ATHAENA

Dawn. The sky bled with the sunlight and a dash of red pouring through the sky like a pool of blood. The city of Ussurya slept solemnly through the cold winter's night and was ready to be awoken by the warm daylight. Ussurya was often referred to as the City of Grey, the buildings and castles stood high up with grey stones that blocked the cold Chesslanian winter. For years the citizens of Ussurya looked upon the Castle of The Grey, a castle built upon a high hill that overlooked the city with towers growing high up towards the sky, walls so strong not even the largest of creatures could destroy them, and In this castle was where the Arkwite's took residence, and dreamed of one day taking a glimpse of the family within the castle walls. Tales were told to children about the Arkwite's and of their privileged lifestyle, and many children looked upon the castle, wondering what might be happening inside, what they weren't aware of, was that someone was staring right back at them. Athaena Arkwite stood in her balcony wearing her black nightgown and her jet-black hair let loose, resting on her shoulders where her prominent collarbone stood out. She breathed the cool air and exhaled, in hopes to letting out all her worries and troubles. As she gazed onto the city she turned around and there she saw that her troubles were right behind her sleeping deeply in the large bed. Aethur Qurzur was from the continent of Qerxia that neighbored Chessalyn from the south. He was wedded to Athaena on a summer's day three years ago. Ever since Athaena was wedded to him she lived in fear and torment, and she never found the courage to tell anyone, instead she sees a counselor in secret once every fortnight to let out all her anger and pain instead of locking it in. Of course Aethur has no idea that Athaena is seeing a counselor behind his back, revealing all his behaviors to a stranger, if he was ever to find out, Athaena is good as dead.

He turned in his sleep and the blanket slipped off him, revealing his bronzed muscular body, he turned his thick arms to touch Athaena's side of the bed and immediately awoke when he noticed the bedside was empty. His dark brown eyes opened and looked directly at Athaena's pillow, then looked directly into her pale blue eyes as she stood at the balcony looking at him innocently.

"You're up early, love…" He said with a deep tone.

She stepped into the room and left the balcony doors open and covered herself with her nightgown, "Couldn't sleep." She said, shrugging.

He pulled himself up, covering his crotch with the white sheets, his eyes pointed at the bedside, ordering her to come sit beside him, and that she did. Aethur pulled her close to him and looked directly into her eyes as if entering her soul with his dark and mysterious eyes.

"How long have you been awake?" He asked, still staring into her.

Athaena shrugged.

Aethur grabbed her chin and pulled her closer to his face, "why didn't you wake me with you?" He said with a hint of a smile on his lips.

"You slept so peacefully I didn't want to wake you…"

Letting go of her face almost harshly, he stood up from the bed, naked and walked to the fireplace that has been put out by the cold night's wind. He sat onto the velvet chair with golden framings, facing Athaena and pointed at the wine jug. Athaena took a slight moment to realize that he wanted a goblet of wine and then hurried to pour it for him. He drank the wine in one gulp and threw the goblet onto the floor as Athaena stood there watching.

"Pick it up." He pointed.

Athaena was very well used to his forceful personality, and without hesitation, picked up the goblet and placed it onto the wine table.

She sat down on the chair beside him and now, facing one another.

"Fathers been coughing again, mother told me." Athaena said while looking at her fingers.

"Well…he has been in this state for quite some time now." He added.

"He's getting old and this sickness isn't helping, I worry for him, I really do." Athaena said with tears welling in her eyes, but stops them from flowing.

She got up and went by the balcony once again so she could cry quietly without Aethur having to hear or see her.

The wind blew into her face the tears were cold against her skin and then quickly wiped them off to face Aethur who sat completely naked onto the chair.

"Your father will be fine, he has the best Shrinks of the city taking care of him." It has been a very long time, since Athaena heard something comforting come out of Aethur, she forgot about her struggles with him, and felt comfortable and assured for that slight moment.

She gazed onto the city she has lived in all her life and began to remember all the times her father took her and her two sisters outside to play in the open fields, she remembered the time her father took her to the baker on her eighth name day. Athaena had always loved the baker's cakes, her friend Alisonne was the baker's daughter and always brought a piece of pumpkin cake for Athaena whenever she could get her hands on one. Athaena always dreamt of going in and getting an entire pumpkin cake, whilst she knew that the cooks in the castle were more capable of baking her a bigger pumpkin cake and perhaps a better one yet she preferred the simplicity of the baker. Athaena always knew she had two fathers, Moront Arkwite and King Moront, and the biggest difference between the two was that King Moront was strict and forceful and Moront Arkwite was kind and loving, this always confused her as a little girl but managed to adapt as she grew older. With this double relationship with her father only meant that Athaena was never fully loved.

