It is a world amidst the stars. Perhaps fate’s fingertips will pluck me from my sleep and lift me to her shadowed shores…‘
Falcon had not spoke in an unkindly way, yet the the footman went running as though he had been shouted at.
Falcon glanced down and had to grin. Vaughn was crouched beside the desk so Grinwoody could not see him, his wiry body contorted like a stork trying to bend itself double. His brown eyes twinkled with mischief, as usual.
“You can’t avoid Father forever, Vaughn.”
“I’m not avoiding him. I’m just eager to take some time… not away from Father exactly, just… without him.”
Falcon said flatly.
“The question, little brother, is why.”
Well, it doesn’t matter, I suppose. He only ever summons me when he wishes to scold me.”
“That’s not true, Vaughn. You must understand, Father is Earl Afonsine and has a lot of responsibility. Since I am the elder son that title will be left to me, one day. That is the only reason why he appears to pay more attention to me.”
“Shall I tell you a secret? When Father and I are alone, he only ever talks about you. He tells me that your skill with piano is second to none!”
“Truly. All he ever does is sing your praises – it’s actually quite irksome.”
“Let’s go before Grinwoody comes back. Charles and I caught a big, old badger – all grouchy at being pulled from its den. I was thinking of letting it loose on the green and watching the girls run.”
“I’m afraid I can’t – Father would have me finish these letters.”
“Blergh!” Vaughn exclaimed with immeasurable distaste. “I never took you for such a blind fool, Falcon!”
“Well, you can’t be very bright, or they’d never have been able to shove you around so much! One thing is for certain: it isn’t going to happen to Vaughn Afonsine!”
“So you say,” Falcon chided, “But I believe Mother has invited Lady Landgraab for high tea today. I do hope Millerna is with her. Watching you stare at her all day looking like you’ve been poleaxed will be as good as a badger any day.”
At the very best of times he was never very nimble with girls, but whenever Millerna gave him that intent look, as if every last ounce of her attention was on him, he just could not seem to make the words go where he wanted.
“I told Charles that some of the staff had seen ghost hounds breathing fire and running wild in the estate. He ate it up like clotted cream.”
Falcon said doubtfully.
“You see, I covered the hunting dogs with flour, so they were all white and let them loose on the grounds. But how was I to know they would run straight back into Father’s study? It really wasn’t my fault.”
Said teen immediately schooled his expression into one of perfect innocence – he’d had years of practice – as their mother stepped into the room, obviously having heard the entire admission.
“No doubt he did,” Moiraine said with a knowing look, “And no doubt, since you are a boy who does as he is told right off, you’ve finished already.”
When he realised his mistake, he began to think of leaving no matter if his Father’s slimy servant found him or not.
As usual, Millerna held herself up with a grace and air of command that made Vaughn feel awkward and stumble-footed. She was barely tall enough to come up to his shoulders, but her presence was such that her height seemed the proper one, and he felt at once ungainly in his tallness.
What was it you were just saying? Isn’t going to happen to you? Just keep your mouth shut and bow for all you’re worth, and I’ll pull your bacon off the coals.”
Falcon always seemed to know what to say, where women were concerned. His mother already appeared pacified by Falcon’s attentions, as they conversed jovially in rather rapid French, while Countess Landgraab looked on.
Millerna approached him, giggling.
“Your face truly was a picture, Vaughn! Why, I haven’t seen you look quite so terrified since your Lord father caught you and Charles up in his apple trees when you were ten.”
The corners of her mouth quirked in a smile so beautiful that it made Vaughn’s mouth go dry.
… but whatever he had been about words he was about to flounder for died in his mouth as Grinwoody marched back through the door, eyes narrowed.
Just looking at her he remembered why he’d been so intimidated by her when they were children.
A twinge or resentment curled inside Vaughn’s belly. It had been – indeed – quite a while since they’d last spoken.
Vaughn smiled beignly. “Haven’t you heard the rumours? They are all over the place.”
“Rumours are rarely truthful, Vaughn.”
“And what part of it seems untrue to you, my lady?”
“You heard correctly, then. See? Not all rumours are pure rubbish.”
Millerna’s voice was pitched low, a tone Vaughn could recognise anywhere.
“… you still haven’t told me how you’ve been.”
How have I been, really? Vaughn paused, thoughtfully. Angry? Happy? Relieved? Tired?
“Yes, perfectly fine.”
He certainly wasn’t feeling defeated or upset or anything. Why should he? Wasn’t this the natural outcome that everyone had seen coming? Why wouldn’t he be okay with something he couldn’t possibly do anything about?
If only his chest would stop aching, everything would be completely perfect.
I can only guess what goes on in your head, because you don’t talk. I shouldn’t even care.”
Vaughn muttered sullenly, almost too low to be heard.
What happened to you, Vaughn?”
“I think he would be content to know you’re alive and happy.”
He blanched at that. “You think I’m happy?”
Millerna took a deep breath and let it out in a heavy sigh.
“I think that you could be. You don’t have to keep paying for his death. It wasn’t your fault.”
“You don’t know what you’re talking about. You have no idea what you’re talking about. Two weeks from now I’m going home – I’m going from here and from this cursed country both.”
“I’m sorry, Vaughn. Please don’t misunderstand me – I didn’t mean… I only meant that it’s time to find a new reason to stay now.”
Vaughn laughed suddenly, a bitter sound.
“Now that’s what I call humble.”
“Do you enjoy being cruel and beastly to me? Why can’t you understand? I love you, Vaughn.”
Vaughn’s voice sounded unbearably weary.
He drew in one shaky breath.
“Falcon told me not to cross the bridge, but I… I didn’t listen, just like I never listened. I always thought I knew best.”
Millerna swallowed, incapable of saying anything to that. She felt helpess and devastated because this was something she hadn’t even suspected.
Why not choose this then? Why not be… what I can be?”
“I’m not who you want me to be, Millerna… and I never will be.”
It hurt to say the words and bare herself to such extent when Vaughn wasn’t giving an inch.
“It says nothing.” Vaughn replied flatly.
“You’re wrong! I can hear it louder than music!”
“If she loved you with all the power of her soul for a whole lifetime, she couldn’t love you as much as I do in a single day!”
“I told you— I told you this wouldn’t work.”
I’m not who you want me to be… and I will never be.
“— you should have let go.”
Vaughn made to leave, but her hand shot out to grasp his wrist, effectively stopping him.
“Please let me go.”
Millerna squeezed at his wrist, staring deep into his eyes, willing him to understand that somehow – stupidly – she still loved him, still loved all of him. Just like Vaughn had never stopped loving his brother: with that same loyalty, the same sorrow.
“But I still love you!”
….let me go.”
Numbness crept over her as he hurriedly walked away.