As a politician, a seductress, a woman, Malia liked to approach her encounters from a position of power. She wanted to know her desires and how she would extract them. On her first meeting in the Green Duke's home, she had known what she wanted him to commit, and what she was willing to do to gain it….
But tonight, she knew she was at the disadvantage. She was afraid, that was the long and short of it. Her pride was an issue… but a small one. She had another body, home in New York, that would die very shortly. Eventyr was all she had, and hanging onto this life was everything.
As a noble, Malia's residence was in the Noble's Quarter - it was a lovely estate. But James, as a relative of the royalty, had rooms in the castle. Her residence was resplendent, to be sure, but her discomfort even there had her wrapping a common cloak around her shoulders and venturing his way.
And when she arrived, Malia knocked, before whispering gently. "James."
The door opened slightly and the Green Duke, peered through the sliver between the heavy wood and the frame around it. “Duchess….?” he asked questionably. Castile was completely alone, having sent his own men to watch over Elliot with the King’s guard.
He pushed the portal wider and stepped back, a silent invitation to enter. “Is everything alright, or has some other misfortune reared its head?” James grunted out, looking...worn. He looked her over as if he were trying to read what was going on under that fine, smooth skin. “Come sit, my lady”.
Malia was surprised - in her glances - to find the Green Duke alone. He was powerful, and his men were loyal to him. But it wasn't only his influence she was attracted to. She stepped into his room easily, but gratefully. The first thing she did was to draw close, run her hands over his arms and chest, and whisper a greeting so soft that it might well have been thank you as good evening.
"No misfortune - yet," Malia answered. Her posture was tense and abrasive, and she tried to minimize that by removing her cloak and tossing it over a chair. She approached the Duke with tension in her posture, and she worried that made her seem like she was being dishonest when all she was was afraid...
But she grasped his elbows firmly, and her palms slid upward to appreciate the musculature there. Her lips brushed his. Very much, her body wanted to whisper notes of power, grab at threads of the same. But even as her young, vigorous body yearned, the rest of her could not go along. "Something is wrong, James. Something awful. And something bigger than you or I…"
The Duke was suddenly on high alert, body rigid and tense. His hands followed her arms to stop at Malia’s shoulders. “You know something, or you suspect...my Duchess?” he asked reaching up to push some loose hair behind her ear. Of course something was wrong by all accounts, the king was dead and someone had the gall to try to assassinate the prince regent. But he was interested if she had some news that was foreign to him…. Or to discern if perhaps she was part of it...
He glanced over at the rack holding his armor like a strange metal shadow, the only other occupant of the room. James brow furrowed slightly, and he turned to seat Malia on the edge of the large bed. “Pray tell what concerns bring you to me, my Duchess” he asked pulling his full attention to her and away from his other half.
Did she know, or did she suspect? The question was a simple one - was there evidence or not? - but it cut to existential levels for Malia. Did her book tell the truth? Or, was she projecting her otherwise acute political observations into her reading of its words? Usually, it did build on something she already knew, but there was nothing on her radar to merit the level of warning in its pages. "Cognito, ergo sum," Malia said, visibly frustrated as she tried to form an answer, wanting to be honest but unable to disclose everything, like she could to Jude. Quickly, she spurted out some gibberish: "All I know is that I am a thinking thing. Everything else could be a dream or an evil genius…" Descarte. When under pressure, Malia always found her way back to books.
Shaking her head, Malia let him place her on the bed and tried to abate her hysteria. "I suspect. I dread. Something terrible is coming. But I have no idea where, or when, or who, or why. I just feel it like… ice in my bones."
Tense as he was, she doubted it would work, but she gave his hand a tug to pull him to the bed's edge beside her. "If I knew who you needed to cut in half, I promise I would tell you. But all I know is that I'm afraid… and you're the only thing that I know will frighten the worst demons that my suspicions can conjure up." A smile that showed her own wear, her exhaustion, but also her need and desire, touched her lips. "Let me stay here tonight, James."
The Duke allowed himself to be pulled down to settle himself close to Malia, his fingers remained loosely laced with hers. Most men would ignore her suspicions as merely being a woman, whom’s sensibilities have seen too much recently. But James knew better than to just dismiss them as hysterics…or simple paranoia, there was nothing simple about Eventyr.
He reached up and pressed a cool hand against her cheek, and offered what he thought was an expression of reassurance. “Of course you may stay, my Duchess” he replied. It would be uncouth to turn her away when she was clearly in need of him… And James was a frank man, in that he clearly desired her there.
It was as if she were a physical tie to this place that was not his home, and he needed that. It weakened him to be away from the realm and the woods surrounding it for such long durations. “I have cider if you would like some?” he asked trying to recall what was good manners or even passable ones, and what might help calm the duchess’ frayed nerves.
Malia's hand settled over his, her cheek turning into his palm, warming it with the flush of exertion from both the walk and her worry. Her smile was appreciative if not exactly happy, and she nodded. "Cider would be lovely." Perfect for her mood - the sour pucker for her anxiety, notes of sweetness for reassurance, and just strong enough to quiet the harshest edges of her thoughts.
When James moved to serve it, Malia bent down to unlace her boots and realized that she had been wearing these for days now. Paranoid enough to think she would need to run at any moment, she had chosen her most comfortable, durable walking boots and left them safely on her feet ever since the warnings started. "If I were wise," Malia said, although her tone was now more relaxed as the fear center in her brain finally began to calm. "I would go home. And tell you to, as well." When she said it, she thought first of her icy fortress in the North, where few armies could march and even few creatures would be mobile enough to pose a threat. But then it occurred to her that she had an even safer fortress in her retirement home in New York, where nothing from Eventyr could touch her at all. But though the refuge was tempting - Malia, of all people, was keenly aware of her mortality - she couldn't go. "I cannot help feeling like Eventyr will need us."