"Athaena, come." Aethur called from inside the room.

She turned around quickly and walked towards him.

"Your gown was by the wardrobe last night, how did it reach the bed by morning? Have you been somewhere…?" He questioned whilst holding her black gown in his large fist.

A wave of fear struck her; she felt a flash of heat rush through her chest and all the way through her stomach as she looked at his furious eyes. The thought of lying came to her, but she just couldn't risk it, as Aethur was very good at squeezing out the truth from anyone.

"I went for a walk…outside in the gardens. I needed fresh air, father has been ill and I needed to take my mind off things…" She did go to the gardens, but not to take her mind off her father.

His fist softened and released her gown onto the floor.

"How many times will I have to tell you, you cannot leave our chambers when I'm not with you…" He said once again, and Athaena heard the same words so many times she began to memorize them and knew when he would say them to her.

"Forgive me, I just couldn't stay inside, not for another minute, I needed to be outside." She told him innocently.

"Did someone see you? Did someone speak to you?" He questioned her once again.

"No, no I was completely alone, no one saw me and no one talked to me." She assured him, yet he did not seem to have calmed down.

"Athaena…I have a feeling your not telling me the truth, no need to start early in the morning…" He said deeply.

She went by him and knelt on the floor and held his large hand, "I promise, Aethur, nothing happened, I just went to walk for minutes and came back up, I promise, no one soul saw me nor heard me." She said with an innocent tone.

He grabbed her hands tightly and pulled her towards him with all his force, she breathed heavily and whimpered in pain as he squeezed her hand.

"You…make me so…angry…why Athaena, why! All I ever asked for was that you stay put!" He said directly into her face.

"I'm sorry, it wont happen again I promise, I promise, wont happen ever again, I promise!" She told him in pain. He breathed heavily onto her face and then let go of her, watching her fall on the ground pressing her hand gently and soon began to cry quietly from the pain she's endured.

"You don't understand, someone could've hurt you or taken you away! Damn it woman!" He yelled.

She did not respond, could not respond from the pain in her hand.

He looked down at her for a moment almost feeling sympathetic but then looked away in disgust.

"Fetch me a goblet of wine, and don't dare spill a drop." He said not looking at her.

Athaena struggled to get up and then could barely lift the heavy jug. She shook like a leaf while trying to pour it, scared she might spill, Aethur staring right at her made her even more scared. Eventually she managed to pour the goblet up only spilling slightly, she held the goblet with her left hand and gave it to Aethur.

"Hmm, good." He said looking up and then grabbing the wine from her.

For the past three years Athaena always wondered what caused Aethur to do things like that to her, she sat in the balcony for hours and hours wondering how she could change him if not, perhaps get along with him, but could never find a way. Eventually after years of thinking, she overheard the ladies conversing together about a well-known counselor whom healed many marriages throughout Ussurya. She walked past them pretending to be focused on the height of the castle, and she made sure she heard the name clearly; "Jullianna"

" Julianna Eznadore" was the name she heard come out of the two ladies and she immediately returned back to her chambers and wrote down the name on a piece of parchment and hid it inside a random page of a book she read a long time ago 'Poverty and the Black and White' a book which spoke of Chessalyn's fall during the Phang Dynasty. She knew perfectly well Aethur would never read a book and she always heard him talk about how he hated the stories of the War of all Wars where Chessalyn and Qerxia both fell by the end of it, so she knew that he would never set foot near a book speaking of the history of this dreadful war he despised.

"What's wrong? Why are you staring at me like that?" Aethur's voice echoed inside her head.

She was brought back to the present, summoned by Aethur's deep voice and she blinked and saw him clearly, naked with a goblet of wine in his hand.

"Athaena!" he yelled.

She jumped.

"I'm sorry…"

"What's gotten into you, Athaena?" He frowned at her.

She shook her head and twisted her fingers innocently.

Aethur took a large gulp and swallowed harshly. He stretched out his arm and handed his goblet to Athaena and then got up. Athaena put back the goblet on the wine table, Aethur went to the bed and picked his trousers and wore them quickly, remaining shirtless and then turned to her.

