Title: Give it All Away
Queen Astraea - October 10, 2011 05:03 PM (GMT)
"Your Majesty, your gown-"
"The appearance this evening, Your Majesty. . ."
"There is a problem with the seating arrangement, Your Majesty."
Astraea had waved them all away with vague gestures of her dismissive hand, and then she had begun to ignore everyone entirely. She didn't care about the damn gown or making appearances or avoiding having two feuding lords seated next to each other. She didn't care about any of it as long as things went somewhat according to plan. If the marriage was completed, and she could get back to the castle without major mishaps, and the coronation occurred with a few reputable witnesses-- she would be just fine.
Her priority was to have Sven become king on this day. As long as that happened without completely compromising her rule and his, she could overlook most other things-- most other things. The knowledge that Sven's first act as king might be to release Aiden Dax wasn't something she was able to put out of her mind completely.
So, she ignored the flustered servants during this early hour of the morning in favor of going down to the dungeon with a simple, blue gown and robe still draping over her instead of some restrictive gown fit for a bride. Her loose hair was eventually hidden by a drab cloak, which also served to hide most of her face in shadow. The attempt at a disguise wasn't particularly fantastic, but it did help her escape attention for the last part of her walk through the castle. It wasn't discarded until she found the bottom of the stairs that took her down into the dungeon-- that place she hadn't actually seen for years.
The stagnant, cool, musty air greeted her suddenly, causing her expression to morph into one of subtle offense that barely hinted at the sickening feeling the scents that reached her nose inspired. It was almost worse than the smell of the streets bordering the quarter on a warm day. In fact, it might very well have been just as bad-- only different. Here there was a smell of death. It smelled of decay more than filth. It made her skin crawl beyond the chill.
All it took was a brief sight of her face in flickering candlelight for the guards she met to let her pass with a subtle bow and quiet mutterings of her title in acknowledgment. She paid them no attention, knowing already where the cell that interested her was located. Their curious glances meant nothing to her. She had no need to explain why, on the morning of her wedding, she was coming to this dismal, labyrinthine hole in the rock upon which her castle sat. Her business was her own.
When she finally came upon the shadows before the cell that was her destination, she came to a halt and turned, resisting the urge to press her hands against the cool bars.
"I thought they might have put you in one of the smaller cells with the solid doors," she said lowly. "I was glad to hear that you ended up in this one instead."
It was almost more merciful, she thought-- almost.
Turning, she saw a guard some few cells away. When his eyes met hers, she said more firmly, "Leave us."
She wouldn't have anyone spying on her now- especially not someone so jumpy and likely to speak of what he heard, like that man.
"I have questions for you," she explained as she returned her attention to Aiden . . . Damon-- whoever he was on this day.
Aiden Dax - October 10, 2011 05:12 PM (GMT)
He didn't get up from where he laid on his back to greet her, although he did spare her a long glance from his prone position before returning his gaze to the ceiling. When she chose to make her opening statement one about the cell, he chuckled bitterly. "I still have friends, here. The respect I own is respect I've earned." Hard-won, through many personal battles and a lot of self-hatred.
Propping his ankle on his upturned knee, he folded his hands behind his head and whistled, long and low, when she dismissed the guard.
"Perhaps I have answers," he said, seemingly nonchalant. "Then again, it could be that I'm not feeling very talkative today. Whatever shall the queen of this realm do, then?"
Queen Astraea - October 10, 2011 05:20 PM (GMT)
"I will not make that decision prematurely," Astraea decided evenly, having expected his displeasure and attitude to some extent. Not wanting him to get the impression that she wished to prolong this encounter, she jumped straight into those questions she supposedly had for him. "You were a critical captain," she stated before asking, "If I should have any problems with the performance of the new captain of the guard, what might those problems be? What are his weaknesses?"
Everyone had them, and she was certain Aiden would know every flaw the man might have had. Astraea wanted that information from his perspective. . . perhaps because she was paranoid about the many events of the day that would require her to put her safety in that man's hands.
She would rather have had Aiden responsible for her safety. There was no doubt about it in her mind, but she couldn't have him. So, she at least hoped she could get some help from him this way. She hoped he still cared enough to reassure her or put forth some effort to keep her safe. . . or Sven, or Sven's children.