James handed a goblet of polished carved wood from the East, with his realm’s fable cider instead. “Eventyr will always needs us, my duchess...especially now in this time of turmoil”. He knelt at the side of the bed and reached for her foot in a macabre mockery of the tale of Cinderella. But instead of slipping on a glass slipper, large cool hands rubbed her feet almost … reverently.
“But I need you to be my eyes and ears in the court, my Duchess. My presence tends to silence conversations among the nobles, even their secretive whispers”. His eyes shifted their gaze along her leg up to her face, and his mouth curled slyly at one side. “You would have my...gratitude, my Duchess” he purred lifting her foot to his mouth to kiss the inside of her ankle.
Malia laughed. It was authentic amusement, even if the mirth was torn from lungs tight with anxiety. "You do make an impression," she joked, dryly, as she took a sip of the offered cider. It was enough to be the King's illegitimate brother, but compound that with his reputation? It was more than enough to make the most notorious gossips close up shop.
The imagery was not lost on the Duchess when the younger man took her foot in his hands. But while he had the resume, at least, of a Prince Charming, she was no princess… but he didn't need to know that, did he? With a pleasured sigh, Malia leaned forward, a soft smile on her lips, and allowed herself a mindful moment to simply be present - she ignored her worries and instead focused on the softness of James' hair as she ran her fingers through it, the shape of his jawline as her thumb traced it…
She had no more information about the threat that kept her awake, but she had plenty more that James might well not have heard yet. "The headmaster had nothing to do with the attempt on Elliot's life - Sanya Nimr will see to his release. We ought not stop her, lest we appear unreasonable, but she will destroy Kardos' reputation, his credibility, while she is at it. Kardos might be incompetent, but the kingdom does not need to know that."
Malia sank back onto an elbow, breathing out tension as her eyes closed. "And the ladies are speculating that the Consort's child is not Philip's. They say that she was raped in the forest, perhaps by your infamous Marauders, and that her child belongs to Marcus the Vile himself..."
An disgruntled sound escape the Green Duke, as he kissed the inside of the duchess’ ankle. “Marcus has no connection to the enchanted forest, other than to use her as a hiding place. His and his men’s live on borrowed time in the Eastern realm” the Duke growled in an almost bitter tone.
He’d up the bounty on the cur’s head.
"Marcus is a parasite," Malia agreed, with so much distaste that she seemed to spit the words out as if they were laced with bile. Warlords were the worst to be found in Eventyr - even creatures could be excused because they did not choose their nature. While Malia had been preoccupied trying to get rid of their toxic king, she had every intention of helping in any way she could to help James rid the forest of the stink of the Marauders going forward.
"But, James, do think for me," Malia said, her head tilting a bit as she watched his expression carefully. Whatever spell had stolen his heart made him both easier and harder to understand on mere intuition. "For the Consort's child to be Philip's, he had to be in the forest that night with her. You saw him enter your estate - did he leave it?" There was no chance that James didn't know; with the King of Eventyr in his domain, there was no chance James had not known his every move, Malia was sure.
The Duke made an unsavory sound and looked away, brow furrowing deeply for a moment his hands paused their movement on Malia’s foot. “My Duchess be careful where you tread…” he said softly. He made a decision, “I know that the newborn is not the offspring of Marcus the Vile... and I also know he is not the son of Philip Paxton…. Certainly not in the traditional sense”.
His hands smoothed over her skin, “The forest takes, and it also gives… the late King picked my domain for a reason. But he took it and any other secrets to the grave….” No, Philip had not left the estate that day. And the forest had many secrets…. “It matters not, without Philip’s favor the crown will naturally go to Elliot as prince regent. What my half brother had planned for the consort and her child I was not privy to….”
Malia could only nod at the Duke's answer. While she had doubted very much that the child belonged to the outlaw, it honestly hadn't occurred to her until recently that the child wasn't truly the King's - why would Philip give away his bloodline? It would only make sense if Philip had zero doubt that he would live until Elliot's eighteenth birthday, and if he was that certain, then why take a Consort at all? Malia could only hope that James was wrong on one front: that the answers they sought went to the grave with Philip. After all, they could not be sure that the Royal Scholar and General would declare Sarnai - the illegitimate Consort - Queen tomorrow.
But that was tomorrow, and the longer Malia relaxed in the safety of the Duke's chamber, the more she felt the exhaustion of stress and uncertainty. So she reached down to pull James up into the bed with her. "Sleep with me tonight," she said, gently pulling at his clothes to make clear she meant both euphemistically and literally. "At daylight, put your armor on and keep it on until this danger passes, whatever it proves to be..."
Castile’s face remained expressionless at thoughts of whatever had been his half brother’s plans. He allowed Malia to pull at him and his clothing. “No secrets between us, my duchess… I am not some paid bodyguard…” he grunted out, and then placed a finger to her mouth in case she would protest. “...when it becomes clearer…” He seemed to understand that whatever method she used to discern there was danger, it was forthcoming in clarity.
His fingers moved to stroke her cheek in a gentle fashion, “I will do as you bid, my Duchess”. Yes, he would wear his armor and face whatever had filled her with fear in the morning. But tonight he would take what she offered, and give her the parts of him that were still….James, and not the Green Duke.
He unlaced her gown, intent to ease her fears of the coming day in at least physical activity of the most pleasant nature. She would be able to sleep afterwards, which was much needed, and he would keep her safe. Malia was his ally, his eyes and ears, that touch of life…