Chapter XXII

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I spent the next few days keeping strictly to my room. After the Aurean revolt against the Sirens, Sol and Luna, despite Anthea's reassurances that I had stayed in the palace, had become suspicious of me, and were making a point of keeping watch over me at all times, either personally or by having one of their loyal Lictors follow me around. Every move I made was closely monitored and reported immediately to them.

That was why we decided that Alba would do all the spying for me.

She had been a companion of Gaius and me, yes, but the feeling was that we had forced her to come along, and that, left to her own devices, she would quickly lose interest in our rebellious schemes and go back to playing with dolls. She looked too innocent, her gaze was too dispassionate, to believe that those times she spent playing in the gardens or watering her flowers around the palace, she was actually eavesdropping and passing all her information on to me by means of notes hidden in the unlikeliest locations.

Of course, I did not stop visiting her; that would have been even more conspicuous. But whenever we got together, we made a point of discussing entirely innocuous matters and boring subjects, knowing that the people spying on us would bring that information quickly and swiftly to our siblings.

What we discovered was that Lord Azuros was not happy. Turning the elements against the Aureans and sending his Sirens to annihilate them were the full extent of his power, short of flooding the whole kingdom and doing away with us all. At times I worried he might do just that, but, while being a cruel and devious God, there seemed to be some twisted logic behind his actions that included the preservation of his subjects.

The war between the citizens and the royal family had come to a stalemate. The former lacked the firepower to stage a full coup against their rulers, whereas the latter lacked the means of bringing their former servants back into submission.

This wasn't for lack of trying. According to Alba, the Sirens had raided the town at least two more times, at which times our family had hardened the severity of the elements as they raged against the Aureans. It had become apparent, however, that there was an informant among their midst, someone with the freedom to roam the palace and the privilege of being privy to its secrets who could easily and quickly travel to the city to relay Lord Azuros's plans before they were put into motion.

It was generally assumed that this would be one of the noblemen, who lived in the land separating the two warring factions. They had been invited to all the sessions where their Lord's will had been announced, and lived close enough to the city to be able to travel there without arousing suspicion. Father had considered doing away with them altogether, but Luna had warned him of the repercussions this would entail. They were proud people, the patricians, and they would surely take this as a slight. If they were to desert our family and join forces with the plebeians, that would mean the downfall of the royal family and the worship of Lord Azuros. The aristocrats and their personal Lictors were, after all, the only barrier keeping the citizens at bay. Once that final frontier fell, the battle would be lost.

Instead, Luna proposed a more cunning plan. The patricians would be summoned individually to private meetings, where the king would confide in them Lord Azuros's plans for the third raid of the city. Each of them would be told where the Sirens were going to attack next, and would be asked not to divulge that information among their peers. Every patrician would receive a different location, so that, when the Aureans made their move to defend this or that place, it would become clear who among the noblemen had betrayed the royal family. Both Father and Lord Azuros were pleased with this scheme, and decided to put it into motion.

To their astonishment, on the day when they were meant to have their first meeting with Marcus Primus, they found instead that the whole of the Flora Terra had arrived at the palace. They were perfectly oblivious that this was supposed to be a one-on-one private meeting, and asking them to leave would be extremely suspicious, so, in the end, they all had to be admitted and were all revealed the plan for the third strike at the same time.

Needless to say, the Aureans were once again warned and ready to face the Sirens.

Father and Luna looked appalled by the failure of their plan. They were at a loss as to what had gone wrong. What they didn't know was that Alba had told me about their scheme to deceive the aristocrats, and that I had immediately started copying Primus's invitation dozens of times addressing each and every one of the patricians by name. These letters were then carried by Anthea's subordinates, who knew what my intentions were and were more than glad to help.

It wasn't much, but these little acts of defiance were all I could do to protect my brother and the Aureans. Every time I heard the news that the Sirens had attacked the city once again, my heart gave a leap. I always wondered whether they had gotten to Gaius this time. Even if they were warned in advance, every fight brought a fresh new list of casualties, and it was only a matter of time before my brother's name would be written in it. I had to do more, yes, but what?

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