attachments with his father still around. They were at risk being close to him, so he held them all at arm’s length. He couldn’t afford weaknesses.
Diana, on the other hand, was the spitting image of his mother, which he only knew from a small portrait Diana had kept of the elf. Their father loved Diana. She was the only remaining piece of Lucianna in his eyes. The only other piece was what killed her. She was given anything she could imagine and received all the education she wanted, allowed to learn anything she desired. Gideon doted on her and in her eyes, he could do no wrong. Until one night he got drunk and trapped the girl in her room. It was pure luck that Alexei had gone to visit her after training. He stabbed Gideon through the back of his shoulder and ran away with his traumatized sister, away from the palace and from their father’s reach. He admitted everything he had suffered to her as they hid away, and they both cried in each other’s arms. Finally, it wasn’t a secret. Finally, someone knew the truth. They returned to the palace a few days later, when Gideon was sober and appalled by his actions, but the damage was done.
Alexei shook himself out of his thoughts as he went after Diana, who hid in the shadow of a pillar.
“I am fine, Alexei. I assure you,” she whispered before he could comment. He just nodded, leaning against the pillar beside her. She sniffled, letting a tear trickle down her cheek before viciously wiping it away. “I am fine,” she repeated, biting her lower lip to stop it from trembling.
A shriek interrupted the party and Alexei and Diana stood straight; eyes wide as they turned towards the source. Towards the throne. They shoved their way to the front of the forming crowd, coming face-to-face with their father who was sprawled on the ground in a puddle of his own vomit, gasping for breath as he clutched his throat.
“Poison!” a concubine cried out, increasing the crowd’s panic, and a council member, Zavier, picked up the goblet Alexei had just seen his father holding. Alexei’s alarm faded and he stared impassively as his father’s red face gradually turned blue, the veins around his face bulging.
“Where is the Healer?” a guard shouted towards the doors.
“Everyone, remain calm,” another said to the crowd.
The prince hardly felt his sister clinging to his arm, shaking with fear and unshed tears. He just stared at his father, even as the Healer finally arrived to try to help. Diana let out a sob when she informed them that it was too late. The king would die. Alexei waited, watching carefully for the moment the bastard finally closed his eyes.
As he gasped his final breath, Gideon’s gaze flickered to his son, his eyes almost begging Alexei to save him. Alexei gifted his father one small smirk as he watched the light fade from his eyes before he turned his back on the fallen king. Several sobs were heard as the crowd roared, demanding answers, and, without anyone’s notice, Alexei’s smirk widened. Finally.
Alexei looked carefully around the room, looking for the servant who had given Gideon the goblet. He had disappeared, which was to be expected. He took one look back at his devastated sister then wrapped her in a hug. He didn’t spare his father’s corpse a second glance. He didn’t deserve it.
“He is gone. He is really gone,” Diana whispered, torn between relief and devastation.
“He is,” Alexei agreed, squeezing her tighter.
“You will be the king now,” she added, her voice choked with tears.
“Indeed,” Alexei returned, expressionless. Diana just cried more, burying her head in her brother’s shoulder.
Finally, their tormenter was gone.
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