The horses trotted to the hammering of the carriage wheels churning against the mouldered road. The knights blocked the already tinted windows, guarding us too safely. Cael, with his eyes closed, leaned his body backwards to steady his head on the soft cushioning of the headrest. Not a word crept from his lips. Not a move escaped from his joints. He was so still, so overbearingly serene that I felt my stomach stir, knotting itself to tethers. I gulped several times while holding onto my hands tightly. I had to think now. What story would I fabricate?
          A knock suddenly hit the window. “Your Highness.” The carriage halted just as one of the knights opened the door. “We have arrived.” This arrival was to one of the side entrances of the Palace, one that hardly anyone used for it was too far from the main quarters. Even the knight muttered, “Your Highness, are you certain that this is your destination?”
          Cael’s eyes now opened, shooting a ruthless glare. “Where would my destination be then?”
          “I understand, Your Highness.” The knight bowed.
          As he descended from the carriage, he extended his palm towards me and asked, “My dear sister, would you please?”
          It would be a lie to say that I was unhesitant. Still, I gradually reached my hand out. Surprisingly, he gripped onto my fingers.
          “Careful there,” he added.
          I just grinned while he dismissed the knights with a wave. When all of the horses had galloped forth, he walked to an arched, stoned entrance with a heavy, copper door installed. In fact, there were no door handles or slits that showed the door frame. It might have been better to have called this a copper wall. Cael now whistled with his two fingers and the door slid open.
          Already on a knee, Beau greeted, “You called . . . Your Highness?”
          “Do not cast your head downwards. Be courteous and greet someone very dear to me.” Another smile leaked from Cael’s mouth. I hadn’t wanted a formal introduction of each other to be this way, yet Cael strived to create a stringent ambience.
          “Please forgive me, Your Highness, and please forgive me.” Beau hesitantly lifted his head. “I beg your pardon, I do not know how to address my lady.”
          Once our eyes met, I was sure that the two of us already knew what could have happened. That inkling of fear was shrouding our minds. Cael . . . what did you have in plan?
          While stepping in the entry, Cael hooted and gave a pat on Beau’s shoulder. That pat was more like a firm squeeze. “You surely do not know the Princess?” He eyed Beau carefully, causing Beau looked away. “So you lie to me?” Cael tightened his grip.
          I saw Beau gulp and immediately felt my stomach churn. “Cael, I came here to explain myself and to know more about your situation, not to cause conflict,” I explained.
          Cael at once released his hand from Beau’s shoulder, and then offered his hand. “Then, my dear sister, shall we commence?”
          I answered, “Yes, brother.”
          I glimpsed at Beau, who trailed behind. This was the first time I had seen him clothed in a guard’s uniform. There was the navy blazer with two columns of golden buttons running side by side. Hanging from his shoulders were golden tassels and his hands were gloved with the colour of cream. Like Calla though, he wore the same mask. They were probably the only masked servants in this kingdom.   
          Cael led us down a path shaded by coniferous trees until we reached a grey-stoned cottage with the same arched doorway and a flat, auburn roof. What was obscure about this home was that there were no windows. It resembled an elaborate prison, cold and elusive to dispel people.
          Cael now interrupted my thoughts, “You must be wondering where we are. This place used to confine mentally disturbed royals, but it was abandoned after Nestor advised the King that living in the countryside would be more appropriate for them. Now, it is under my care and . . . Beau, why do you not tell the Princess more about this place?”
          “This is . . . where I reside.” Beau’s voice seemed muffled by the mask.
          He unlocked the door with a heavy, metallic key, and held it open for Cael and me. I was astounded by how dim the area was. There were no candles, no form of light seeping in. Instead, there was only perpetual darkness.
          Cael ordered, “Beau, light the candles.”
          “Yes, Your Highness,” he answered and proceeded to complete the task of illuminating the candles that hung from the walls of the extensive hallway.
          With a lit candle in his hand, Cael advanced forward to what it seemed like a bedroom. It was odd how this bedroom was placed at the end of the hallway and it was more bizarre for there were no doors separating it from the hallway. I saw to my left a small, wooden bed, too small to fit such a tall man like Beau. To my right was a round desk with two chairs placed across from each other.
