March 13th, 872
Since the zombie invasion of the city, nothing remained of routine. This was fine with Malia, who had spent decades and decades without any expectation that she would be treated as the Duchess she now was. So, on her second - or third, who knew - day in the castle, the Duchess, clad in the simplest clothes she could find, made her way to the royal kitchen. Without fine fabrics or imposing orders, the tired servants paid her little mind, and Malia found herself free to construct a sandwich without expectation. A couple slices of bread, cheese, meat shredded off the bone…
She ended up sinking her teeth into the crude meal at the same moment as her hips sank back, tiredly, against the kitchen counter top, and her eyes lifted to find a new - although familiar - companion.
James nodded his head, and greeted her “Duchess”. He had a bare hand on his nephew’s head, and the pair were surrounded by dogs. “Elliot” he grunted softly and the boy flashed her a half smile, “Hello”. The Duke patted the chair next to Malia, and the boy wearily climbed into it.
Leaning against the heavy wooden table with his hip Castile nodded toward her plate. “Is that bread laden with meat?” he asked curiously as the dogs settled around the groups’ feet in the hopes of scraps.The prince had his head laid on his arms on the table and was asleep before a servant could find them something to eat.
The boy had become clingy since the King’s death and the infestation of zombies. It was understandable…. But a nuisance. “How are you holding up, my Duchess?” James asked quietly letting a hand settle against her shoulder. She had a strength of character unlike any woman he knew, but there was always something about Malia….
"Thank you, I've got it, " Malia whispered to a servant, who was all too happy to take her leave. The prince needed sustenance, but he had little energy or enthusiasm, so Malia quietly put a pot over the stove and began warming a bit of milk, gently enough that it wouldn't burn.
When James' hand touched her shoulder, she tilted her head and gave his fingers an affectionate kiss. "I'm fine," Malia lied, unwilling to engage with the guilt she felt, that she had known something so awful was coming and yet been unable to prevent it. She sighed, heavily, looking between the dozing boy and the expectant dogs and deciding she did not feel disinhibited enough to share her feelings. With a tired smile, Malia bid him, "Find us some wine, James. Of the strong variety?"
Once the servant was gone and they were alone except for the sleeping lad, James leaned in to kiss the Duchess tenderly. “Of course, my lady…” he replied although he reluctantly pulled away. James could tell that she was not fine as she had said, but did not push the subject for now.
The Duke gather not only a bottle of wine, but also cups and plates to eat together in a semi civilized fashion. Cut some bread and meat, tossing the bone to the dogs, who erupted into a flurry of activity and noise.
Castile was not usually a tender man, but there was a time and place for everything. Elliot had lost both his parents, his sister had been missing and was considered dead for years now. The consort and his supposed half-brother were also missing now…. And all he had for family was the half-brother of his father, who wasn’t quite human anymore….
His hand rested on the boy’s back heavily in a firm, yet gentle gesture. “Elliot...my prince… come eat, and then we will find you a proper place to sleep...nephew” the Duke said in a dry, quiet tone. “Yes, uncle James” the boy replied sitting up and rubbing his eyes.
The Duke moved to relieve Malia of the pot so she could sit and partake of her food, and to pour the milk for Elliot. It would help the boy fall into a dreamless sleep for a while. “Elliot has told me that you were very brave in saving the citizens at the bank” James said to Malia as he poured her a generous amount of wine.
The give-and-take quickly felt familiar to Malia. It was not unlike the dynamic at her home in New York - once, her husband had graciously relieved her of household duties like cooking, knowing that she was exhausted after a day of constant supervision. The child was, luckily, accommodating and respectful.
And there was wine. Malia was, perhaps, too quick to settle into the offered seat of rest and gulp down a few mouthfuls, her mind occupied with the faces and cries of all those civilians she had not been able to admit. Each and every one was a failure; not just a failure of her "bravery" as James called it, but her magic in being able to prevent any such incident at all.
"I wouldn't say brave. I problem-solved an awful situation, alongside Lady Sanya," Malia said, in all seriousness, but then leaned over to give Elliot a kiss on the forehead, giving the boy the same term of endearment she had defaulted to, with all of her own babies, "But thank you, sweet pea. Drink your milk; it'll make your bones strong."
James reached under the table and laid his hand on Malia’s leg, tilting his head at her. His mouth curled slightly at the interaction between her and the prince. He pushed some of the meat on his plate to the boy as well.
