There was a difference between undernourishment and malnutrition. People could gobble all the treats in the world and still be malnourished because they lacked the proper vitamins or people could be undernourished, meaning without the necessary calories. Now, Raul had to be considered as a victim of malnourishment. He had the status and the blood, yet he was in need of the appropriate behaviour and mindset of a King.

            “You must be dreaming again, Gigi,” Raul interrupted my thoughts with a nudge.
We were on a small, wooden boat, fishing together. We would do this a few times during the month. Paulette, on the other hand, would be watching us from afar, enjoying her freshly baked cookies.
            “I was just thinking,” I answered with a murmur.
            “Thinking of?”
            “Call me insane—“
            “You are already insane,” he joked. Raul adored interrupting other people. Perhaps, he liked outwitting others, but I sure did not.
“All right, so I am insane for imagining you as King.”
            “King?” He looked at me in disbelief, almost tipping the boat too much to the other side.
            “Well, remember what you said a while ago about Cael betraying you?”
            “I was just worried that he would continue to hurt you and the only way—“
            “Now, you are insane, Gigi.” He sat back down, and was rowing the boat back to shore.
            Hoping to trigger his pride, I mustered, “How am I insane to believe in my own brother?”
            I heard his light sigh, which only confirmed Cael’s predictions. Cael was still adept at understanding his opponents. Sometimes, I wondered if his abilities from past had allowed him to predict everything so well. He had been one of them, and like Morganne and Nestor, he should have retained his power. What was his power though?
            “Even if I would like to . . .” Raul waved back at Paulette, who was jumping up and down to tell us that there was a new batch of gingersnaps on the table. His lips only parted halfway. “There is something or rather . . . some people that I would like to protect.”
            I blinked a couple of times before realizing what he had just exposed. “Raul . . . is Paulette—“
            He gently bobbed his head. “The midwife has confirmed it and the astrologer predicts that it might be a boy,” he uttered in a low voice. “Do keep this a secret. You understand how chaotic the court would become.”
            “I-I understand,” I mouthed.
            Once we reached the shore, Paulette was stuffing her face with all the cookies. “You two were too late!” she snorted with bits of crumbs sprinkled all over her cheeks.
            I never knew Raul could be so gentle. I never knew that he could look at someone with so much love. Over the course of these months, he had, indeed, matured. As I watched him wipe the crumbs from her face, I felt a sense of admiration.
            So, this was what love could do to someone.
            “You have to be more careful.” Raul’s thumb smudged the corners of Paulette’s lips.
            Paulette, who was still too concerned with satisfying her undying appetite, mumbled with her mouth full, “I know. I know.”
            Once he had finished his work, he realized that the plate had become empty. “Tell me that you did not finish that batch—“
            Licking her lips, she winked. “I warned you two, but both of you were too busy fishing. Fishing, fishing, fishing. So lacklustre!”
            “Fish is healthier than sweets,” he chirped. “The fish we would have caught would have been gobbled by you in the end.”
            She ogled at him with her extremely large, lime eyes, which contrasted her cherry face. “I-I-I—“
            I knew that Paulette had a way with crying. Her eyes were like waterfalls, always splashing whenever there was some emotional trigger. Raul looked at me once, and I quickly remarked, “But it is all in the name of good, isn’t it, Raul?” I pointed to her abdomen and continued to explain, “He would need the extra food. He has quite the appetite, doesn’t he, Raul?”
            Raul thanked me with a grin. “Indeed.”
            He now hung his arms around her neck and gently pressed his lips on her head while she coyly snuggled her cheek on Raul’s chest with a grand smile.
            This had to have been the loveliest scene from a romantic film. He was in love with her and she was in love with him. They had created a new soul with their love. They were going to start a family together and it would have been the perfect picture if it could have lasted.
            Nothing could escape Cael. No matter how hard I had tried to conceal Raul and Paulette’s secret, Cael somehow discovered it. I should have told him instead of facing his stoic look. He had intentionally instructed me to meet him at Beau’s living quarters to discuss my findings. He had sought to test me, and I had, unfortunately, failed.