          “Sit,” Cael demanded. Once I had obeyed, Cael first asked, “So, what is it that you would like to know?”
          I stated, “I know there are two of you, but I just want to know how it came to be.”
          “I want to know how you discovered us.” He stared at me too steadily, purposely avoiding my question. “Mhm . . . perhaps, I should question Beau here. Maybe, he would tell me the truth. Beau, you should be finished your duty by now.”
          “Forgive me for my tardiness, Your Highness.” Out of nowhere, Beau had appeared.
          “There is much for me to forgive,” Cael scoffed, crossing his leg over the other. “Too much in fact, that I feel betrayed. I sense a traitor here.” There was a sigh following his words before he asked me, “My dear sister, remind me . . . what the punishment for a traitor is.”
          I bit my lip, quivering, “Whipping.”
          “Fetch my riding whip, Beau,” Cael instructed and off Beau went to retrieve the instrument.
          I remembered thinking how this was not how I had anticipated everything to occur. Cael had retorted my threat and twisted it to his own advantage. He didn’t care about the fox tail or even about Desiderium. He only cared about how I knew about his shadow, Cael. I couldn’t help but admire his intellect. I couldn’t also stop myself from worrying about Beau. My intuition was already chanting words related to doom. Doomed you are, Beau. Doomed.    
          I didn’t understand how Beau could now bow to Cael and even give him the weapon to harm. I would become more stunned when Cael ordered, “Remove your shirt, Cael. I want a bare back.” I watched Beau unbutton his blazer and his collared shirt. Then, he casually tossed them on his bed. “Now, face backwards.”
          Through the candlelight, I witnessed numerous scars unevenly marking the surface of his skin. Each of them was short, yet deep, and it was obvious how they came to be. Whipping. This must have been normal for Beau. I could finally understand the pain in his eyes, and the sadness anguishing in his pupils.
          “Now, tell me, my dear sister.” Cael now glanced at me. “How many whips does a traitor receive?”
          “Two hundred,” I murmured. One hundred was for the betrayal. The other hundred was for the betrayal to be remembered.
          “And so it shall be two hundred strokes,” Cael announced and counted one by one.
          Every slash was a new carving on an old scar. Layers and layers of cuts and abrasions were being formed and between those layers were splatters of blood. Beau neither winced nor moaned. He was unusually quiet, but then again, he was always this quiet. I wanted to turn away, but Cael eyed me once. This was a show for me. He was being punished because of me. Cael couldn’t harm me, and so he hurt the closest link to me: Beau.
          Beau . . . I had to observe for his well-being. If I didn’t, then who knew what Cael would have done? “Two hundred,” Cael could only sputter with a few sweat drops dripping from his forehead. Staggering now a few steps towards me, he gave me the whip and stammered, “Y-You take care of this and only you.”
          Then, he headed to where we came, back to the regular world. I placed the whip onto the table and asked, “Where are the ointments and the bandages?” I held onto the candle, and saw him dressing himself. “Stop,” I demanded. “We have to treat your wounds. If you leave them untreated—“
          “They will wheal in time,” he chirped.
          “No.” I tugged at his shirt with one of my hands. “No, they do not heal in time. Just . . . let me treat them. I do not . . .”
          I couldn’t believe what was about to break out from my lips. I didn’t want to see him hurt. I didn’t want him to see him like that anymore, always wearing that same pitiful gaze.
          He unbuttoned his shirt again, while I removed my hand. “The ointments are under the bed.”
          “And . . . where would I find fresh water, a clean cloth, a pail or a bowl to hold the water, and a bar of soap?” I furrowed my eyebrows.
          He sighed, “I will find them for you. Just sit there and wait.”
          Find them for me? I too sighed. He should be finding these for himself, not for me. I found myself pacing back and forth, waiting for his arrival. He was taking longer than I had anticipated and with his injuries, I felt more tormented. So, when he came with his hands full of the materials that I had requested, I snapped, “Where were you? What took you so long?”
