in which nolando calls christein
Amadhay didn’t have to hear the call between Nolando and Christein to know it had been awkward.
The brothers hardly ever talked to each other except in court functions when it was necessary to put up a front of a combined, loving First Family. In fact, if Amadhay had to guess which of Nolando’s siblings was his least favorite, she would say Christein, no competition. So no, she didn’t need to hear the conversation, but she had.
It was purely by coincidence (and though she’s not sure that she believes in coincidences anymore, she can’t imagine a situation where her hearing the conversation would benefit Atlas in any way, so she’ll say coincidence until she’s proven otherwise) that she happened to stumble upon an irate Nolando. He hadn’t left her bedside except when absolutely necessary in the four days she had been recovering in the medical wing. He and Anne had switched between themselves in engaging her with unimportant, prattling chatter, obviously shying away from the big questions like how she was alive, why she had pretended to be dead, where she’d been the past year, why she had come to them now, what had happened to her. They even shied around asking her where in the world she had found a pegasus, instead choosing to talk around the subject in telling her that he was being taken well care of and that she’d be able to see him as soon as she was well enough to walk far enough to go to the stables. So when she had awakened to see neither the king nor queen hovering around her, she had taken the opportunity to get out of the bed and let off some of her pent up energy.
She couldn’t even say that she was actually healed well enough to be running around or to jump on Grits and go back to a Phoegani base. No, she definitely wasn’t at a point where she could do the latter. Ribbon’s blood had managed to get into her wounds and it had done some bad things to her body and its healing. So, at the very least, she had learned that the next time she had to fight a blood witch not to get their blood in her body. But she was well enough to walk around at a leisurely pace without Anne or Nolando fussing at her.
Now the irate Nolando that she had stumbled upon had his back to the door, where she stood, and was talking to Arche Loralyn, his mother, who was trying to comfort him.
“Why do you need Christein, Nolando?” the sickly woman asked gently. The hologram of her was sitting in a low seat, her dark hair pulled back and her face concerned.
“I need to talk to the bastard,” he snapped at his mother, who didn’t look offended, though Nolando immediately apologized. “Sorry, Mother. It’s just, he’s been keeping secrets. And I don’t like it. So I need to talk to him immediately.”
“What secrets?” the lady asked worriedly.
Nolando looked away from her hologram, to the wall. “I’m not sure that I can—”
“That’s fine, I understand,” she cut him off, though her tone said otherwise. If anything, she sounded more worried about the situation now that Nolando wouldn’t tell her what was going on. Either way, she gave him Monkey’s contact information. He tersely ended the call with his mother to call his brother quickly, not taking a moment of pause between the two to calm himself.
Monkey answered on the first ring. “Who is this?” he demanded warily. He didn’t have the settings to give him a hologram, so it was just his voice that came through. Just the sound of Monkey’s voice made Amadhay feel a little better. But at the same time, she also tensed a little. She wasn’t sure that he would believe her when she said that she had escaped.
“Why the deepest depth of Water have you had Amadhay pretending to be dead?” Nolando demanded instead of exchanging false pleasantries.
“Why have you been hiding her? What have you been doing to her?” there was so much accusation in his voice that Amadhay started to step forward, started to say something in Monkey’s defense, but she didn’t need to because Monkey didn’t let it bother him.
“Do you know where she is?” he demanded, sounding anxious. “Have you seen her?”
“She’s here. Safe with me.”
Monkey was silent for a few clicks. “She’s there?”
“She came here, battered and almost dead. Funny, considering I thought she was dead. And all I could get out of her about that was that you knew and not to tell anyone else. So what have you been doing to her?”
“If I was the one who did that to her, do you really think she’d have told you to tell me?” Monkey snapped. “I’m coming right now. Don’t let her go anywhere.”
“Where would she go?” Nolando snapped back, but Monkey had already hung up. “Bastard,” the golden aelfe muttered under his breath.
