A week passed, and Rising started looking better. School had been out for the week, and many adults put their regular work on hold in order to help rebuild parts of the city. Several new things, like Fidel’s memorial, were to be built in place of buildings that no longer existed. Though he had a short rule, he had been a fun king. Rising was soon filled with the shouts of children and the bustle of commerce. People would return to their regular jobs and their normal homes. Fidel’s passing should have caused confusion and anarchy, but the announcement had been made that there was a successor, though the successor couldn’t yet be made public. Everyone was gossiping about this news, wondering who the mother of the young child could be. Aoi was the prime suspect. The common people didn’t see very much of her, but they knew that she had always been at Fidel’s side. It made perfect sense that she could have had a child with Fidel, and that child would be far too young to rule. At the least, the child existed in the people’s mind, and that was enough to get them through the uncertainty. The history of Rising’s kings was strong, so the people didn’t have any doubt that their ruler would eventually be someone suitable for the role.
Even the nobles who were privileged enough to see Aoi often were unsure of the truth. To make it even more difficult, Aoi had already left the country and returned home to the kingdom of water. Jane Melonscone never disclosed that she had heard from Fidel’s own mouth a key detail about his child. She was positive that Aoi wasn’t the mother, but that didn’t stop her from perpetrating the rumor. She didn’t want another person to find the child before her, so she ordered her daughter to find out who the child was; a task that Ruby thought unreasonable. When she asked for details, Jane would only reply that the person should look like Fidel and have white hair. Even Jane knew that white hair was rare on a child, so she assumed that the child was coloring their hair. Therefore, she told Ruby to look at hair roots, concentrate on who keeps their hair long or short, how often they cut it, and other traits. Jane didn’t mention that the boy would end up being Ruby’s husband. The thought of being royalty blinded Jane. Ruby, for her part, would be allowed to have a regular education. Her private tutors had their hours cut. Jane also lessened her discipline of Ruby, which was a welcome change. It wasn’t something Jane did consciously; she had just become too busy to mind.
Darius and Var were overworked. Darius promoted Var due to his valor and help during the maroon attack, which made it easier to delegate tasks to him. It was rewarding work, but it made Var think that he would rather spend more time being Ruby’s babysitter than organizing labor. It just wasn’t his type of work. Darius had more important matters to attend to, so Var didn’t mind.
Darius had an extremely important and confidential task ahead of him one particular day. When he received the details from Diren in secret, he was surprised. He wasn’t stunned like many other people would have been, but he still had to confirm with Diren that what he was hearing was correct. Secretly, Darius had his suspicions, but this task confirmed them.
A knock was heard at the door. Mai’ou put down the pan she was using, and opened the door. Va’il saw from his seat that it was Darius standing there.
“Mai’ou, correct?” Darius said pleasantly.
“Yes. How can I assist you, Sir Darius?” Mai’ou glanced back at Va’il once, and then quickly focused her attention on Darius.
“Your son, can he come over here as well?” Darius asked nervously. Va’il heard this and stood up.
“Sit down,” Mai’ou said with a growl. Va’il obliged. Darius frowned. He stopped for a moment, looking into the eyes of the woman who was becoming more imposing by the second. A flash of familiarity went through his mind, but it disappeared before he could grasp what it was.
He did it before Mai’ou could realize what he was doing. She didn’t have a chance to close her eyes or look away before seeing the words. Darius had, in a casual, fluid, and very quick motion, pulled out a piece of paper and shown it to Mai’ou. It was unreadable, but that didn’t matter. Darius didn’t have time to put the paper away before Mai’ou leapt on him.
“What does it say? Darius, what does it say?” Mai’ou yelled. She had pinned him to the ground. Va’il’s eyes went wide as he saw the shocking scene. He wasn’t sure if he should help Darius or not. His left shoulder started aching when he thought of helping Darius, so he silently apologized.
Darius could feel the armor around his shoulders start to bend under Mai’ou’s grip. She looked Darius in the eyes with tears in her own.
“Please, please, tell me what that said. I already saw it. It’s too late, I know. But please. Please Darius,” she said while she began sobbing. She pounded his chest a few times, and then stopped as she cried.
“‘I’m sorry, Mai.’ Those are the words he spoke last. Now I say them too. Now I know, it’s true. It’s true, isn’t it, Mai’ou?” Darius asked quietly.
“Yeah, it is,” she muttered in response.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered, “Fidel engaged him to a certain girl.”
“That’s what it is? I see,” Mai’ou said calmly. She brought a hand to her face and wiped a few tears away. Darius saw her smile for a moment. She got off him. Darius got up and helped Mai’ou to her feet. He brought her in the house.
“Are you all right?” Va’il asked. He meant both of them, but Mai’ou wouldn’t respond. She sat in a chair and looked out the window. She brought a hand to her mouth and chewed on her claws.
“I’m fine. I deserve it. I forced your mother to accept something that someone she knows decided. That person decided something about your future, Va’il. She will accept it now. But will you?” Darius asked as he put a hand on Va’il’s shoulder.
“What do you mean?” Va’il asked.
“This is sudden, I know. I’m not good with delicate things like this. But Va’il, there are a few things that will happen now. You need to know. Let me ask you, do you know who your father is?” Darius asked.
“No,” Va’il answered very curtly. He wasn’t pleased at the mention of his father.
“I’ve come today, to tell you who he is, no, who he was,” Darius said.
Va’il recoiled at the words. He looked over at Mai’ou, but she didn’t come to him. She couldn’t talk to him right now, and it was tormenting her inside that she was doing this. Whatever Va’il thought of Mai’ou, it didn’t change the fact that she was really just a young lupus girl, who still had ten or more years until she was mature. She didn’t know how to handle crisis very well, and she overcompensated in so many different ways that it made her ache inside. She felt bad that she was partially relieved that Fidel had decided on someone for Va’il to marry. She had feared that being a half would make him lead a very lonely life. She stopped in her thoughts at that moment. Why did Fidel decide that, she wondered. She looked at Darius and realized what he was going to say. She thought about standing up and stopping him. She couldn’t bring herself to do it.
“Va’il, I know this may come as a shock, but you’re the son of King Fidel. You’re going to be the king of Rising.”
With that, the lupine prince had become a king.
(End of book one, The Lupine Prince.)