          “I am sorry.” He was panting, about to topple over. “I—“
          Dashing to his side, I lent him my body to act as support. From his hands, I held everything and then led him with all my energy to his bed. I wasn’t even sure if he could hear me. “Rest on your stomach,” I demanded.
          He still managed to obey me even though it was clear his senses were indistinguishable. As I unclothed his loosely bound shirt, my hands were dressed in his blood. Yarrow, I thought. I need yarrow. I crouched to the bed’s height and saw a dusty, leather box. Examining the insides, I realized that there was nothing inside, except for a few unlabelled glass bottles. How was I to stop his bleeding then? With my heart pounding harder and faster, I ran out the door. If we were surrounded by forests, then there would surely be some other herbs. Yarrow was the most effective, but no one said that there could not be substitutes.
          In fact, Nestor had given us a few classes about herbs. On the table, he had spread a wide variety of herbs, asking us to identify and the list the uses of each of them. I didn’t excel in that area for all of the leaves looked the same. There was one plant that I was sure I could recognize: roses. The problem was . . . where could I find roses?
          Coniferous tree after coniferous tree, I saw. I was directionless, only striving to seek for the specific flower. I should have just cleaned his injuries, I rambled to myself. I shouldn’t have departed. Now, I too was senseless. Hopeless . . . I felt like sitting on the ground and doing nothing, but Beau was waiting for me. So, I ran, ran, and ran until my lungs were desperate for air. Looking ahead, I realized where I was. I was at the Queen’s quarters. There were scorched, wilting roses paving the road. Using my dagger, I fought through bushes and bushes of dead roses. Perhaps, I had acquired a few cuts, yet I didn’t care anymore. I needed to find his medicine. I must have been a lunatic, hoping for that fresh bud of green.
          “What . . . are you doing?”
          I turned to hear Cael’s voice. He was on his prized horse, Medallion. It must have been his time for riding since Cael had always liked to go horseback riding to contemplate.
          “Cael . . . I c-can’t save him. I c-c-can’t find any of the right herbs. He’ll bleed out. He’ll—“ I stuttered.
          His face was always so stern, so serious. I felt stupid, utterly irrational compared to him. He was so upright, so proper on his horse. With a sigh, he trotted his horse to my direction and pulled me to join his ride, “I do not know what to do with you or him.”
          I didn’t know either what to do with myself.
          Cael was like a mentor, bringing some sense back to me and guiding my misplaced self. Before his exit, he told me how to tend Beau with concise and precise rules. He also added a final mark as he handed me a bag of fresh rose petals, “Please . . . do not trouble him. I am sure you understand his circumstances.”
          I should have known that it was impossible for such well-grown flowers to be blossoming unless someone was nurturing them. That nurturer could only be Cael. If I had paid closer attention, then I would have noticed what hung from his saddle: sacks of gardening tools. I would not know why he still looked after that garden until later, much later.  
          In fact, I could only nod at that time, but if Cael were to repeat that statement in the future, I would do more than nod. I would have also asked for forgiveness, but for now, I proceeded with Cael’s given instructions. Beau, at this time, was too fatigued, already asleep. First, I soaked the cloth into the bucket of water mixed with soap. Then, I dabbed it on his back with as little force as possible. His eyebrows creased as the difference in surface temperatures shocked him.
          “You can . . . release your pain, if that makes you feel better,” I mumbled. Drying his cuts with my sleeves, I sprinkled the rose leaves, which Cael had given to me, on his back. “Just stay in this position.”
          Tired of kneeling, I walked away to retrieve a chair only to hear Beau plead, “D-d-d-don’t leave.”
          My heart immediately sank. I met his aching eyes before I reassured, “I will not leave you. I just need to sit down.”
          “S-s-sit on the bed,” he rambled.
          Because I couldn’t bear witnessing his glance, I listened until he started to move. “Stay!” My hands steadied him on the bed, almost planting him there. From my position, I could see that his pants were loosely done, revealing his scarred abdomen.