For a moment Athaena felt like a handmaiden and wondered to herself if that was how she was going to live her entire life?

A sudden knock echoed the room and both turned to the doors. They looked at one another, wondering who might knock early in this morning. Aethur put on his linen top and went up to the door, slowly opening it only revealing his face through the opening.

Apheditie stood there. Apheditie was a religious woman, devoting her life to the Nirvamm religion and to Azra Pex. She wore her black gown that covered every inch of her body only revealing her hands and her face; she also rarely revealed her closely cut hair by wearing a white shawl. She believed that men and women must not interact, except for the purpose of marriage and family of course, and she instantly looked away when she saw that it was Aethur.

"I'm sorry to disturb you at this hour, Aethur. Is Athaena awake?" She asked, still looking away.

"Yes she is, is everything alright?"

"It's father, you have to tell her. She has to come to his chambers." Apheditie told him and he immediately opened the door looking back at Athaena.

Apheditie came in and looked straight at Athaena, "Sister… its father…"

Athaena didn't need any more explanations and instantly went outside alongside her sister. They both hurried their paste, almost running, until they reached their father's large chambers that occupied almost an entire floor. The door was already open and Athaena walked into the dark room and saw her father onto the bed with three Shrinks surrounding him all trying to figure out why his temperature was so high. Her father was scrawny; his long white beard covered his slinky neck. His eyes wide open as he coughed out loudly, letting out loud cries with each cough. Athaena went to her mother and held her arms as she watched her father gasping for air. The image was hard to see, she always remembered her father being strong and healthy and only recently he was diagnosed with a lung disease that will eventually cost him his life.

Sigille stood by Athaena and Apheditie in her grey nightgown, her grey hair let loose, resting onto her shoulders. Athaena looked at her, many people said Athaena was a spitting image of her mother, and now in moment of despair, she could see it.

"Mother, now Athaena is here, I'm going to pray for father…" Apheditie said as she was leaving through the door.

Sigille didn't respond to her, she just nodded as tears poured down her face while covering her mouth.

Aethur walked in and just before Apheditie could walk out they exchanged looks.

Aethur saw Moront and his heart skipped a beat, he always knew Moront was sick but never knew it would become this severe in a short amount of time. He stood by Athaena and held her shoulders gently; "I'll send a letter to my brother, to call for Veinus." He told them.

Veinus was the second daughter of Moront's three, she was wedded to Harland Qurzur, the eldest brother to Aethur, and because Harland is heir to the Qerxian throne, it was mandatory for him and his wife to live in the capital of Qerxia, Pybmalid. Veinus often wrote back to her sisters telling them that the heat in Qerxia is something she never knew existed in this world. She also told them about the difference in culture, in Chessalyn a woman is meant to be quiet and have no word in politics or war tactics, however in Qerxia, a respected woman is someone who had a voice and strength.

A Shrink came up to the worried family and looked at them in the eyes, "His condition right now…requires us to be with him…alone." He told them.

"Is—is he going to be alright?" Athaena asked.

The Shrink sighed and looked down, "not right now I'm afraid but we will see to him."

Sigille gasped and covered her entire face with her aging hands, Athaena held her mother into her arms and lead her outside.

"He will get through this, mother, he will be alright." Athaena said as she led her away from her father's room. The ceiling was fully decorated by exquisite paintings of past kings of Chessalyn all gathered in one piece of art. The walls built upon thick grey stones, decorated by large paintings of the queens of Chessalyn from the last hundred years. The floor was fully furnished in fine grey tiles that illuminated with the touch of sunlight, and reflected the paintings above from its impeccable authenticity. They went down the grand staircase that was floored with dark emerald stones and went back to Athaena's chambers, Sigille sat down on their bed sobbed into her hands as Athaena watched her vulnerable mother.

Aethur never followed them back, Athaena thought he must've went to send the letter to his brother.

She sat on the same chair Aethur sat on earlier and began staring into the unlit fireplace, with the noise of her sobbing mother running in the background. She had running images of her father when she was younger once again.

"How can they have lied to me…?" Sigille finally spoke.

"Who?" Athaena asked.

"The bloody Shrinks!"

"Mother, they cannot determine what might happen to a person, they can only predict…"

"Why call them Shrinks then, call them fortune tellers." Sigille said aggressively.

An hour had passed; Aethur came inside the chambers and sat in silence whilst Sigille sobbed.