“He can’t be a bastard,” Amadhay said, announcing her presence. “You were first and you have the same parents.”
Nolando turned quickly to her, rushing to her side. She batted his hands away when he tried to brace her against him.
“You shouldn’t be out of bed,” he chastised her softly.
“I hurt my throat, not my legs,” she deflected, wincing when she had to cough. Her throat was still incredibly raw and her voice was lower, raspier than normal. It gave her a sort of sexy, husky tone and she hoped that she got to keep it. It made her sound more mature.
“And your ankle and your head. Come on, let’s get you back in bed,” he told her, putting his arm around her and trying to lead her back to the medical wing despite her protests.
“Monkey didn’t do this to me,” she told Nolando.
He gave her a confused look for a moment before nodding. “Christein,” he said. She nodded, having forgotten that other people didn’t call him Monkey. She had been away for so long from people who called Christein anything, that she almost forgot his real name most times.
“I know you care about him, but if he—”
Amadhay stopped, shaking her head. She placed her hand on Nolando’s chest to cut him off. “Monkey didn’t do this to me. I haven’t seen him in six months.”
Nolando’s eyes widened as he stared at her. “Where have you been?” he asked softly.
Amadhay was spared having to answer by a small boy running up to her and Nolando. His sandy blond hair and hazel eyes made her very much aware that she was looking at little Leondo. The last time she had seen him, he had still been trying to figure out what his feet were for. The realization that she had been away from her family for long enough that the little boy probably had no idea who she was made her instantly, incredibly sad.
“Hey there Leo,” Nolando said, scooping the boy up into his arms. The little boy squealed as his father tickled him and Amadhay smiled, watching the two.
“May-Yay?” the little boy asked pointing at Amadhay, making Nolando shake his head.
“Nuh-uh Leo, that’s Aunt Amadhay.”
“Mad-day?” he asked, making Amadhay laugh at the sweet little boy.
“Exactly,” she said. This was what family was supposed to feel like, she told herself. She had a family. She should never have traded that in for the Palnoki.
“Leo?” Anne’s voice came, echoed by a little girl’s.
Amadhay looked questioningly to Nolando, who was setting Leo on his feet. “Go tell your mommy that we’re going to the big room,” he told the little boy before nudging him in the direction Anne’s voice had come. Once the little boy was off running again, Nolando looked to Amadhay. “Come on,” he ordered, allowing her to walk on her own after him.
She followed, albeit slowly, as he led her down the hallway, and to an incredibly ornate door. The handles were in the form of two ivory elephants fighting. Inside was even more ornate, with maroon velvet wall hangings on every wall and a grand table in the center of the room, a polished cedar wood. The chairs around the table were cushioned, with one especially ornate chair at either end of the table. The ornate ones were where Anne and Nolando were meant to sit, she could tell by the elephant tusks inlaid at the head of the two seats in the Tierdormo family crest.
Instead of sitting there, Nolando led her to a smaller, more intimate table. There were only five seats at this one and the chairs were for comfort rather than grandiose spectacle like the other seats. He pulled out one of the seats for her and she willingly sat down, feeling a bit out of sorts as he pushed her seat in.
He sat across the table from her. “Let’s talk,” he said.
Amadhay swallowed, knowing that he probably wanted answers and that she owed them to him for taking her in and nursing her to health. She just wasn’t sure how much she could tell him. He didn’t understand things like Monkey did. She knew that if she told him too much, he would probably declare war on not only the Palnoki, but the Phoegani as well. He would go to war with his own father if he knew the whole truth.
She didn’t want that. While he had a pretty antagonistic relationship with Arne Riff already, the last thing she wanted was a war. So she was going to have to lie. She was going to have to lie a lot.
She smiled. “Sure.”
Nolando waited, but she didn’t say anything. She was going to let him lead this conversation. It was safer that way. When he finally recognized she was waiting for him, he narrowed his eyes. “Where have you been?”
“Over the Water. I don’t know where,” she lied.
