Claudia Montomogen was younger than Cyril by five years, but it had been the unspoken understanding throughout all the royal family—all the grandparents on both sides, all the disapproving aunts and lackadaisical uncles—that she would take the throne instead of her brother. It had been the way of the Montomogen family, who had reigned over Eastern Ireland for one-and-a-half thousand years, to groom all the children to rule and then as each reached seventeen years of age, the established age to take the throne, that the current king and queen would put each child through a series of tests—one of which was, honestly, whether or not the king and queen liked them, or thought their nose was a proper shape and they didn’t laugh too much. Once these tests were done, the king and queen would decide whether to allow the child to rule, or whether it would be best to wait for another child to come of age.
Cyril was sixteen and his seventeenth birthday was at the beginning of the winter—a bad omen according to the soothsayers. He had four months to prove that he was leadership material, but instead of preparing, he was talking to walls and apologizing to trees. It would have been one thing if he was blind—a blind king can still rule quite well—but he was not blind, and everyone said there was something wrong with his mind.
Ever since he could walk, Cyril had been darting this way and that like a lizard: giggling, hands outstretched to grasp what appeared to his parents and aunts and uncles and grandparents as nothing but sunbeams or shadows. When he began to form words, they were laced with the profanest of arcane names, references to people long dead, and monsters with curly purple tusks.
Rumors began spinning among the public that the little prince was a necromancer: a human whose pleasure it was to let demons feed on his soul, the worst name ever spit in a bar after midnight. Being a necromancer was horrid for a peasant and therefore unspeakable for a king so in a desperate attempt to save face, Cyril’s mother, Queen Ceetas, told all who wondered in his direction that he was an avid daydreamer and possibly a little mentally unstable. But her stories would not stick, not with the more exciting word “necromancer” hanging in the air, so she dropped the daydreamer part, and inflated “a little unstable” to “raving mad,” hoping that anything might replace “necromancer.”
Her hope succeeded. The older and queerer folk stuck to their convictions that Prince Cyril was a necromancer, but the most vocal people of the community—the farmers, the store-owners, the artisans, and even the royalty—confessed Cyril’s insanity until just about everyone believed it. Everyone, that is, except Claudia.
Claudia, young enough to grow up when the rumors of insanity had already surrounded her brother, believed he was mad at first, but then she began to see things: small things, faint things, things with eyes and noses. And she found herself staring at them, and realized that to anyone else, it would have looked like she was staring at the wall: the very bit of evidence used to condemn Cyril as a madman. It became apparent to Claudia after that that Cyril was no madder than herself and that he didn’t deserve all the putrid faces people made when they thought he wasn’t looking.
The only problem was that when she tried to talk to Cyril about it, he clammed up. Any mention of figures not made of physical, touchable flesh and he would avert his gaze, make some excuse about something he had to do, and hurry away. Maybe they were both mad, or maybe neither of them was. Claudia thought it was awful for Cyril to pretend he was mad instead of admitting what he really saw. Pretending he was mad would mean he would definitely never be king. Claudia was still too young to realize that the alternative—admitting that he saw figures and monsters and dead people—would cause far worse trouble than losing the throne.
Claudia did everything in her power to force Cyril to admit he was seeing the same shimmering figures she was. She talked openly about the various smoky figures—poofs, she called them—that swept up and down the stone staircases, or puffs—what she called the shadows that lurked in the corners of the kitchen. They were silly names, she knew, and she wasn’t a particularly silly girl; she called the figures puffs and poofs for two reasons: first and foremost, to get a rise out of her brother, to get him to say “That’s not what they’re called!” or “They’re not even poof-like.” Anything to force him to admit that he saw them too. Second, Claudia firmly believed that no matter how grotesquely monstrous something might be, if it is made fun of, it becomes bearable. Puffs in the kitchen were tolerable and even a little enjoyable, while shadow figures were not. Silly names made them easier to talk about; the names took away some of the fear of encountering such figures alone during the night.
But as much as Claudia pressed Cyril to talk about puffs and poofs, she was not so dense as to talk about them where anyone, especially not their parents, could hear. It was their parents who were determinedly pushing into the public rumors of Cyril’s insanity. Too much talk of the supernatural drew nasty nicknames, including the nasty slur. Everyone at the castle was very careful not to utter the name in Claudia’s presence. Even when she begged and unceremoniously pulled at skirts and shirtsleeves, promising that she would never use it, the flustered servants and outraged family members pulled their sleeves and skirts free from Claudia’s grip and explained that she was too young to hear such foul language.
“But I just want to know what it is! I won’t use it!” she begged.
“If you aren’t going to use it, there’s no reason for me to tell you what it is, eh?” said everyone ever.
Claudia sighed. Cyril probably knew the word; he was sixteen, after all. Not that he would tell her. He had gotten good at sensing a prod and promptly turning to stone; no doubt Claudia had given him plenty of practice.
It was midday, and the midday meal was being prepared. Midday at the castle was all about the bustle; between the servants running back and forth preparing the dining room, and all the residing Montomogens who weren’t off on business that afternoon, trying to get down the hallways was like trying to squeeze between saplings. A flood of ash-gray dresses and decorative robes flowed slowly down the hallway; it was actually more like a beehive. There was no flood, because a flood all flows in one direction. This flood went all different directions at differing levels of urgency, ranging from the “If I don’t get this over the fire in five minutes, the soup is going to be late!” cooks, to the “I remember when that column was carved, and when Trinigard chipped a tooth on it, and when it was plastered over” strolling old men.
A/N: Little sisters, am I right? Am I right?? Ehm.
This a useful scene in many different ways. I have the bad habit of writing generalities and I never pay attention to setting or details, even personality details. But I should learn, because no one likes a story without a setting or distinct people. This scene will probably make it into the story, but I’m not sure where, yet. Inu and Cyril like to hog the limelight.