"He's in good hands. I've spoken with the Shrinks just now and they assure us that what's happening to him is curable." Aethur said.

"See mother? Everything will be just fine." Athaena added.

"Would you like me to take you outside for a walk, mother?" Athaena called out. Sigille did not answer.

Aethur gave Athaena a threatening look and she looked away and down to her fingers.

The atmosphere of the room was sad and grey, not a sound came from anyone except from Sigille's murmurs and cursing. It seemed like hours since they sat in the chambers yet it wasn't as long as they expected. The silence was finally broken.

"Have you sent for Veinus?" Sigille said.

Aethur breathed, "I've sent a letter to Harland through the Qerxian Rail, it'll get there faster. I'm hoping it reaches them by the next few hours." Aethur told her.

Sigille looked up at him and nodded in thanks with a napkin pressed to her mouth.

"And Tirus?" Sigille asked.

"Still sleeping I suppose, he never awakes at this hour." Aethur said.

"He's being looked after by the best in the city." Aethur added in hopes that Sigille would calm down.

"He has to see Veinus, he has to see all of you. Together." Sigille said.

Athaena and Aethur look at one another, wondering how they're going to get through this with her.

"I lost my father to this…disease, your father lost his grandfather to this disease as well. It's well in the family and I'm going to lose your father…" Sigille said while looking at the both of them.

"Mother …" Athaena said and stood up to go up to her.

"You always denied the truth and the truth is that your father is going to die!" She yelled, she couldn't contain herself and instantly let out a sob.

Deep down, Athaena knew what her mother was saying could be somewhat true, but she had to remain strong for the sake of the family.

"I'd like to be alone please…" Sigille said as she looked away from her daughter.

Aethur looked at Athaena and both walked out, she took one last look at her mother before she closed the doors.

A handmaiden walked past with a bowl of water and Athaena stopped her only recognizing who she was when she saw her face clearly, "Oh Murrie, please make sure mother is alright. Check on her every few minutes." Athaena whispered to her as Aethur continued walking to the grand staircase.

"Yes, m'lady." She bowed.

Athaena found herself in the library after walking around freely from within the castle. It was empty as usual and the blinds have been closed and the library was almost pitch black. Behind her, the light from the halls illuminated the library slightly, but Athaena never enjoyed it while it was dark. So she went up to each window and opened blind by blind.

After the library blinds were fully opened, she walked around, touching each book she had read in the past, the only books she never really enjoyed were books of the history of Chesslaynnian kings. She already read about them with the Sheinla's whom were the women of the Nirvamm Temples who taught the Arkwite girls how to read and write and eventually the history of their continent, so she never understood why she had to read about them in her leisure time. She came across a book by the title of 'Mythical Philosophies from Anxel Baker' and thoughts of her father taking her to the baker formed inside her head once again. She remembered how her father always told her to follow her heart and do what's right, he also told her that doing the right thing should be for the sake of herself rather than for the sake anyone else. These thoughts lit up something she considered doing for quiet some time but never found the right time to do so, now seemed like the only time for her to be brave and actually put this idea to the test.

She went up the staircase from within the library that led her to the second floor, which overlooked the ground floor, with fear in her eyes she went to the fiction section of the library and began to look for it closely. Out of so many books she pulled out 'Poverty and the Black and White' and pulled to page one hundred and three and took out the piece of parchment she hid inside it years ago. She held the parchment inside her fist and read it silently in her head.
'Julianna Eznadore, Aginwright Sector, seventh road, East Ussurya.' It read the address of the counselor the two ladies spoke of. She left library and went down to the kitchens, which was something she often did and her father tried to break the habit, but Athaena never minded mixing with the commoners and the handmaidens, and she called for her personal maid, Emilia.

"Yes, m'lady." Emilia was thin and short; her hair tied into a tight braid and wore a white ruffled headpiece.

"I have something to ask of you, follow me..." Athaena led Emilia through the hallway and to the dining area that was completely empty; Emilia went to the curtains and spread them open, allowing the bright sunlight dashing through the room. The mahogany table was laid out with ornaments and plates with the napkins folded into the shape of a triangle, Athaena stood by the table and rested her hand on the edge where she felt a slight pain from Aethur's grip.

"You alright m'lady?" Emilia looked at her.

