“Oh? That is strange. What queen?” Jin asked. Shiroi’s gaze, focused on Jin, noticed a twitch in his face, a micro-expression, the slight beginnings of a smile, cut short before it could truly live. There was a slight widening of his eyes which also disappeared as soon as it was manifest. Shiroi believed, from those, that Jin knew who Jane spoke of. Shiroi had an idea, but waited for confirmation.
“My youngest daughter, of course. I know you remember why.” Shiroi wasn’t as surprised as she expected herself to be. She felt a tug of sadness, as she knew that Ruby had no idea of her mother’s designs for her future. But Shiroi also thought that the news wouldn’t surprise Ruby either. Noble issues often concerned hereditary matters, and to be queen would fit well with the prestige of the Melonscone lineage. Shiroi knew an heir existed, but she had to wonder who he was, why he hadn’t been revealed to the public yet. She pushed her worries aside for the moment, and continued listening.
“Yes, yes, that’s correct. Oh, this is certainly a development. She is missing too! What a problem.” Jin shook his head slowly, closed his eyes, and then sighed.
“What has happened?” Jane asked.
“Happened?” Jin asked, his expression changing abruptly for the first time. Shiroi wondered what it meant, his look of sudden surprise, a non-deliberate change in expression. It was quick, and unlike any other action she had seen him perform. “Oh, no, nothing. Just problems as usual, I meant. The sad issues that arise when hearing daily reports about the misgivings of criminals that appear in the city, that kind of thing. Nothing unusual, in truth, though sad. You know, so many things to deal with, and just so few personnel worthy of handling them.”
Shiroi grasped the meaning. Jin had started gesturing, and his words were spoken quickly. He hadn’t moved his hands or spoken quickly until that moment. It was an obvious change. It was nervousness, Shiroi thought. It looked to her like Jin was hiding something, or felt regret over something he said. Although Jane didn’t pick up the emotional subtlety, she was an expert at dicing apart hasty words. In their different ways, each woman realized that Jin didn’t make sense.
Jane thought for a moment, realizing she had stumbled onto something, which may or may not have something to do with Ruby. Her haughty curiosity to know everything of any importance coming into play, Jane decided to pursue a new tangent instead of continuing her original objective. And Jin’s words had reminded her of something, no, someone she had not thought about.
“Few qualified people, you say? Indeed, few are good. But, thinking of adequate people, how about Darius? I haven’t heard of him being busy. Isn’t he rather adequate when it comes to various matters of the nation? Certainly usable, at least.”
“Him,” Jin said while shaking his head, “he is, certainly, adequately, surely, but not. Not available. Pressing missions, you understand.” Jin’s slow speaking and calm demeanor returned.
“Don’t lie to me. I know there aren’t any missions. I’ve let things go, ignored it and let it slide, until now. Where is he? If anything, I could use him for my purposes. Better yet, I want to see him myself.”
“Can I really not hide this?” Jin asked. His demeanor didn’t change, prompting Shiroi to wonder why Jin gave up so easily.
“Something did happen, didn’t it?” Jane asked.
“This is of utmost secrecy. Is that all right, madam?”
“Of course. This has been, the entire time.”
“Ah madam, I cannot hide it. This really shouldn’t have been revealed at all. But I fear the worst. No, with your declarations, it already is. I suppose you should know one thing, first. You see, I’m quite sure Darius knew Fidel’s son. He almost definitely knows who the boy actually is!”
Both women wore surprised expressions. Shiroi had her doubts about why the heir was still secret, but this confirmed that the heir to the throne was actually unknown. At the thought of an unknown child, Shiroi remembered Ruby’s reasons for going to that school. To search for a child. She shook her head, trying not to make the connections that were becoming apparent. She couldn’t help but feel anger, knowing that Ruby had been manipulated into searching for her own future husband, a complete unknown, under the guise of schooling. She thought of how Ruby had cheered up in the past years, constantly smiling, talking of others, and enjoying a somewhat normal life. All while searching for someone to change her own future.
An unknown, that even the adults were manipulating behind the scenes until the day that the person was revealed. Shiroi couldn’t articulate what she felt over these various revelations, but the feelings of distrust, disgust, and anger had made their ways to the top. Even if she could handle them arranging Ruby’s future marriage, something expected of parents and nobles, to be so fickle and deceptive with it was beyond her tolerance. They didn’t even know who it was, and yet were willing to arrange a marriage for them! Even the person with a better idea of who it was, Jane, in her arrogance had assumed too much and sent her own daughter out as a spy. It was just too much for Shiroi to accept. She couldn’t move, but the anger she felt welled up in her. However she was a servant, a statue, without her true master nearby. All she could do was wait.
She forced the anger back, keeping it from making any physical manifestation in even a single feather, but it had done something to her. There was a dull ache that started to form in her chest, and then moved its way into her back. It almost hurt, but Shiroi thought it was all in her mind, her emotions overwhelming her with no outlet available. Nevertheless she refocused on the conversation in front of her, knowing she shouldn’t let her emotions cause her physical distress anymore, she could deal with those later. She also wondered about what other secrets the people around her held.
Jane was shocked for another reason. Darius knew who Fidel’s son was. She wondered why she didn’t think of that sooner, knowing how close Darius and Fidel were. It made sense, but she had been deceived. She had to laugh inside at Fidel’s constant attempts to tease her, even when gone.
“He knows the child? But, then what? You still do not? Has Darius not spoken of it? Where is he?”
“Think about it for a moment, madam. Nothing has been mentioned of him for a while. It is because he isn’t in Rising. He won’t be coming back either. He is gone, and he took the heir with him! That’s what I believe,” Jin said.