Aiden Dax - October 10, 2011 05:22 PM (GMT)
He made a face, not wanting to cooperate with her. Finally, he said, "He is inexperienced in running a full complement of men, because I was very controlling. The stress of the sudden job may make him forgetful or distracted. You will have to rely more on the General to keep you safe than I would have recommended."
Queen Astraea - October 10, 2011 05:32 PM (GMT)
Her expression hardened considerably, casting sharp shadows across her already angular features.
"You left me with a man who lacks adequate experience on the day of my wedding," she said sharply before she realized she was speaking her thoughts aloud.
Not Sven, his friend. Not the children. Not anyone else-- her. If there had been any question about his feelings toward her before, that was mostly resolved now.
Of course she didn't leave much of a moment of silence between that statement and her next question to be filled by one of his humored and caustic responses. "If I should have to reprimand him or request something from him today," she began, "How may I communicate with him most effectively?"
Maybe he was too delicate for harsh words. Maybe he needed to be yelled at before he would get the point. Maybe he was so damn proud that she would have to flatter him into making sure no one was assassinated . . .
Her resentment toward Aiden was growing by the second.
Aiden Dax - October 10, 2011 05:37 PM (GMT)
Aiden rolled his eyes to cover up the fact that he felt guilty about that -- which was absurd. She was hardly in a position to play victim, now. "Plainly," he said, bluntly. "He's a plain-spoken man, and doesn't do well with games. Tell him what you want and he'll do it. He'll be an excellent captain in due time." He was probably an excellent captain now, but Aiden could hardly blame him for being nervous about the wedding.
It was, after all, a career-changing event.
Queen Astraea - October 10, 2011 06:19 PM (GMT)
"If he proves to be an inadequate captain today, there probably will not be any time for him to prove himself as an excellent one later," Astraea snapped. "If he isn't killed or replaced by the end of the day, I will be shocked."
Astraea was expecting the man to fail. She might even have been wanting him to fail-- for various reasons.
Second-guessing her reasoning for coming all the way to this dismal place, she looked away from the call again and said, "Perhaps I should go. I do not see much coming from this conversation."
He was tired of her, ready to leave. She had a marriage and a parade and a coronation to get to. They weren't friends, and now he was merely a prisoner of hers, rather than the captain of her guard. They had no reason to speak to each other anymore. It was over.
Still, she hesitated to storm off.
Aiden Dax - October 10, 2011 06:22 PM (GMT)
He growled and sat up, glaring at her. "Stop hating the poor bastard just because I decided to quit," he snapped. He stood, stalking to the bars and glowering at her through his bangs. "I thought you'd be happy to see the last of me. How many times over the years have we exchanged bitter words, argued? Don't you think you're better off?"
Queen Astraea - October 10, 2011 06:29 PM (GMT)
Astraea's expression turned angry as she resisted the urge to back away from the cell.
"If I thought I would be better off, I would have arranged to have you escorted back to the mainland myself," she responded pointedly. "Instead you're here, and I do not hate your replacement. I believe he is incapable of performing his duties well enough to allow my plans to be carried out easily or safely, and that is a source of great inconvenience for me-- inconvenience you have caused."
He deserved to be in this cell.
. . . and she deserved to have a captain who could actually ensure her safety, but instead she got a mediocre replacement for a headache-of-a-captain who couldn't be bothered to do his job at all.
Finally taking a step back, as if preparing to dismiss herself, she added bitterly, "Luckily for you, if Sven survives the day, he just might be foolish enough to have you released. This sentence may not last much longer. Congratulations on your luck."
Aiden Dax - October 10, 2011 06:30 PM (GMT)
He slammed his palm against the bars of his cell, and said, lowly, "Release me, Astraea."
Queen Astraea - October 10, 2011 06:33 PM (GMT)
"I have nothing to gain from such an action. You can stay until your king decides to release you, if he will," she shot back, her voice so calm that it might have been disturbing. "I have enough to deal with today without having to deal with your problems."
She didn't feel like releasing him and having to explain the whole ordeal in order to save some of her reputation in the eyes of whoever happened to care about her idea of justice. . . then there were all of the other issues that she didn't want to confront.
Aiden Dax - October 10, 2011 06:35 PM (GMT)
He looked at her solemnly. Furiously. "I am still able to forgive you. I'm advising you not to move past that point," he warned her.