"Yes, yes nothing to worry about. I have an urgent call for me down at East Ussurya and I'll need a carriage to take me there…"

"Of course m'lady, when shall I call for it?" Emilia said, as she was ready to leave, then Athaena stood upright, as a sign that she's not finished.

"Not right this second, there's more to it…" Athaena hesitated.

Emilia stopped and brought her arms behind her back and nodded.

"I'll need the carriage late in the night…"

"Of course m'lady, I'll make sure Lord Aethur is aware—

"That's the problem, Emilia, I don't want him to know. I don't want anyone to know of it, at all…" Athaena interrupted,

Emilia looked at her as if she just mentioned the unspeakable. Her face was in shock and her lips twitched, trying not to offend nor upset Athaena.

"Lord Aethur will not…accompany you, m'lady?"

"No, I'll be going alone…" Athaena found the courage to finally admit it and say it out loud.

Emilia still stood there in shock by what Athaena just said, "M'lady, I'm not sure the coach will leave the castle without Lord Aethur accompanying you…"

Athaena looked down for a moment, "Emilia please, try speaking to him. It's urgent. I've spoken with Mauer many times before, surely he wouldn't tell… "

Emilia looked at Athaena's pale blue pleading eyes, "I'll speak with the him m'lady and let you know what he says." "Thank you, Emilia."

Emilia took a bow and went to walk out of the dining area.

"Oh and Emilia, please don't mention this to anyone."

"Yes, m'lady." Emilia nodded and walked away.

Athaena took a deep breathe yet she wasn't fully relieved because from now on the overthinking and the fear will strike her, and her anxiety will kick in, worrying if Aethur might find out.

The long morning passed by, the Shrinks advised Sigille to not sleep in their chambers for the next seven days and she moved to the spare guest chambers that was fully furnished and decorated for her by the handmaidens. Sigille told her daughters she wanted to be alone and did not wish to be disturbed, whilst Apheditie waited in the courtyard for any news of Veinus's arrival. Athaena roamed in the library once again and sat down and read a fictional story of a fairy colony in the Isle of Fire, the islands near the continent of Fyragon. When she was finished reading the short story she walked along the second level of the library, she looked through the long and parallel windows and saw Apheditie on the granite bench looking up at the sky with her hands folded, she was praying.

When she walked slowly along the wooden flooring the sound of her heels echoed throughout the library. She looked upon the mass space and saw the huge books in their shelves standing high up like pillars against the huge hall of a library. It was fully surrounded by books from all around the world, all religions and all periods of time, Athaena always went in there in moments of fear or desperation. She worried for her father and feared that Aethur would find out about her plans. She walked through the ground level where small chairs were placed around, books lay on tables from previous use, and then she reached the part where she rarely set foot in, the books of Nirvamm and other religions around the world, this was the place where Apheditie liked to sit in when she wasn't in the Temples praying for the safety and security of her continent. She looked at the titles and smirked at them, 'Azra Pex's footsteps in peace and humanity', 'The fate of Nirvamm extremism' and 'Azra Pex and his souls.' Athaena studied these books as a little girl with the Sheinla's and when she grew older she realized that they were nothing but silly stories written by false Sheins who aren't validated as real Sheins whom knew the religion well enough to write about it. She didn't smirk to pose fun at the religion in fact she smirked because she remembered how the Sheinla's used to scare her and her sisters that if they wouldn't memorize the words of Azra Pex, they would burn in hell. When she grew up and read the more complicated and depth studies of the Nirvamm religion, she read that learning the words of Azra Pex only meant you knew your faith more than others and it did not determine your fate in the afterlife. This part of the library was the darkest; as the shelves were so high they blocked the sunlight. No matter how many times Athaena read the fictional books she never got bored and kept on reading them over and over again. Fiction was considered a waste of time in the Ussuryan society, women were advised on reading books about how to please her husband and how to raise a proper home for her family, yet Athaena's father was kind enough to have given her a section in the library where she could enjoy herself and read about many fictional worlds as much as her heart desired. Her mother always contradicted this idea and suggested that Athaena started reading books that were worth her time, she often said that Athaena still didn't bare any children because she never read books on how to please a husband.

The sun has set and the handmaidens prepared the dining table as they did every night for the Arkwite family.

One by one, they started coming in the dining area and sat down in their seats. Apheditie came in first and sat by the head chair that had gold framings and black velvet cushions, moments later Athaena and Aethur came in together and sat on the opposite side of Apheditie but left the chair beside the head chair for Sigille to sit. There were seven empty chairs besides Apheditie and five besides Aethur.

