The hiss and burble of the air being pumped through the great fish tank by a slow-turning fan on the cliff, was soothing. Ili had his chin on his hands, his forearms stretched along the bottom ledge, his forehead against the cool glass.
Sophi was impossible to see except when Jia came down with another bit of fish or some kind of treat to tempt her appetite. She'd blushed white and you could see her then against the pink and black and white stone of her chosen nesting site. Ili huffed a circle of steam against the glass until he could just see their vague shapes moving before closing his eyes.
He didn’t feel like crying. It couldn’t be mourning. After all he’d only seen the baby once, swaddled in gold and gold lace in the dekinas’s hands before the tiny, still figure was wrapped up in a layer of white silk and then a layer of black silk before being handed to him. He hadn’t even been able to feel that there was anything in the bundle that he walked in front of the whole family and then put into the plain marble box that now sat in the Hall. It was getting the name carved in right now and would get a statue later. Probably of a baby animal of some kind.
Jia blew bubbles and Sophi finally came out of her cave where long, gooey strands of eggs hung. She needed to eat and swim. They spiraled around each other and started a game of tag in amongst the long, waving sea grass at the back of the tank. Ili sighed. “You sneak up on people really well, for a Haian. She’s fine.”
Tirchaer pulled up another chair with a scrape across the stone floor and settled into an identical pose next to him. “I’m not worried about my pet.” Sophi jetted over, banged into the glass, arms spread, before zooming off again, leaving a cloud of fading ink behind her. “How are you doing?”
“I’m FINE!” He reared back and shouted. She sat up and stared at him, quietly. He turned around and started pacing up and down the hallway. “I shouldn’t be upset. I did my duty and buried my nephew and he’s being mourned by the whole fekkin’ city. It’s my brother’s mother who’s there and his grandfather. Who do I have? My mother was a Mahid concubine too, but she cut her own throat when the city fell, or her Senior cut her throat.” He turned at the end of the hallway.
“I have family because of my brother not because of who our father was or who our mothers were. I have the fat guy and his sex slave as a legacy and I can’t even be a little shen like Minis when he was my age because I don’t have the excuse of a horrible example and a sick court!” He turned and put his fisted hands against the glass of the tank and gently knocked his forehead against it.
Jia and Sophi both swam over and stuck themselves to the glass in front of his face so that for a moment, from behind, he looked like a tentacle-headed monster. “I’m so tired of being the good boy, too.”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” she said. “I think you’re nice. Especially since you scared the whey out of me when we arrived.”
“Please don’t be scared. Please.” His eyes were closed and tears ran down his face. “There’s too much to be scared of, in this world. Minis kept me from a lot of it, but he couldn’t keep me from having been in with the Mahid women, when he was young.”
“Your little nephew won’t need to be protected,” she said. "You say he's safe in Selestialis. And when the other baby is born your brother and his family will keep them safe."
He leaned back from the glass and scrubbed his sleeves over his face. “That’s a good thing." He sighed and swallowed. "Don’t think too badly of me, that sometimes I just want to go do what I want and not care about consequences.”
“I just want to run crazy sometimes. Jump on Killer and ride until we both fall over. Lock the door of one room and refuse to come out.”
“Yes, really. My Haian teacher would probably have me do a paper on transference of emotions, if she were still teaching me. I…really want Ky and Min to have lots and lots of kids. There should be lots of people between me and the Crystal Throne. I should be a feckless prince who rides and trains his horses and his domoctopi, because I’m just not smart enough to be an Imperator if something should happen to Min before the baby is born. I’m too close and I’m too dumb.”
“Stop that,” she snapped. “You aren’t your genius brother. But you aren’t dumb either or you wouldn’t worry about it. You’re smart and good both, or Jia wouldn’t have made you his boy. Those big horses would follow you into the Marble Palace, just like they follow Senior Ilesias Mahid around. They like you. Your friends like you. If I weren’t totally and completely non-violent, I’d slap that misconception right out of you!” He was staring at her by this point, mouth open. She held out a handkerchief to him. “But I would never even consider doing such a thing so you should probably wipe your nose, keep running up and down this hall, yelling at the air. Or you could sit with me and we could watch our d’octopi chase each other and eat and tend their eggs. That might calm you.”
His mouth shut with a click and he reached out to take her handkerchief. “Thank you, Tirchaer,” he said, hiding his face in the cloth, cleaning away the last of his tears. “I think sitting would be a good idea, I guess.”
“Blow your nose, you’re all snotty.”
“I am NOT! Well, maybe I am. Sorry.”