“Why were you there? What happened, Amadhay? I thought you were dead. We all did. Why would you have pretended to be dead?”
She took a deep breath, knowing what she was going to say. She had been creating her story for four days now and thought it was pretty good. “I made some bad decisions, Lando. I did something incredibly dangerous because I thought I was invincible, but I’m not. When I realized that I wasn’t invincible and that people were going to come after me, I faked my death to stay safe. Monkey hid me, but six months ago, the people who wanted to hurt me, found me.” Until that last line, everything she had said was true if she stretched the truth a little. Now she was getting into the lies.
“They found me and they hurt Monkey so that he wouldn’t be able to help me until it was too late. They took me Over the Water and sold me. I was a slave for four months until I got away. When they found out I got away, I guess they looked for me. I had been hiding out with this group of, I don’t know, they called themselves Wanderers, but I think they were pirates. They were the ones with the pegasi. The people who wanted to find me did and they killed most of them. They tried to kill me, but one of the Wanderers saved me, put me on Grits, and sent us flying before the people could get me again.”
Nolando stared at her for a long moment, his disbelief turning to horrified belief when she didn’t flinch under his gaze. “What did you do?” he asked.
She shook her head. “I don’t want to talk about that. It’s in the past,” she said. She could have thought up hundreds of things she had actually done that would have fit in her story, but thought that keeping Nolando guessing there would be better for her in the long run. It kept names out of the equations.
As she had expected, Nolando didn’t want to, but reluctantly took that answer. “How did you get here?” he asked.
Now she gave him a confused smile. “I’m not really sure, honestly. I think I must have told Grits to bring me here. He did all the flying, I was just on for the ride.”
“And barely that,” Nolando muttered. “I don’t understand why you had to hide from all of us.”
Amadhay shrugged. “If they had thought that I was alive and you, any of you knew, these people would have no problem attacking royalty or high court to get to me. I messed up bad.”
Nolando eyed her for a long moment. “Would this mess up have to do with why your eyes are red?”
Amadhay flushed, looking away from her cousin. She had forgotten about that. She was so used to it, that it didn’t even occur to her. The red eyes were an obvious sign to anyone looking that she was an aelfe practicing high dark magic. She nodded, choosing not to look at her cousin.
Before he could ask another question, they could hear a loud, angry male voice arguing with Anne.
“Tell me where she is!” he yelled. Amadhay jolted, recognizing Christein’s voice now that she was listening.
“If you would calm down, I would take you to her!” Anne yelled right back, never one to just take disrespect. “And if you don’t, I can have you escorted out right now.”
Both of their voices lowered and Amadhay and Nolando exchanged glances. Nolando started to get up to check on the two, but before he was fully out of his seat, the doors swung open to reveal a fuming Anne carrying a female toddler and leading an anxious Christein behind her, Leo following Monkey close behind at his reptilian tail.
Amadhay knew the moment Christein saw her. The tension in his face eased into a mixture of disbelief and hope. He moved forward even faster, pushing right past Anne, who glared after him. He didn’t even seem to notice, as focused as he was on Amadhay’s face. He started to gather her into his arms, but paused, holding back.
“Why do you call me the nickname you do?” he asked.
It broke Amadhay’s heart that he felt the need to check if she was really herself and not just someone pretending to be her. What hurt more was that if she had been a Palnoki double, that question could have been answered anyway. “You’re my Monkey because I was an incredibly confused child and thought your tail was a monkey tail,” she told him softly.
Before she even finished her final word, he pulled her into his arms, giving her the type of hug that he had only given her twice before: once when she was five, right after her parents had been killed and they had found her in the middle of a burning room, still holding her mother’s hand, and the second time when she had come back from her last mission with Maria, when she had almost been raped.