Queen Astraea - October 10, 2011 06:44 PM (GMT)
Astraea shook her head lightly. "What use do I have for your forgiveness? You are a prisoner. If you do not remain a prisoner, you will leave the islands and be done with me. Am I mistaken?"
Aiden Dax - October 10, 2011 06:59 PM (GMT)
"Perhaps we can bargain," he said, gritting his teeth.
Queen Astraea - October 10, 2011 07:18 PM (GMT)
"Bargain," she repeated skeptically, her brows raising as she stepped toward the cell again. Softly, but without losing any of the venom in her tone, she asked, "What do you have that I could possibly want now?"
He was powerless, he cared nothing for her- from what she could tell- and he actually wanted to make her life harder. He wanted to leave and be done with her, and he was willing to risk a lot to get the hell away. She couldn't trust him to make a reliable deal, and even if she could-- he was just a prisoner. He wanted to be nothing more than a foreigner. As far as she could see, he had absolutely nothing to offer and no real desire to be of any use to her.
Aiden Dax - October 10, 2011 07:19 PM (GMT)
"I'll return to being your captain," he said, calmly. He waited to see what she had to say about that.
Queen Astraea - October 10, 2011 07:24 PM (GMT)
She scoffed again, watching him for some indication of what he was getting at for a moment before she asked, "I am supposed to believe you would actually do your job? After your unbelievably ridiculous attempt at a resignation?" The slight smile on her lips might have suggested how amusing that idea was. Incredulous, she continued, "What would you demand in exchange for your oh-so-desirable service? Should I have the chancellor draw up some sort of contract saying you will be released from your service in a fortnight?"
Aiden Dax - October 10, 2011 07:25 PM (GMT)
He wrapped his hands around the bars. "Let me go home and see my family."
Queen Astraea - October 10, 2011 07:38 PM (GMT)
Her eyes narrowed. "And when would I allow you to do this? For how long?"
What the he'll was he thinking?
Aiden Dax - October 10, 2011 07:40 PM (GMT)
He shrugged. "Within the month, I would like to leave. I would like to remain with them for two weeks."
Queen Astraea - October 10, 2011 07:52 PM (GMT)
"You would be absent over a month. . . While your friend probably needs you most."
She was talking about Sven.
"And how could I even trust you now?" The question was rhetorical. "I can't."
Aiden Dax - October 10, 2011 07:59 PM (GMT)
He threw his hands up in a minute little gesture. "Fine." He was done talking to her about it. "No bargains." Turning away from her, he moved back to the little wooden bench that served as his cot and flopped back onto it.
Queen Astraea - October 11, 2011 01:24 AM (GMT)
The fact that he thought he could dismiss her and this conversation by just retreating to his little bench made her feel heated, despite the coolness of the air surrounding her. She wouldn't be sent away so easily. This wasn't over until she wanted it to be, but what more was there to say? She either had to agree to his terms or deny him. If she couldn't do that right off, she had to ask for more details or demand a moment to consider his offer. . .
"If you left, you would not come back," she muttered, looking to one side at nothing but shadow.
This was at least half the problem with his idea of a bargain.
Aiden Dax - October 11, 2011 01:27 AM (GMT)
He snorted. "Yes, well, given my long history of lying to you, I can see how that might be a problem," he said, sarcastic. He'd always been brutally honest with her. It was one of the many things she hated about him.
Queen Astraea - October 11, 2011 02:01 AM (GMT)
Astraea's brow furrowed deeply. Her words came out in one long, fast string of carefully contained fury as she explained, "You have been out of character on more than one occasion recently, and after completely disregarding the duties you agreed to perform- and the orders of the person you agreed to serve- you have earned my belief that you- like any desperate prisoner- would say anything for a chance escape and stay gone."
"I would be an idiot to assume you would return under the conditions of the so-called bargain you described."
Aiden Dax - October 11, 2011 02:02 AM (GMT)
"Fine," was all he said. He folded his arms under his head and closed his eyes.
Queen Astraea - October 11, 2011 02:10 AM (GMT)
Her lips pressed together to form a fine line as she glared at him, trying to see through his facade and figure out what was going on in that twisted mind of his.
"The fact that you give up so easily," she decided, "suggests that I am right not to accept the agreement you have proposed. You are not nearly desperate enough."
He was too proud to make a deal with her that she could accept, it seemed, and she had to wonder if he would agree to do anything that would benefit her anymore.
