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Last edited by Aurora on 2010-08-29 23:44:53

A Prince's Burden

By Aurora

It was with increasing weariness that Prince Raphael returned to his banquet, to his adoring--and one could say, sycophantic--court. As exhausted as he was by all of this, it was necessary. It was more necessary than it had ever been, particularly of late. There were no small number of social-climbing cretins to deal with, of course, but even those served a purpose. Even as they fawned over him, attempting to curry his favor in this or that dispute, it served a purpose. Raphael would learn which families were at odds with each other, how they were jockeying for power, whose counsel could be trust and whose could be dismissed as poisoning the well against others. He would learn where allegiances lay, which ones were strongest, and which were most susceptible to...encouragement. And Raphael was a master of such information gathering, with his considerable charm and charisma. In a single, deceptively simple conversation filled with seeming banalities and idle gossip, Raphael could glean a thousand small details that would be filed away in his keen mind.

This was why Raphael was so valuable to the Empire. Because he understood this game far better than his father ever did, and always had, even before the melancholia took hold. His father was a good man, a decent man, but such rulers truly did not understand what it meant to be an Emperor of men. They did not understand what it truly took to hold together such disparate races, to maintain peace, to keep trade flowing. In truth, Raphael believed his father had always feared his own power, and it was perhaps the reason why his mind found it so simple to shrink from it now. Why it was so easy for him to be lost in fantasies of the past, of regret for what could have been. Raphael was not callous, however; he understood the pain of loss. But unlike his father, he did not have the luxury of mourning his mother. Oh, he did, in a thousand quiet moments when not even Sheikah eyes were upon him. There was an Empire to run, however, there was a legacy to uphold, there was the mask of Imperial invincibility to wear for the reassurance of the people. The people's faith in the Crown Imperial absolutely had to be maintained. Raphael would be that rock. It was all too clear Harkinian could not.

The Emperor's seat at the imperial family's table upon the dais was empty, naturally, and he was nowhere to be seen anywhere; the plate barely touched, as usual, the wine goblet conspicuously missing. Harkinian frequently spent his nights in listlessness before the family shrine, and if this night were like any other, Raphael surmised he had likely drank himself to sleep at the foot of Nayru's altar. He hoped that this time, he had merely exhausted himself from screaming curses at Her, rather than destroying it again in a fit of rage. The current altar was the fifth to be dedicated.

Raphael forced those thoughts from his mind and instead focused on cold observation. And that old Ticonderan scoundrel's words remained with him, as irritated as the Prince had been by the whole exchange at the time. They echoed in his thoughts as he flitted gracefully from noble to noble, gleaning the truth behind veiled sentiments and inquiries. As he did so, it became abundantly clear to him that they were seeing what the courtiers had been seeing, despite Raphael's best efforts to pretend everything was fine. There were too many inquiries about his father's health; glamours could hide from them the sunken eyes, the unusual thinness of frame, the whitening of his hair, but they could not hide his slouch, his listless murmurings, the almost aggressive apathy of his general demeanor. There were limits even to magic.

It was when he took his leave from King Fairan of Termina that Raphael spied his younger brother again at last, from the corner of his vision. He had been so caught up in all the pomp and politicking that he had not truly been able to speak with him, other than the usual idle pleasantries at dinner. Aidan smiled at him, a wine goblet in his hand, and Raphael's expression turned genuinely affectionate. He had sincerely missed him, and it was good to see him again. "Aidan," Raphael greeted him, embracing him warmly.

"I didn't think I'd be able to speak with you," Aidan replied, chuckling. "What, with all your adoring public flocking about you like tittering birds." Raphael could not help but laugh at that, and tilted his head toward a quiet, secluded antechamber of the grand ballroom, gesturing toward the ever present Sheikah guards with a distinct hand motion: we are not to be disturbed.

"I'm glad you came," Raphael said, as his brother followed him there and leaned against the wall.

"I wouldn't have missed this for anything," Aidan said with a grin. "I just can't believe it. You're actually married now."

"It's rather difficult for me to believe, myself," Raphael chuckled, unconsciously letting his eyes fall to the newest ring on his finger, a gleaming gold band etched with Hylian runes and set with a dazzling, jeweled Triforce. "I suppose the reality of it will set in eventually."

Aidan took a sip from his goblet. "She's a real catch, Raph. Absolutely gorgeous. You're a lucky man."

Raphael's eyes followed his brother's gaze to the new Crown Princess Imperial, standing some feet away, demurely fanning herself and charming the ladies of court.  "There could have been far worse matches," he replied softly.

"You don't sound terribly enthused," Aidan said, cocking his eyebrow at him. Raphael shrugged a bit.

"I meant what I said. Liana's clever, and is clearly well-versed in Hylian customs. And you see how utterly stunning she is."

"It's Nira, isn't it?"

Raphael sighed, his gaze turning to his feet. Aidan was the only person who knew what had been going on between Raphael and his Sheikah bodyguard. Raphael did not even have to tell him; Aidan was simply that astute. To his credit, he'd kept the knowledge in confidence. Aidan always seemed able to cut right through his facades, then and now, and although it pained Raphael to be reminded of her, there was a part of the elder prince that felt a sense of relief that he had someone to confide in again. "We both knew the risks, Aidan. I can't afford to have this...sentimentality hanging about my neck like an albatross. You see what such notions have done to Father."

Aidan snorted somewhat derisively, and sipped from his goblet again. "That's ridiculous, Raph. You love each other. That's something to be cherished, not--ugh." He shook his head, sighing. "Sometimes I curse this accident of birth. I really do."

"I have a responsibility to this Throne and to these people," Raphael said a bit coldly. "Wishing vainly that I don't will not change that. Some of us do not have the luxury of running off to the hinterlands to flee from our responsibilities. Some of us need be stronger than that."