The prince beamed at the endearment from the Duchess, his own mother rarely spoke in such a manner. Using both hands he drank from the cup, and after a little reluctance dug into the meat and bread. “Are you going back out with the guards, uncle?” he asked clearly hoping he would say that he was staying.
“Your guards need rest, like you” James stated. He even looked tired and gazed at the Duchess for a moment, “And you as well, my lady”.
Malia's hand closed over James' on her leg, giving it a squeeze as she, rather innocently, nodded along and agreed, "Perhaps we should rest together."
Watching the boy, and feeling that longing nostalgia for her children, Malia stroked the boy's head. "Elliot, did you know that sleep is more important for your body than food, even?" She was such a geek for these things, and she enjoyed seeing the interest in the boy's eyes as he tilted his head at her. "It's true! You can live, maybe, 25 days without food. Without sleep? Only eleven." It had been, at most, three or four, but with education what it was, Malia doubted the kid was a number whiz.
The prince's eyes widened. He took another determined bite of meat and bread, and then a long drink of his milk, and then he was on his feet. "I had better go to bed," he declared.
"You will be a wise king, indeed," Malia praised, as one of the nurse servants entered to collect the prince and the Duchess sent James a smirk and a playful kick of his ankle under the table before another drink from her glass.
The Duke smiled as he tore his bread in half, but was caught off guard by a simple hug from his nephew. His brows raised upward as Elliot bid him and the Duchess of the North a good night. The horde of dogs followed the child and the servants out leaving James and Malia alone.
Castile shook his head, “The resilience of a child”. He looked up at the Duchess, “You seemed comfortable with him, he likes you… “ His brow arched slightly because she had once told him that she did not want to be one of these noble women who simply bared the next heir.
She didn’t seem old enough to have the experience for the motherly displays she showed the prince. Perhaps she had siblings that she helped raise. There was something maternal about the Duchess at times, she even displayed it subtly with himself.
It was strange that he liked it, he was a grown man and a noble after all. His own mother never neglected him, but James knew he was always a tool to her. A way to get back at his father… He turned his thoughts away from such things. “Is what you told the prince true?” James asked curiously.
"Taking no magic into account, yes, it's true." Malia nodded - she had read many the survivalist adventure novels, many well-researched on the physiology involved.
But she was more interested in both the way he seemed surprised by the child's affection and her ease in dealing with him. "Does that surprise you?" She had been a mother, a grandmother, and had spent her prime years reading aloud to children Elliot's age on summer afternoons in the library. She knew the ropes - but she was done with them, with living a life all about caring for others. It was her time to shine, now, and setting up a positive image in the crown prince's eyes was one part of that. "It is I who should be surprised, should I not?" An amused smile pulled at her lips and she almost make a joke about the heartless uncle, but then a messenger arrived at the door. By his uniform, he was one of the Royal Captains, and his presence raised Malia's eyebrows in concern. He was of too high a rank to be in the kitchens…
"Duke Castile," he greeted, with relief and a bow. He extended a still-sealed document. "A… proclamation, from the West, my lord."
James furrowed his brow heavily. “A proclamation?” he repeated the man’s words. Picking up a knife from the table the Duke cut the seal easily with a frown set on his features. As he read the paper within it his face changed to a hard, angry scowl.
“Insufferable bitch!” he snarled eyes flashing green Castile slammed the knife into the table leaving it embedded in the wooden surface.
"What is it?" Malia asked, insistent, and she stood up as she plucked the paper away from James and lifted it to read herself. Having lost faith in the Paxton reign…. Rossi, Queen of the West… vampires, legal citizens…
The paper crumpled in Malia's hands, when they fisted in outrage. Fire burned through her heart. "How fucking dare she!" the Duchess seethed, her mind reeling. "If she wanted to be Queen, she could have had Philip…" It was true, even if it was disrespectful of the late king to say. Shaking the paper as if it were a wayward child, Malia went on, angrily, "Why would she do this to Eventyr?"
For a moment the Duke looked like he would unleash violence on anyone who even made the mistake to step on his shadow. James Castile was livid, which made his other self murderous with Francesca Rossi as the target. He couldn’t feed the beast, or he would never keep it contained.
“Why wouldn’t she do this to Eventyr?” he growled out, turning on Malia but staying put in his spot. “This world took her family”. But he had no sympathy for his former love, because he had no heart. But he could hate her, he needed no heart for that. And that last shred of what he was did, he hated Francesca with a cold determination.
She was going to force his hand, and make him become the last thing he wanted to be…