Aiden Dax - October 11, 2011 02:11 AM (GMT)
"Not desperate enough? A few seconds ago I was too desperate for you to trust. Make up your mind or be silenced, Astraea."
Queen Astraea - October 11, 2011 02:17 AM (GMT)
"Oh, I will not be taking any orders from you." She fought back a light laugh but smiled openly. Brightly, she explained, "You will just have to find a happy medium between complete desperation- recklessness- and an intense lack of concern for your situation that will lead me to believe that you woill not feel compelled to do anything for me in return for whatever I offer you." Sighing lightly, she added, "Perhaps you will simply have to wait and hope Sven feels like freeing you without asking for anything in return. . . I would not trust him to make a quick decision on that point, though. The man seems prone to hesitation. You may have to remain here for a while. So sad . . ."
Aiden Dax - October 11, 2011 02:19 AM (GMT)
"Tragic," he deadpanned, stifling a yawn. "I'm feeling rather tired, Astraea. If you must remain, try to be quiet."
Queen Astraea - October 11, 2011 02:23 AM (GMT)
"Prison has made you lazy, Aiden Dax," She told him with a critical tone, showing no sign of being quiet for him or leaving. "That is rather disappointing, though I suppose it is good for you to get your rest. With the sickness lingering down here and the lack of the food to which you are accustomed, you might fall ill soon or just wither away if you do not rest well and save your energy."
Aiden Dax - October 11, 2011 02:23 AM (GMT)
He didn't respond, eyes remaining closed.
Queen Astraea - October 11, 2011 02:26 AM (GMT)
"Of course if you continue to be this lazy," she mused, leaning against the bars of the cell, "and you manage to get out of here somehow, your family will not recognize you one bit. This is so very unlike you. . . granted, there are worse changes in you that they would have to adjust to."
Aiden Dax - October 11, 2011 02:26 AM (GMT)
Still no response, and his breathing was deep and even, as though asleep.
Queen Astraea - October 16, 2011 05:43 PM (GMT)
Astraea backed away slowly.
"I will return to see you tomorrow once I am finally freed from my own prison. . . unless Sven should manage to free you before then," she muttered, not really caring if she was heard. Damon didn't seem all that interested in hearing her, anyway. . .
"Have a lovely nap."
Aiden Dax - October 16, 2011 08:22 PM (GMT)
He spoke, then. "His boy saw us. The oldest. Me kissing you." His voice was soft, but matter-of-fact. It was what it was.
Queen Astraea - October 16, 2011 08:25 PM (GMT)
Astraea froze, shuddering slightly as if she and her incredible amount of self-control were overcoming some violent reaction in her body. Quickly, she stepped forward, drawn back to the bars of the cell yet again.
"How do you know this?" she asked urgently, her voice nearly a whisper despite its tension.
Aiden Dax - October 16, 2011 08:29 PM (GMT)
"How do you think? Sven told me." Sven must not have told her that he knew. Huffing slightly, he added, "You must know that he can't allow me to remain here. You have no choice, Astra. You have to let me go."
Queen Astraea - October 16, 2011 08:41 PM (GMT)
Not only did the duke-to-be, possibly king-to-be have it in his head that his mother-to-be was some sort of harlot. . . Astraea wasn't surprised by much but the ability for her situation to continuously get worse and worse was becoming difficult for her to believe. The complexity of the circumstances surrounding this entire marriage ordeal was beyond anything she had been expecting, and she hadn't been expecting anything remotely easy to deal with.
She had expected Aiden to stop insisting that she didn't have any choice in this matter, but he too continued to push her.
"I do not have to do anything," she insisted. "Unless his son is so foolish as to want his father's reign and his future to be compromised, he will say nothing of what he saw to anyone else, and Sven certainly will not go blabbing about it to everyone he sees. He can allow you to remain here. I can demand that you do."
. . . and she might. The option was highly appealing in this moment, if only because it would allow her to prove that she could.
After taking in a deep breath of stale air, she added, "Stop trying to inform me of what I must and must not do. I am capable of understanding my options."
Aiden Dax - October 16, 2011 08:42 PM (GMT)
He sighed heavily, tired of all the years of fighting. "Why do you want me here? Because I wish to leave and you were ill prepared for it? Because you feel as though you need to control me, and you're angry that you can't all of a sudden?"