          A wisp of silence now clamoured the bedroom. With further soreness shrouding his eyes, he asked, “You saw it, did you not?”
          It . . . vaguely reminded me of Calla’s disfigurement. Was that the burden that shadows bore? Their price was our differentiation and our ignorance. “Did it hurt?” the only question I could inquire without upsetting him.
          Ignoring me, he, instead, apologized, “I am sorry that I did not tell you earlier about myself.”
          I instantly blurted with much madness, “How could you? How could you apologize to me?”
          My throat was choked with ceaseless tears commencing. My face burned from ferocity. My fists curled to stone-like positions. All I could feel was anger, and that was all.
          “I am sorry,” he reiterated, attempting to hold onto my hand.
          I flung my hand away from him, shouting, “I do not want to hear your apologies anymore! That is precisely what I hate about you!”
          I gasped, not knowing how or why I could say such harmful words so easily. Was it you, Ghislaine? I backed away, realizing the horrors. I tumbled on the ground, seeing what she felt. I could even hear her voice echoing in my head.
          Stop agreeing to everything I say. Do you not possess a mind of your own, Raph? That is what I hate about you. Your endless apologies. Your smiling to everything I say. Your looks. Stop it, Raph. Stop it.
          “Ghis—”
          His body was leaning forward. “Do not call me that!” I backed away, snarling.
          “Chiyu,” he finally settled on saying with his hand, instead, reaching forward.
          Yes, this was the present, I felt myself chant. I was still myself. I was not her. I was just suffering from a hallucination due to my fatigue. Those were what I confirmed as I held onto his hand, pulling myself upwards.
          “I am scared,” suddenly, I wheezed. “I am scared . . .”
          With his typical warm attitude, he confirmed, “You are scared of change. You are scared of the past repeating itself.”
          “How did you—“
          “I know,” he cut off my sentence. “I know . . . because I have been sensing the past too. After meeting you—“
          I shook my head and broke my hand away from his. “No. You are yourself and I am myself. The present is not the past, and the past is certainly not the present.”
          “Then, I ask you . . . do you understand how much I . . .” He reached out to hold onto my fingers again. Seeing my hands squirm, he weakly laughed. “I know you will never accept me. I know too that . . . this love is impossible. My body too . . . makes everything impossible . . .” His eyes had accidentally scanned to the burned area of his skin. “But just this once, could you . . . allow me to hold your hand for a while?” he pled with his eyebrows arching upwards.
          I listened to his request, not knowing what he was trying to establish. Feeling sore in the heart now, I settled my hand in his. I saw the glowing smile beaming from his face now and my mouth blurted, “I am sorry. I am so sorry.”
          Selfishness had consumed me. I knew I should not have thrashed my fury to him, yet I could not tame my inner self. Ghislaine . . . were you . . . here again?
          “Do not apologize.” He squeezed my hand once and just once before returning to its loose grip. “It was fated to be like this. A long time ago . . . we agreed, and I . . . would like to fulfill my part of the promise.”
          “Beau . . .”
          “I will love you as a brother should.” He steadily eyed me.
          “Beau . . .” I began to sob, not knowing why I was so upset.
          He used his other hand to gently graze my teardrops, meticulously brushing them away. “Do not cry. I want you to be happy, all right?”
          It was too easy to succumb to tenderness, so I released my hand from his and joked, “Stop saying such things. If you do, then I might actually love you.”
          It was just like old times. I could feel the familiarity of his presence, of the joy we had shared together when we were young in Ghislaine’s childhood.
          He then smiled just like how we had met the first timel. “You will not, Chiyu. I know you too well to be sure of that. You may become enamoured with my gentleness, but you will not be enamoured with me.”
          “How can you be so sure?” I teased.
          “Because . . . there is someone waiting for you.” His smile seemed so weak, so forced with his eyes staring beyond me. “Someone . . . who deserves your love more than I do.”
          So, for the whole night, I wondered what Beau could have meant until drowsiness touched my mind and before I knew it, I was fast asleep.
Chapter 31                                                                            Chapter 33
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