“He left Rising? This is too much, Jin.”
“It is. And hopefully the heir is safe. I hope he hasn’t been harmed.”
“Hopefully? Explain. Why did Darius leave? Why take the heir? What about Diren, he was also close to Fidel, shouldn’t the former advisor know?”
“Ah, Diren, he too tried looking for Darius, as he didn’t know either. I did have my suspicions of that rash hare, but it was for naught. He also left us, though free of suspicion and for understandable health issues. No, I fear the worst for our future king. King Fidel didn’t have any child, and then, all of a sudden, at the end of his days, we find out he does? With no warning? It was unexpected, and completely against Darius’ plans. You see, madam, as trusted as he was, Darius was planning to take hold of the nation, take power once Fidel died!”
“Is that true? Even I accept that Darius was an acceptable commander and the soldiers showed him loyalty, but could he really be treasonous?”
“Madam, evil doesn’t display itself openly at all times. It sits in the corner, slowly developing, complicating itself. It grows and develops. It waits for chances. It looks for them, grabs hold of them, and doesn’t let go once it has taken root. There is no cure for it. And it is often connected to greed, desire for power, control, and willfulness. Our Darius, as good as he may have appeared, had a corner devoted to evil. I say I only believe this, but the proof is slowly stacking up. And latest revelations have only added to that.”
“It is true. Greed and power can corrupt,” Jane said. Shiroi had to keep from speaking her own personal thoughts at this point, resisting the urge to call Jane a hypocrite. She stopped herself and thought about whether that was true, though. Jane was powerful, greedy, overbearing, and cruel at times. But, for all her many faults and loathsome actions, Shiroi didn’t think of her as an evil person. She was severely misguided in her approaches, from Shiroi’s standpoint, but they mostly worked when used in the confines of her class, aside from a few matters Shiroi couldn’t forgive. In Shiroi’s current life, she couldn’t survive using Jane’s methods. The opposite could be said, as well. She calmed down and listened to the two incredibly powerful people speak of things that would affect lives and nations.
“Yes, truly. I will tell you, madam, that there is more as well. He may be seeking to take power. Or he may be attempting to offer the heir to our enemies. Or raise him as his own child, since we aren’t sure on the age either. I wouldn’t even put the idea of a rebel army past him, since he could claim the true ruler of Rising is with him. Sad as it could be, I can see that many would move to his side, unknowing of his designs.” Jane had to think a moment. She realized something of importance. Jin had not even the slightest idea whatsoever about Fidel’s son. All he knew was that there was a child. Jane, though, knew that the child had to be of school age, at least. By now the child could be no younger than seven. It was a small but important fact that Jane would keep for herself. She felt it was of importance to her, and she didn’t want Jin knowing everything anyways.
“Regent, there is still another matter. I do believe everything is related, and now my original reason for coming is much more important. Darius also saw the Right that Fidel wrote in his last moments. My Right.”
“Madam, that reminds me of the last, and most fearful aspect. By doing this, Darius may be aiming to steal the secret of the Right!”
“That would be a travesty! Never has a member outside the royal line possessed it. With it, what you said would be possible! Is he trying to usurp history now?”
“I wish I knew, madam.”
“But still, if we find my daughter, I believe there to be hope. If we find her, and then Darius, then we can take advantage of the fact that he saw that Right. He will hand over the boy, if he is alive, in order to fulfill it, if he doesn’t have possession of it. And we’d already know if he had it, certainly.”
“We can take comfort in that at least. But no, my dear madam, think again. He knew of your Right too, who it involved. He knew. This has been a most troubling series of revelations tonight. I fear the worst for our nation still. It is trembling due to the actions of one man.” Jin sighed.
“That, that means you think he has taken my daughter as well? Do you believe that?”
“Madam, I cannot state anything for fact. But based on what I knew, and now from what you tell me, I hate to make the conclusion that I’ve been presented with. I just don’t know. To think he may have returned to Rising to commit such an act, it is unconscionable. What we will do, I don’t know. But I will figure something out, you can have confidence in that. Actually, I have several ideas, and some plans in place. My worry is great, but my confidence has grown as well. How about, since we are discussing things, you lend me a few of your resources, and let me lean upon the house of Scones?”
“What are you asking? Outrageous! Those are mine alone, unless the king commands! To even speak of such a thing!” Jane said with a flash of anger. “Rely on the resources of the kingdom, it is at your disposal.”
“I’m sorry, madam. I may have overstepped suggesting something so outlandish to a high-noble. I mean no harm. Madam, the armies are controlled by the nobility in general, but answer to the king alone. But our king is gone, and a regent doesn’t fully take his place. To grant your daughter’s freedom, if it is still possible, to free your daughter from such a man’s grip, it will be necessary to take every precaution, and to search out every method. For all our sakes, please lend the kingdom your help.” Jin bowed his head a few times in apology.
“Then so be it,” Jane said. She shook her head sideways. “No,” she thought, “I don’t want to. But I think, I will. Why did I agree? Do I agree? Fine, it will have to be. My resources are needed. It’s an extraordinary time. For Ruby’s freedom. Her freedom? Is that really it?”
Jane exchanged final pleasantries with Jin, and then left, Shiroi in tow behind her. Shiroi was upset, but didn’t comment. She realized that all she could do was wait. There were so many things she had wanted to do and try in order to find Ruby, but the night had shown her many would be futile. In her current position, she had no power, no ability to do anything. She could only wait while cursing her own incompetence, and agonizing over the pain in her that’d gotten worse.