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Cold Feet, Warm Hands

By Scen

There had not been so grand a fête in the recent memory of the Empire as was had the night that Crown Prince Raphael was wed. After the newlywed couple had been appropriately paraded through the streets of Kasuto, the procession retired again to the Castle, whereupon an enormous banquet hall had been prepared. Anyone who had a name that was worth the knowing of it was invited; a throng of thousands of nobles with their attendants, with still room to spare within the cavernous ballrooms of the Hylian Royal Family.

Wealth and power, both of Hylian and Delvian stock, comingled freely; the event was devoid of the usual antipathies and racisms one might expect with so large a confluence of Hylian and Ticonderan bodies in the same chamber. The joy and optimism of the event itself, the promise that was had in the joining of Liana with Raphael, was just that overpowering.

Too overpowering, perhaps, even for the Prince himself. At the first chance he could take, he slipped away into a private antechamber. He sealed the door and drew the curtains, directing his personal guards to stand watch outside.

Then, all at once, the Prince threw himself down on the elegant sofa that dominated the center of the room. Exhausted, having had barely a chance to sit and rest for longer than ten minutes since the day began, he just sat and breathed. Relaxation took him over all too readily; he shut his eyes and simply smiled... admitting, truly admitting to himself, for the first time, that the day's arrangement would not be an entirely unpleasant state of affairs for him.

"Jewel of the Empire!" came a salutation from one of the darkened corners of the room, followed quickly by a laugh and the downing of some drink.

Raphael snapped to attention; despite the weariness, he came quickly to his feet and his hand flew to his sword hilt. Before him stood an elderly man, dressed in the fineries of a gentleman. He wore the paunch available only to those who had fully come to enjoy the opulence of royalty over a well-lived lifetime; his gray hair was close-cropped, and he wore a short, stubbly beard. Noting his round-topped ears and style of dress, Raphael guessed him to be a Delvian.

"Forgive my... inebriation, Prince," the old Delvian said -- his Hylian accent slurred by the drink, but otherwise flawless. "I mean no offense."

"I ordered this chamber sealed! How did you enter?" Raphael said. "Answer quick, or I shall alert my guards, and they shall not ask so nicely as this."

"If you sealed the chamber, then you sealed it with me inside," the Delvian said. "I tucked myself away in here to enjoy the quiet drink without the inconvenience of my wife's voice. Must have fallen asleep... in that chair, there. I swear, Prince, our meeting here was as innocent as your sweet young bride."

Raphael eased off. He silently cursed himself; he could have sworn he had checked the room before he had it sealed.  

"Very well, then," Raphael said, as he sheathed his sword. "I do not care to go to the bother of discovering a new hiding place. For the moment, you may consider yourself my friend and my company, while I hide from the burdens of the well-wishers."

"A sound plan, my Prince!" the Delvian said. With a gesture, Raphael invited him to sit on the opposite end of the sofa. Before he did so, the old Delvian extended a hand. "Accept a humble Ticonderan's greeting and warm handshake, Prince. My name is Markos, of the old Delvian House of Romus."

Raphael cringed, just looking at Markos' hand. He sniffed the air around the drunken old man, and wrinkled his nose. "I... don't usually... like touching people."

Markos laughed. "Fair enough! Let us sit, then."

The two men sat. Raphael leaned back and tried closing his eyes once more, while Markos continued nursing his drink.

"You know, I almost think I might die if I didn't always have plenty of ale to drink," Markos observed, pleasantly. "There're many a Ticonderan who think as I do, Prince."

"Then they will be more than happy here with what my father has provided them," Raphael said, with a smirk.

"Your father's not a bad fellow, really." Markos said. "Met him once, or twice, I have. My family's riches come off trade in your Empire. Your father has been most kind to us, he has."

Raphael gave a high, grunting laugh, raising his eyebrows tellingly. "Why yes, he certainly has. I rather think his affection for Ticondera rivals that of most Ticonderans."

Markos smiled, nodding as he took another swig off his bottle. "You are as most Hylia are, when they think on us Ticonderans." Markos laughed and gave Raphael a playful punch on his shoulder. "But you'll come round, soon enough... Likely, after tonight's become tomorrow."

"Through Ticonderan magical liquors, perhaps?" Raphael said.

"Through magical Delvian quim's more like!" Markos laughed and drank some more.

Raphael glared at the old man. "I must warn you that I don't care for what passes as 'charm' in your Ticondera... should you speak of my wife in so crude a fashion again, my Sheikah will make you disappear, and I shall soon after forget you."

"I'm just saying, Prince," Markos declared. "Not many a man's able to hate us so strong after our women've got hold of him. You're in for a life-altering experience later tonight I wager."

"Indeed," Raphael said. He shut his eyes again, and went quiet.

Markos observed him. "You've really no love for us, have you?"

"'Love' is truly not a word I might use," Raphael said.

"... And for your father as well, I suppose," Markos said.

"My disagreements with my father are my own," Raphael declared. Then, his eyes shot open. "... Few though they be," he said quickly, trying to draw as little attention to his backstepping as possible.

Markos smiled, darkly. "No, Prince. No need to hide. No point in it, either. I saw you and he make a few exchanges at the banquet. I saw it in the way you moved, Prince. Your disagreements run deeper than you admit."

Raphael sat forward and sighed. "What would an old drunk Delvian know of it?"

Markos continued smiling. "Enough," he said. "I was a young lad once, myself. Set to inherit the family business. I remember I used to watch my father, gritting my teeth as I expected he would bring us all to ruin on the grace of his stupidity. I never knew happiness so profound, my Prince, as the day he passed the mantle on to me. So I could correct all that he'd done wrong."

Raphael said nothing.

"They say there's wisdom comes with age. But look at me, Prince. Look at me."

Raphael turned his head, regarding the old man.

"I'm a drunken shell of the man I was. A poor shade of the vigor, insight and vitality I had when my hair was the same color as yours. I don't play like I'm still king of my realm; I've not the energy to put on that kind of act. My son has run our estate for some ten years now, while I enjoy the pasture as my advanced age suits."

Raphael stood quickly, growing increasingly uncomfortable with Markos' speech.

"Perhaps we should rejoin the party," Raphael said.

"Forgive me," Markos said, standing uneasily. "I meant... meant no offense, my Prince. All I mean to say, sir, is that I understand how you must feel. Even on this, your happy occassion... I know what venom must boil behind those pretty young eyes of yours."

Markos rested a hand on Raphael's shoulder, and gave a gentle squeeze.

"Yes," Markos said. "Let us return to the party now. I'd best see to my wife before she suspects me of accosting the serving girls... again." Markos laughed -- and, finally, Raphael laughed (slightly, silently) with him. "May I call on you again later, Prince? To see how married life suits you. Perhaps you might even help me find a wealthy Hylian match for my son."

"... I do not suppose I would mind that," Raphael said. He smiled, grimly, and turned to face Markos. He extended one of his hands. "Thank you for the talk."

Markos grinned, and clasped Raphael's hand in his.

"It has been entirely my pleasure, Prince."

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