XXV - Brotherly Love

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Eris and I are shoved into my old room with little ceremony. The place is hauntingly unchanged; as I if I never rode away in the middle of the night nearly six years ago. As if my entire life hasn't turned upside down since then — and the rest of the world with it. As if I wasn't a returning messiah, conqueror, emperor. As if I was still simply a prince who had taken a holiday and come back home.

In the center of the room, green silks are hung from the ceiling and fall around a bed overstuffed with pillows and blankets spun from fine wool and the crispest linen. Cedar panels carved in arabesque patterns divide the space between sleeping and lounging; a desk for studies, a dressing area. White marble with blue-grey blushes line the walls and are punctured with honeycomb designs over the windows. Impossibly thin doors made out of the carved stone are thrown wide open, looking out onto a wide, sweeping veranda that extends out over lush courtyards. Peacocks bray in the gardens below, interrupting the string quartets of crickets and cicadas that rise and fall with the ebbing breeze.

Eris looks around slowly, drinking it all in. Her eyes linger on the ceiling, where gold-veined black marble is studded with a night sky of gemstones and glass. It shatters the light from the flickering candles and makes the room breathe and spin as if we are under a kaleidoscope. She raises a dirty hand, dancing her fingers through the shifting, refracted light. As if she might catch it. As if she might hold a shooting star captive in her palm.

"This reminds me of a place at ho—where I come from. Sheesh mahal...an entire room, made of mirror mosaics. I only ever saw it during the day time, when the light is harsh and brutal. I never imagined the delicacy of it at night, illuminated only by a few, brave candles." A tear slips free and leaves a delicate trail of clean skin on her grubby cheek.

It's a strangely romantic and emotional observation, a moment of beauty and calm in the hurricane of shit we find ourselves in. A rare, first look into the world she comes from. Still, I'm overcome with pride and a little wash of embarrassment. I clear my throat and nod, looking up. Grunting my appreciation for the sight.

I did not expect her here. In this room. I never foresaw the swell of emotions; the tug and pull, the dance her presence effects on my heart as I see her in my home. I never anticipated a brief moment to discover something so lovely in what had always been common and expected. It is just a mosaic in a ceiling, just a bedroom. Through her eyes, it is transformed into something enchanting.

"Thank you. I uh...I'm glad you like it." I clear my throat, quickly trying to rein in my swooping emotions.

She smiles at me, blowing a small laugh out of her nose. "Do your superbly elegant rooms have a bath?"

As if hitting me with a spell, I feel the day on me. The grit of the sand, the grub of the dirt. The salt of the dried sweat, the sticky cling of humid, empty air. A bath sounds sinful and delicious.

"Yes, it does." I hold out my hand, offering it to her. Reaching across the divide of our friendship that has strained over the last few days; crossing the chasm of the lies, the resentment of her powers, the frustration at her glib jokes. "But I will only take you there if you tell me what you did with poor Xanthos."

Eris laughs, "Oh! That! I thought we could use a spy while we're cooped up in here. So I sent him into court."

"You just, popped him into the middle of things?"

"Yes, he's currently in the dining halls, if I can trust my senses."

"They're looking for him, he won't last long out there."

"Yes, but I also disguised him." Her eyes light up sinfully and she bites back a laugh.

"As what?"

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