They sat in silence for at least five minutes, waiting for Sigille and Tirus. The handmaidens surrounded the dining room; one for each member and Athaena noticed that Emilia wasn't serving her today, which was very odd since she always served Athaena at dinner. She didn't help her with preparation for the dinner either; instead Maizy came to her chambers and helped with her with her gown and hair.

Could have Aethur found out and thrown her out without me knowing? Athaena thought to herself.

She looked at him and he looked at her, perhaps he did know.

Footsteps echoed through the dining area, Aethur straightened his grey doublet and his back then cleared his throat. Athaena and Apheditie looked at one another knowing that they'd have to uplift their mother throughout the night.

Sigille walked in dressed in a grey gown that covered her from neck to toe with white ruffles over her long neck. She wore a black veil across her face that almost covered her face entirely. Her thick grey hair was tied tightly behind her head with only one strand going down across her wrinkled forehead.

Everyone looked at her as if she was mad, and she knew very well that they thought she was, so she decided to stare back at them.

"What, what? Spit it out…" She demanded.

Everyone then looked away and down on their empty plates.

"Good evening mother, it's a lovely—

"Ah yes, good evening indeed. Your father is ill and could potentially die, your sister is living under foreign soil and haven't heard from her in months, your son sleeps all day and wakes all night, hunting all what's left in the woods. A very, very delightful evening it is." Sigille looked at Apheditie with very little emotions. Sigille has offended almost every member of the family including an entire continent. Apheditie looked at Aethur to make sure he didn't take offence of her mother's empty words.

He stared down at his plate as if he was a little boy who just got a beating by his mother.

Tirus finally walked in, wearing his black doublet with red stitching, his short black hair all messy, his squared face looked tired and his pale blue eyes looked straight at his grandmother. He walked slowly and kissed Sigille on her cheek, "I hope you're doing well grandmother…"

She smiled up at him, yet Tirus knew it wasn't a genuine smile.

Sigille's handmaiden, Pippy, pulled up her chair that was beside Athaena, she stared at it for a moment as if she despised the thing. Sigille turned to the other side and pulled the chair that Moront sat on and sat on it herself. She looked across the entire large table and everyone seated at it.

"It's about damn time we all sat together, oh no, I must be incorrect, two are missing." She raised her voice.

Everyone looked at her as if she just cursed at Moront and Veinus. Apheditie looked very uncomfortable because of Sigille's language. Her mother exchanged a very harsh look at Apheditie and then exhaled.

Athaena looked at her, deeply staring into her face and wondered why she looked like she was mourning their father. Has Sigille lost hope that bad?

"How are you feeling—?

"Pippy, fetch me the hot towel, will you?" Sigille clicked her fingers, not paying attention to Athaena whatsoever.

Athaena looked down at her napkins in humiliation and cleared her throat quietly.

The handmaidens cleared out to prepare serving dinner.

"Call me overly dramatic, call me what you will, but your father is not showing any progress, those so called Shrinks are damn fools." She was so straightforward that everyone jumped.

"Mother, there's no need for language…" Apheditie said.

"Oh don't mother me, you, Apheditie never faced the facts, never have and never will." Sigille yelled.

"Mother please, not now…" Athaena begged.

Sigille gritted her teeth as if she were to answer back, but she took a silent breath and looked down at her fingers.

The handmaidens have fully cleaned out the table and Pippy brought Sigille her hot towel.

"What are you all staring at, napkins…" She waved her hands at them as if they were all children and then they all placed the napkins at their laps. Everyone at the table looked at one another as if Sigille was pushing them to the edge every time she breathed a word out of her mouth. The napkins were now on everyone's laps.

The dinner course went by faster than Athaena had thought it would be, they were already on their main course, which was freshly chopped venison. Apheditie had a different meal on her plate, she was eating plain bread with raw vegetables, this was something she did often as she explained, Aza Pex was simple with his food and so she plans on following his footsteps.

"How was your hunting trip yesterday, Tirus?" She asked as she took a bite of bread.

He ate a large piece of venison and answered with his mouth filled with flesh, "Really good, what you're all eating right now has been caught by my own bare hands." He bragged.

"Oh come on, Tirus, not your bare hands, I was with you." Aethur laughed.

"Bow and arrow, bare hands, same thing…" Tirus said as he took another bite.

