A Rebuff Too Sharp

Angel fidgeted in her place, her hand gripping Amelia's with a strength uncommon for a young girl of only five. She was dressed up in her pretty white gown, a bow in her hair, and Amelia was holding the umbrella to keep them from getting wet.

The day had been so far very discouraging. She had woken up to her nursemaid's indignant screeching; her eardrums had hurt from the woman's boxing. Apparently she hadn't dressed accordingly, fidgeted too much. And now it was raining. She didn't like the rain; she liked the way the ground and air smelled after it rained. It smelled fresh and like honeysuckle. But now it was chilly and cold.

Angel couldn't wait for the rain to be done; there were many puddles that needed her in them. As it was, she was brushed and groomed till her cheeks her, and was now standing in a line.

Why, she didn't know. Only that her white dress seemed very out of place for the sea of black cloaks around her. Even her mother was wearing black. Angel didn't like sticking out; Amelia had once told her that sticking out was like a sore thumb. . . or something like that.

" Are you scared?" Amelia asked, sounding much wiser than her eight years. " It's okay to be scared."

" No," Angel insisted stubbornly. " Why would I be?"

Amelia's fingers clenched her hand and she leaned closer. " Because that man is going to die."

Dying was a foreign concept to Angel. She wasn't quite at an age to understand it, yet all the same it sent terrible shivers through her small body.

" Okay," Angel whispered quietly. She was trembling; a man was going to die. What had he done again? Who was he? Who was going to die? She had never seen a dead man before. Why was he going to die?

She craned her head down the row of her sisters, each as tall and as regal as the next, until her eyes fell upon her father and mother. Her father looked sad. Her mother looked angry. Why were they like this? Once more she noticed their black attire; why was she the only one wearing white?

" Amelia, what's going on?" Angel asked.

Her sister cast her a sharp look, irritated. " That man there is going to be hanged," she said with a decisiveness that startled Angel.

She didn't point, as they were raised not to do, but Angel immediately knew who she was talking about.

" The man with the cloth over his head?" she inquired. The sprinkling of rain was slightly distorting to look through. " Why is he bound so?"

" Shh!" spat out Aria, who stood beside Amelia. Aria was five years older, and at ten years of age, Angel expected her judgment was just as wise as her mother and father. Afterall, ten was very old indeed. " Be quiet, Angeline!"

Quietly, Amelia answered Angel with a soft, " Yes."

Angel nodded, intent to keep her mouth shut, and the man with a hood over his head was brought to the man with a cross hung around his neck. She knew him! He directed the religious services. What was he doing here, and why was he speaking so loudly and sadly?

The cross-man stopped talking. The man was hanged; the loud sound of the trap door startled Angel. Was he dead now? He certainly didn't seem dead; why was he twitching like that? Something deep within Angel darkened and coiled within her heart, and an immobilizing fear spread throughout her limbs. Amelia's hand tightened on her own, cold, wet fingers grasping cold, wet fingers.

" Is he dead?" Angel asked, looking up. " Amelia, is he dead?"

" Yes," snapped Aria wisely. " Now be quiet."

Amelia shrugged daintily, her eyes wide. " Is that his family?"

Angel looked across the platform. There was a family. It was a much smaller family than her own family. And much tinier too. They were all boys; the eldest couldn't have been older than her, but he was holding a baby. A baby! They were tanner than most of the procession around them, and their clothes were dirtier and ragged. Angel thought that if this was the dead man's family, they should have at least turned up in nicer clothes.

Amelia began tugging on her hand, and Angel moved, half-frozen. Her eyes were riveted on the family. Brilliant green eyes of the eldest boy found hers, and they stared at each other for a while. It struck a chord within her; his father was a dead man. What would happen if her father was a dead man? No! He was king! He couldn't die.

" I feel sad for them," remarked Angel to Amelia, her heart bursting.

" You shouldn't," interjected Aria, whirling around in a flurry of skirts. Angel was not liking Aria right now, no matter whether ten was an old age. " They deserve it."

Angel glanced back at the family; the boy was still staring at her solemnly. His eyes were very old. They seemed as old as her father's eyes!

The sight of his eyes haunted her throughout the rest of the day. And to Angel's dismay, it didn't stop raining.

" And we saw each other the next day. Do you remember?" said Nico, his softness reeling her from her memory. She felt his head rest against hers, lips at her ear. " Do you remember seeing each other?"

" No," she answered truthfully. " I honestly do not. What had happened?"

" You caught me crying in the stables."

For some reason, this seemed incredulous. Nico, crying? Her disbelief rang out in a disjointed," You were crying!? How is that so? You, Nico?"

His laugh spilled out, brushing against her throat, and little tingles shot through her arms and spine.

" I was five, princess. My father had just died. Grant me a reprieve."

Angel fell silent, her mind in torment. She had forgotten about his family's violent, undignified past. Her mother. . . her mother would have been beyond words; she most likely would have fainted dead away by now.

Her cousin's murderer had been Nico's father and now Nico was here, with his fingers lacing through hers, his breath warming her chilled skin, his hand touching and securing her stomach. She'd never been so close to a man, engulfed so wholly and completely by his body and scent.

" Your reprieve is granted," she said, subdued. " But I would like to return to the palace now."

" You haven't heard the rest of my story, princess. Are you not intrigued to hear what happened after I disappeared? After your mother demanded my transfer?"

Frankly, she did. But the magic of the moment was broken, and her upbringing came back to her. This rebellious meeting needed to end, for her to right her dignity and save what little public reputation she hadn't tarnished.

" I am tired, Nico," she said, though she didn't keep the harsh tone out of her voice. She knew he recognized it, for his hand slipped away from hers. " I wish to retire to bed. Take me back."

" As you wish, Your Highness."

Angel did not like the distant tone, the removal of warmth, but she held her tongue. She deserved it, for cutting him short and not allowing him to share.

" Please, Nico," she murmured, and he made a sound in the back of his throat, something akin to agreement.

Zephyrus snorted, breathing twin streams of mist into the chilled air, and Nico jabbed his ankles into the flanks. They took off. Angel no longer fought the rhythm of the horse, allowing herself to brush against the man behind her. Within minutes, the lights of the friendly castle were visible, and they were soon greeted by the familiar shadings of the stables.

Angel slipped off Zephyrus, adjusting her dress. She couldn't bring herself to look Nico in the eye. His very movements seemed jaunty, filled with violent rage, and she knew it was from her crassness.

" Will I see you again, tomorrow?" she asked, even though she cursed the very words crossing her lips.

He did not once glance from his task of unhooking the bridle. " That depends entirely upon you, Your Highness."

She ducked her head. Indeed, their meetings did.

Author's Note : All right, there you go! Another chapter! :) Hope you enjoy.


Nico flipped the reins over Zephyrus's neck, and offered them to her. Their fingers brushed as she took them daintily from him, and she marveled at the zap that rushed through her body at the contact.

His eyes darkened, and he said with a low growl, " Try not to kill yourself, little nymph."

" And if I do?" she brazened out.

Quick, low-pitched, and dark, he quirked, " You can bet I won't be at your funeral."