            “I hear Paulette is bearing a son and that Raul is requesting to retreat to Paulette’s spring cottage to nurse her body,” Cael declared rather bitterly. He was found at a table in the kitchen and he was looking at me directly across from the corridor.
            “Is that so?” I croaked.
            Cael shot me a vicious glare, questioning, “You really did not know?”
            I was afraid to look away from Cael. If I avoided eye contact, then he would know that I had lied to him. Pretending to be strong, I shook my head. “Raul never informed me.”
            “I understand. You may leave now.”
            That command could only mean one thing. Too shocked to move, I only managed to mumble, “You . . . are planning to murder that child?”
            “My dear sister, you must understand that there will be no child in the first place,” Cael adjusted my statement, “so, there will be no murder.”
            I clenched my fists and bravely marched towards him. “Raul has already admitted that he has no intention of seizing the throne,” I tried to defend my actions. “There is no need to sacrifice an unborn soul.”
            “But, there is no room for possibilities.” Cael disdainfully eyed me and poured himself some wine. He held the goblet with his hands hovering over it before taking the first sip. “Precedence, my dear sister.” He licked his lips clean.
            “Still a murder.” I took my seat in front of him. This was a confrontation with a devil.
            “No,” he persisted to reason, “who says that this is a murder? It will, after all, be a natural death.”
            “How will you do this?”
            He leaned his cheek on his palm while taking another sip of wine. “Are you not here only to ruin my plans?” He even sighed, “And to think I treated you so well.”
            I snatched the goblet that was situated in front of me and finished the liquid in one gulp. “I already pledged my loyalty. I am not one to betray.”
            “Yet, I feel cheated.” He had the audacity to smile at me and even emptied all of the wine from a glass bottle to the cup in my hand. He did not care if the liquid spewed all over me. “I give and I give and people—“
            Despite the bitterness from the alcohol, I finished all that he had given to me in one breath and grazed my lips with my knuckles. “I said,” I reaffirmed, feeling rather lightheaded, “that I am not one to betray.”
            “That is no matter,” he answered in a monotonous tone. “In fact, the King has reconstructed the Stairs of Exodus. Knowing that Paulette adores architecture, she would surely appreciate this scene.” Again, that impish smirk surfaced and then, he snapped his fingers once. “Beau, escort our sister home. She has consumed too much in a day.”
            Beau had appeared from the shadows, presumably from his chamber, and then agreed with a nod. He first covered his face with a porcelain mask before pulling my arm. I had to follow him. Those were Cael’s orders and there was no purpose in disobeying them. Once the two of us had reached the entrance to the Hallow Forest, I asked, “Do you have the same opinion as Cael . . . to murder that infant?”
            Looking at me with his tender eyes, he deepened his voice to a hushed murmur, “Yes.”
            He carried on walking, but I could not. My feet would not budge and my body tensed to the point where I felt acid climbing through my veins to suffocate me. Looking down at my boots, I realized what progress meant. The implications of my proceeding were drastic. This act would be one that I could never forget or even discard. Sure, I had murdered, not once, but twice. However, I had reasons to murder. I had to kill then whether it was out of revenge or out of defence. Now, I could only question Cael’s reasons. Was it necessary to slay an infant who would not even have had a chance to defend him or herself?
            “You do not deserve to call me informally,” I croaked. “How could you?”
I felt my face wrinkle to form the severest glare. He rushed to my side, but halted just a step before me. He did not dare to touch me. He understood me too well to know not to do that.
“It is for the better, better for the child never to be born than to be born with a pained future,” he explained.
            “How are we to decide a child’s future?” I felt one of my eyebrows turn upwards and my forehead crumple.
            “I do not like what will be accomplished, but . . .”
            His voice was waning and his eyes, although focused on the soil, were blank.
            “But we ought to do what we have to do to survive.”
            I finished his thought, but I could sense that cracked chalkiness, that clogged vulnerability in my own voice. Then, my lips parted with my eyes half-closed. I now understood what he had meant. I was still childish then, maybe even idealistic. If I had been much older than my appearance had indicated, then how old was he at that time?