When Kayir left the room, Calius was outside, waiting. The high priest didn’t say anything, he just looked at him, but the question was there, in his firm, appraising look. What are you up to?
Kayir smiled, tilting his head a bit. “Don’t worry,” he said. He glanced back at the door that he had closed behind him. “He’ll do fine.”
Calius huffed. “You act as if-“ he stopped and took a breath. “Your actions might give the impression that you don’t comprehend the… magnitude of -“
Kayir laughed slightly, stopping him. “Truly. There’s no need to worry,” Kayir said. Calius did not respond – not even he would doubt the sincerity in Kayir’s expression. “Trust Evren. Give him a proper chance, and he will show that he has what it takes.” He stepped forward and put a hand on Calius’ shoulder. Calius did not react. Kayir smiled. “I know him. He might not seem like much now, but trust me. He has what it takes, inside of him.”
Calius still didn’t react. Kayir looked him in the eyes. Calius didn’t want to show it, but Kayir’s words had gotten through to him. Kayir knew him well enough to see that.
Evren sat down on the couch to the side of the room. Kayir hadn’t called him by a title – Evren was thankful for that. Hearing that again… hearing it from Kayir, of all people, again, just might have been enough to make Evren break completely.
Evren held his left hand above his face. A bit of a light was moving around in the amulet, but it wasn’t that bright. It looked confused. Scared, even.
Evren had read a lot about magical amulets, how they worked, what sorts there were, their different sorts of powers… what it would be like to have one. But nothing could have prepared him for the reality of it. He had always heard that the light in the amulet would reflect something in the mind and spirit of the holder. He wondered what else he would discover for himself to be true after having read about it so much.
It felt strange – the connection was in his wrist, but also in his heart, and in his head. He could feel the gem trying to connect with him, and he could feel himself – his spirit – putting up a wall against it. Scared. What was there to be scared of?
He closed his eyes. What was there not to be scared of?
The Varinian Amulet…
He sighed. “This can’t be real…”
He brought his hand down to his forehead. The metal against his face didn’t feel uncomfortable. He wished it did. He wished it were just another thing to be scared of, bothered by… and not a reminder of that part of him that wasn’t scared. The part of him that was… excited.
Because that was the most frightening thing out of all of it.
Opening his eyes slightly, he glanced over to his instrument case, which had been left by the door. Usually, if he felt stressed, he would play something. But now…
He shook his head, and stood up. If he really was a prince, he was probably allowed to walk around the palace, right? That High Priest probably wouldn’t be pleased, but he didn’t like Evren anyway, so what was the risk, really?
In any case, he needed to do something to ease his nerves. A walk sounded good. He left the room, and went through the antechamber, into the hallway he’d come in through. It was late, and the sunlight was a deep orange now, coming through the window, reflecting off of the floor. He reached the end of the hallway and found himself in a vast central area, open through both this floor and the next one up, with several other hallways leading to and from it, all around a staircase – that was how he had come here. He wouldn’t go back down that way. He looked around to pick a different path to explore.
The opposite wall from where he stood had windows along it, double the height of this floor. He walked around the staircase, past those windows, to a hallway in the opposite corner from the one he had come through. The windows continued past the atrium and into the hallway. On the other wall, there were paintings. Evren was sure he’d be able to recognize the figures in them if he tried, but he didn’t feel up to it. He kept walking.
Suddenly, he heard it. Music… Cantrile music. He recognized the song – it was from a piece that he knew – he’d played it before. But this musician…
Evren looked around. The sound must be coming from the hallway perpendicular to this one, he thought, from the other end of it. He followed the sound down that hallway, up the stairs at the end, and around another corner. Then he saw an open door down the end of a hallway, with light coming from it. As he reached the door, he looked inside.
Sitting at a large window that looked out over the garden, was the musician – a young man with long, white hair, wearing beautiful robes with plenty of golden embroidery. He wasn’t a priest, though, Evren could tell – he was wearing far too much jewelry, and his clothing was even more ornate that what Calius wore. There was also a sense of whimsy about his garments, with round, playful designs in the embroidery, in contrast to the more formal, geometric designs priests wore. His instrument was also ornate, decorated in purple and gold. He gazed gently out of the window as he continued his song.
Evren watched the musician as his fingers glided elegantly over the strings, and he had a serene expression on his face as he sang. He seemed to smile at some of the lyrics as he sang them.
The light of the sunset, coming through a perpendicular window, shined off of his hair, his long, golden earrings, and the embellishments on his instrument. It almost seemed as if he himself glowed.
Truth be told, he was actually quite beautiful. Evren couldn’t help but watch him.
He finished and lifted his head. As he did, he seemed to notice Evren for the first time.
“Oh… hello,” he said with a smile.
Evren still stood in the doorway. His left hand pulled the sleeve of his shirt down over the amulet. “Is that from Evander and Cirino?”
“Yes,” the other replied. “Do you like it?”
Evren stepped into the room.
“I do love that piece…” he started. He pushed up his glasses by the bridge with one finger. “But that was awful.”
He briefly noted the surprise in the other young man’s expression, but he didn’t let that stop him.
“Your performance was completely devoid of emotion. Cirino is supposed to be practically in mourning – he thinks he’s never going to see his true love again – but there was absolutely none of that in your performance. This music is supposed to transport the audience into the story completely. That’s why Queen Alindora called it celestial music. You haven’t transported me anywhere.” He started to continue, but then he saw the musician’s face. Evren felt himself break out of his rant. Maybe he had let off a little too much steam at this guy.
The pretty young musician looked shocked, but then, he started laughing.
Now it was Evren who was surprised.