“Goddess, I thought we had lost you,” he whispered into her hair. “Ben and I have been trying to find some trace of you for six months,” his voice broke, “But we couldn’t find anything. We kept following the Palnoki. We tried to corner—”
“Shh,” Amadhay spoke, rubbing his back. She had to recognize the irony of the situation. She was comforting him after she had been missing for six months. “I know. I’m fine.”
“Fine isn’t what I would call you,” he said, finally pulling back from her. His eyes focused on the still puffy stitches on her throat. “What did they do to you?”
She shook her head, silently telling him that she didn’t want to go into it yet, not with Nolando and Anne around and listening. She glanced from him to her other cousin, who was watching them with wary eyes. She wasn’t sure why he looked at them that way, but also couldn’t find it in her to care. She hugged Christein again and he let her, though he didn’t hug her again this time.
“I suppose now would be a good time to talk?” Anne suggested, sitting down beside Nolando and bouncing the toddler on her knee. Amadhay reluctantly pulled back from Monkey, pulling on his hand to force him to sit in the seat directly next to her. He pulled the seat closer to hers and sat there, draping his arm protectively over her shoulders.
“Sure. Let’s talk,” Monkey answered for her, putting on his unpalatable mask in place of the true look they had all had into him a few clicks ago.
Anne gave him a long, disapproving look before looking to Nolando, who was eyeing the pair of them with concern. She forced a smile and focused on Amadhay. “Are you going to continue to pretend to be dead?” she asked, her bluntness a part that Amadhay normally liked about her.
“Yes,” she answered before either of her cousins could answer for her. Nolando frowned while Monkey nodded down at her. “I mean, the same people are still going to be after me if I suddenly come back and am alive. For right now, they think I’m dead. But if I announce my alive-ness, they will come for me and they might come after family or friends to get to me. It’s better if I stay hidden.”
Anne didn’t look convinced. Nolando looked ready to argue. Monkey jumped in to add to her argument. “You probably think you can keep her safe, but you can’t. These people came into a highly guarded safe place, just four of them, and took out me, two of my friends, and a handful of other, incredibly powerful and normally competent people. They took Amadhay right from us and hid her for six months with no trace even though we were looking for her from the moment we realized that she was missing, which was probably before they even managed to get out of the safe place.
“You can’t keep her safe. I can’t even keep her safe. They think she’s really dead this time. I say we keep it that way.”
“And in the meantime, she’ll just stay hidden wherever you put her?” Nolando demanded, his eyes narrowed enough for Amadhay to know that the problem he had with this plan wasn’t her staying ‘dead,’ but with Monkey being the one she stayed safe with. “If you can’t keep her safe, why should we keep her with you?”
“Because I choose to go with him,” Amadhay interrupted Nolando, crossing her arms over her chest. “He might have made a mistake once, but he won’t do it again. He’ll keep me safe this time.” She glanced at Monkey, who had a dark expression and wouldn’t look at her. He pulled his arm from her shoulders and crossed his arms over his chest as well.
“I’m sorry Amadhay, but you don’t really have a say in this matter,” Anne said, immediately angering Amadhay. “You are still just a child,” she stressed the word, glaring at Christein. “And given that the Arne Riff and Arche Loralyn are not privy to this decision, it lays with Nolando, as the eldest of your First Family.”
“That’s wormshit,” Amadhay cursed, choosing not to care when Anne gave her a warning look. “I’m no more a child than the three of you are.”
Both Nolando and Christein shook their heads. “She’s right,” Nolando said first.
“You haven’t hit the majority yet. Legally—”
Amadhay cut Christein off, standing up. Her anger made her flush as she slammed her palms on the table, shocking the dozing toddler, who started to cry despite Anne’s attempts to calm her. “Legally, I’m dead, so I’m pretty sure I can make whatever decisions I damned well please!” she yelled.
“I’ve made more important decisions on my own in the last six months than you three have made in the past six years so don’t tell me that just because I’m not nineteen yet that I’m not an adult. I’m not a child and haven’t been since I was nine.” She glared at Christein with her last sentence before leaving the room.