"I haven't run from anything," Aidan snapped, his eyes flashing in uncharacteristic anger. "I have not run from a damned thing. I do not run. I have a calling, Raphael. The Lady of Courage has called me to serve her. I didn't just come back for your damned wedding, or to listen to you accuse me of rank cowardice. How dare you."

"How dare I?" Raphael snapped, barely suppressed rage bubbling out. "How dare you cower behind some fanciful notion of religion to justify running off to play at meaningless heroism, when this family needed you. I alone have sacrificed, I alone have held this Empire together for the last five years. While you were traipsing about the mountains I was left to maintain this ridiculous fiction that Father is perfectly well, I wrote his damned speeches, I issued orders and proclamations, I heard the counsel of the Sages, I put down separatists and put out the proverbial fires, I carried out the Emperor's justice. And all the while, I had to reach out and drag Father back to some semblance of awareness when he drifted off to that empty place of silence, I was left to dress his wounds when his diseased mind made him take knives to his own flesh and I was left to conjure the glamours to hide the scars. And in the midst of all of this, I had to protect our precious sister from all of this, I had to tell her all manner of lies so that she did not have to see Father falling apart the way I did. I had to hold Zelda while she cried for Mother. And where were you, Aidan, if not running?"

He did not realize when it began, but Raphael was crying. For perhaps the first time in as many years, when the full weight of this terrible burden threatened to crush him. He was shaking, then, filled with rage. How dare Aidan, indeed, with his convenient fantasies. Would that Raphael had the luxury to chase such romantic foolishness. How dare he leave him, alone, to shoulder this burden. For a moment, Aidan looked as though he were going to deck him, but his eyes softened at the tears; his face grew crestfallen, perhaps as he began to comprehend that terrible burden, and the utter loneliness that came with it.

"Forgive me, Raphael," Aidan whispered. "I'm sorry."

Raphael allowed his younger brother to draw him into a tight embrace, then, and closed his eyes to let the tears flow in silence, the mask utterly shattered. It felt incredibly cathartic. Five years of pent up emotion, of anger and resentment toward Aidan, of grief toward their parents, simply poured out of him.

"By the Gods, I would have come back had I known. I would have, I swear it," Aidan said. "I'm so sorry. I--I had no idea."

"What is past is past," Raphael finally said, pulling away from him, and coolly wiping his tears away with the silk handkerchief in the pocket inside his mantle. "There is the future to be concerned with; that can be changed."

"Has he truly...deteriorated so?" Aidan's tone was scarcely above a whisper.

"Yes," Raphael answered with a grim nod. "There is little more that can be done to hide the truth. I will be forced to make some difficult decisions, before too long."

"We," Aidan corrected him, downing the rest of the goblet. "I'm staying, brother. I've been gone too long. I realize that, now."

Raphael blinked. That had not been expected. "Truly?"

"Aye. I plan on taking holy orders at the Sapphire Aegis. I've already spoken with High Priestess Melynd."

"Perhaps I misjudged you," Raphael said with a faint smile, by way of apology.

"You frequently do," Aidan said a bit wryly. However, Raphael's mind was already clicking in calculation. Aidan's return to Kasuto, while personally gratifying to Raphael, might unfortunately prove to be a bit inconvenient to him. Certainly, Aidan bore little love for the trappings of power, and never had. But having another beloved Prince Imperial around was dangerous. Having someone to question his decision making, someone with the authority to truly take issue with it, was not something Raphael relished, even if the likelihood of it happening was unlikely.

Still, the benefits outweighed the risks--and having Aidan join the priesthood would rather neatly take care of any problems, while presenting some interesting possibilities. While they held no direct power over governance, the Priesthood of the Three was highly influential, particularly among the Sages. An ally with the loyalty of blood in the priesthood would be invaluable to have, particularly with the dangerous road Raphael would have to traverse in the coming weeks and months. The sodden Ticonderan's words came back to him yet again. Something would have to be done about his father. What precisely that was, Raphael still did not know, but regardless of the course of action, he would need support, and the legitimacy of the priesthood backing him. Support that would be far easier to obtain with Aidan, his beloved brother, counted among their number.

Feeling lighter than he had in days, Raphael smiled, and kissed his brother upon the cheek. "Forgive me, Aidan, but I think I'll be retiring for the evening."

"It's been a long day," Aidan agreed, stretching a bit. He then nudged Raphael, with a rather silly grin on his face. "Something tells me you won't be getting much sleep, though."

Raphael laughed, checking his reflection in the window nearby for any remaining visible sign that something had been awry (and there was not), then narrowed his eyes in appraisal as he crossed to where Liana stood waiting for him. Clearly, the same thing was on her mind; her smile not nearly so mysterious to him as it was to the people around her. He bowed deeply to her, the very picture of regality and grace, and kissed her hand. "Shall we take our leave at last, Princess?"

Liana returned his bow with a curtsey no less graceful. "I believe so, my Prince," she answered with deceptive sweetness, her lilting accent lovely to Raphael's ears. He offered her his arm

"Thank you all, my friends. It has been an honor and a privilege to have you all here this night, to celebrate such a joyous occasion with our family," Raphael announced rather grandly, projecting his voice across the vast ballroom through the use of his magic. "But I am afraid that my lovely bride and I must bid you all a fair eve. May the Goddesses keep you safe--and upright, for those of you who celebrated perhaps a bit too heartily."

Laughter echoed through the ballroom, and was only silenced by the sounding of the herald's rich horn.

"All hail the Crown Prince and Princess Imperial!"

Raphael utterly savored the cheers and applause as the Sheikah formed up once more and he exited the hall with a triumphant expression to bows and smiles, his beautiful new Ticonderan wife on his arm.

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