Evren gaped at the young musician. “I’m sorry,” he replied as he stopped laughing. “It’s just that I so rarely get to hear any honest opinions. It’s… nice.”
Before Evren could respond, the heard voices from the hallway.
Evren froze. The other young man looked at him differently. Curiously.
Of course, Evren realized. He’d seen it countless times, in books, dramas, and even Cantrile pieces. Royal status isolates you. Old friends suddenly see you in a completely different way. And new friends… well.
“Prince Silvio…” A couple of priests, the ones who were with Calius before, entered the room. Their expressions changed when they saw the white-haired musician. To Evren’s surprise, they knelt. “Oh! Prince Aurelio,”
Evren blinked and turned to look at the other young man, who smiled at him. Again, the surprise shifted to Evren. He hadn’t expected that. This was Prince Aurelio? Evren had heard the name before, but rarely seen pictures, so he hadn’t recognized him at all. This was the closest relative to the previous holder of the amulet, the one who was expected to step into that role – the role that Evren now had.
“You see why no one will give me proper instruction,” the white-haired young man – Prince Aurelio – told Evren. Evren nodded. He moved his left hand slightly, hiding the amulet.
Just then, Lord Calius entered, along with Kayir. “Prince Silvio, it is… rather imprudent, don’t you think, to wander around like this?”
Evren didn’t look at him. “I told you before, it’s Evren.” His left hand tensed, still pulling his sleeve over his bracelet. “Just Evren. And I… I needed some space…”
Prince Aurelio came to stand beside him. : “He heard my music and came to see, right… Evren?” Evren looked at him.
“I… guess so.” Evren replied.
“And we were actually having a rather nice conversation.” Aurelio placed his hand on Evren’s left arm, just above the elbow. “So, if you don’t mind, might I have some more time alone with my cousin?”
Cousin? Evren thought.
“It might be good to let them.” Kayir said, before Calius could reject the idea.
Calius didn’t like that. “His highness has a lot of training to prepare for-”
“If you don’t mind…” Aurelio said.
Kayir gave Calius a certain look. Calius sighed. “Alright.”
Aurelio smiled at Evren. Evren blinked, unsure of what exactly was happening here.
They sat down in the room – Aurelio’s sitting room, as it happened. Evren tried to think of something to say. There was so much he wanted to ask Aurelio – or, anyone, really, but Aurelio seemed like the only person he could get to. But at the same time, the other young man – no, the other prince… he didn’t seem like the most reliable source.
An attendant brought them tea – a small pot of concentrated tea and a larger kettle of water – and a tray of sweets. Evren kept his eyes on the cups as they were placed, but he felt Aurelio’s gaze on him from across the table. As the attendant stepped away, Evren took a deep breath.
“So… we’re cousins?” he asked.
Aurelio seemed startled. “Oh! Ah,” he said. “Well, third cousins. I believe. Maybe fourth.”
“How do you like yours?” Aurelio asked.
It took Evren a moment. “Oh, the tea?”
“Yes,” Aurelio said. He smiled. “I’ll pour it – I mean – since I’m the host…” he seemed nervous.
“Strong.” Evren replied.
Aurelio poured Evren’s, strong, and then his own, with far more water than tea.
Evren still didn’t move. He watched as Aurelio picked up his teacup and took a sip with flawless elegance. The long sleeves of his robe didn’t get in his way, nor did the long, white hair framing his face. So this is what a real prince looks like…, Evren thought. His own long, black hair was tied back in a casual ponytail – he didn’t like to wear it out. He would probably have to learn to manage with it out, and to manage sleeves like that as well.
He still wore his black sweater and jeans – quality, but well-worn. His dark clothes and hair, combined with his pale complexion, already gave him a heavy look, made more complete by his thick-framed glasses.
The two princes could hardly be more different.
No – not quite, Evren realized. They shared an ancestor – great-great-grandparents, according to Aurelio. There were probably some similarities from that…
“… may I see it?” Aurelio asked.
Evren’s attention came back. “Huh?”
Aurelio smiled at him. “The amulet.” He clarified, his voice still soft.
“Oh…” Evren blinked. “Yeah, sure.” He held up his hand to show Aurelio.
Aurelio gently took Evren’s fingers in his hand and looked at the amulet. He took a deep breath and smiled. Evren tensed. Aurelio seemed so in awe of the amulet.
“It seems to glow so brightly, as if it’s happy to have bonded with you.” Evren looked down. It didn’t quite feel that way.
“I’m so glad they’ve found someone,” Aurelio said. He released Evren’s hand, and smiled. “They tried it on me, you know,” he said.
“I’d… heard it was meant for you.” Evren said.
Aurelio took a sip of his tea. “Well, I’m the closest blood relative, but…” he looked down, as if searching for the words. “It isn’t like when there were real kings – relation isn’t what it’s looking for. You know, it rejected several others before it chose you.”
Evren blinked. “Really?”
“Yes,” Aurelio said, his childlike excitement back. “They were actually somewhat desperate, to bring you out of hiding.”
Evren felt his stomach tense “Really…”
Aurelio seemed to sense his discomfort. He leaned forward and took Evren’s hand, between their teacups. Evren looked at him, and Aurelio caught his gaze. “You’ll be great,” he said. “I know you will…” He smiled at Evren.
Evren turned away. “How can you be so sure?” He asked.
“I just… have a feeling,” Aurelio said. Evren could hear his smile in his voice. “And… you seem to know so much about cantrile. It’s based on magic, you know,”
“Yeah,” Evren said. Of course he knew that, but could the two really be that close?
“So,” Aurelio said, “Tell me how that song should really be played,”
Evren blinked. Then, for the first time that afternoon, he smiled a bit. “Where do I even start?”