There were a few moments of silence, and then it was broken by Sigille's voice.

"That's quite the catch, Tirus. It has a lovely texture to it. Say, it is a shame your mother isn't having any…" Sigille looked at Apheditie with a cornered eye.

Apheditie shut her eyes and inhaled.

"Azra Pex instructed us to live simple lives—

"Simple lives…and yet you live in this castle with chairs made of gold and clothes that cost a fortune to make…" Sigille looked at her, demanding an explanation.

"Mother, if you do not respect the works of Azra Pex, then maybe you shouldn't focus on everything I do. I'm a grown woman, I do as I please with my life." Apheditie said yet not looking at her mother.

"Not while I live." Sigille said and the entire room went silent and cold.

Apheditie let go of her food, folded her arms quickly and thanked God for the blessing of having a meal and walked away from the dining room.

"A blessed evening for you all." She nodded at those at the table and to the standing handmaidens.

"Mother, that was unnecessary…." Athaena told her.

"She chose to stop eating." Sigille said as she continued to eat her food.

Athaena cleared her throat, "Any words on Veinus?" She said after a sip of wine.

Aethur swallowed the venison and then replied, "I've sent for my brother, I expect it to arrive by the next morning."

His tone always seemed artificial to Athaena when he spoke to her publicly, yet inside the chambers he was a completely different person.

A few moments of silence took over the dining area and Athaena looked over at her mother, hoping that she wasn't going to say anything else that would offend anyone.

"You up for a hunt, Aethur, or has the last knocked you over?" Tirus teased as he took a sip of wine.

Aethur chuckled, "Not tonight I'm afraid…"

"Tirus, darling, how do you have the mind to leave for hunting whilst your grandfather struggles for dear life?" Sigille obviously despised the idea yet she was easy on her only grandson.

"Grandfather is a strong man, this will pass by in no time." Tirus said in full confidence.

Sigille nodded but did not agree.

The handmaidens picked up the plates and prepared to serve deserts.

"What's for today Pippy?" Sigille asked as she removed her plate.

"Raspberry pie, my queen." Pippy murmured.

"Speak up Pippy, you know I've got weak hearing." Sigille pointed at her ears.

"Pardon me, my queen. Raspberry pie." She said more clearly.

Sigille thought for a moment, "No, I'm done for the evening. Bring up my tea to my chambers." Sigille said as she stood up.

"Right away, my queen." Pippy nodded.

"Oh, and prepare my bath, I want it hot." Sigille demanded again.

"Yes, my queen. Pippy nodded once again.

Sigille made no effort to turn and bid goodbye to everyone seated at the table and walked away as if they did not exist.

Tirus, Aethur and Athaena looked at one another.

"Well…that was very pleasant…" Tirus laughed.

Aethur chuckled once again and Athaena nodded.

As they ate their pies, Athaena thought of Emilia and wondered where she might be.

"Say, Maizy, have you seen Emilia this evening?" Athaena asked, turning from her chair.

Maizy stepped forward and knelt slightly.

"Last I saw of her was in the washing room, I haven't seen her since, M'lady."

Athaena felt a wave of heat rush through her face and down to her neck, and then she felt Aethur looking at her from the corner of her eyes.

"Would you be needing anything M'lady?" Maizy offered.

"No, Maizy, thank you." She smiled.

Maizy went back to her place and stood there as she watched them eat their pies.

Tirus burped loudly and punched his chest as he laughed.

"Excuse me…"

Athaena frowned her nose and Aethur laughed along.

After everyone was finished with dinner, Tirus and Aethur went for a drink outside, and this gave Athaena the opportunity to move about the castle without him telling her she cant leave the chambers after the sun went down.

She went to the kitchens to ask for Emilia and everyone had told Athaena they haven't seen her since the afternoon.

Athaena went up to her father's chambers to check on him and the Shrinks had told her that he is in desperate need of rest and she could only take a look at him for a slight moment. She saw the exhaustion all over his face and his forehead covered in sweat. She turned to the Shrink and whispered, "Please sir, tell me… how is he?"

The Shrink looked down for a moment, thinking whether he should tell her the truth or not.

"We will tend to him, worry not my lady." He nodded.

"Please, I need nothing but the truth…" She told him.

He looked into her pale blue eyes for a moment and then told her, he told her the truth.

"If he survives this night, he shall live and its going to be a long and cold night my lady…"