"James is dying," Nefertiti said, her voice a whisper and barely audible from the balcony. The gray stone was cool beneath her hands, smooth from generations before her, and comforting to support herself on as she stared down to the gardens and gates of their palace below.
Queen Nefertiti was dark haired and tan, with wide eyes and a thin smile. It was her husband their children took after. Both young men with blond hair and blue eyes, both growing tall and strong and moving towards becoming the rulers of their odd-named nation.
Her husband's, Arthur's, breath caught. A short little gasp and snarl as his fists clenched by his side. His curses were so soft that it was difficult to catch them between the night-things and lazy breeze.
"Oswald cannot lead."
"He will have to."
Footsteps, and Arthur was pacing. "Could we find an excuse to appoint a Regent?"
"He is already seventeen," Nefertiti said. "When you die, he will be king."
Arthur cursed again, louder, as Nefertiti left her perch at the balustrade and approached her husband instead. There were night birds that shrieked, and chose this moment to do so, covering the King and Queen's whispers and mutterings. The birds only left when their whispers grew louder, keeping their conversation mostly private in some strange form of respect.
There was a sigh.
"We must find a way to be rid of the golems," Arthur said, one arm having traveled to wrap about Nefertiti's waist, other hand bringing a lock of her hair to his nose, nuzzling the dark strand. "If nothing else."
Nefertiti nodded and pressed her face to his chest, ignoring the iron and straps and decoration, breathing in. "Of course. We would need to, regardless."
Arthur nodded, "I know. I will discuss this with the"
Oswald turned form the doorway and fled. Suddenly he didn't quite feel in the mood to eavesdrop anymore.
Instead, he crept down the stone hall, shivering in a way that had very little to do with the weather. Neither his flaxen blue cloak nor the flickering torches of the halls protected him from the chill sinking into his bones as he navigated the winding halls with the ease of a man who had grown up hiding within its niches.
His brother's room was in the West wing, three floors above the entrance gates and overlooking the town beyond the impenetrable white walls. The door was old oak and made the slightest creaking as he turned the latch and slowly pushed it open.
"You are not stealthy at all."
Oswald did not jump. "I was not attempting to be. I was attempting to be quiet."
"You are not quiet, either," James said.
Candles and lamps gently illuminated the room. At the moment, it was one of the finest in the castle, even rivaling the Ballroom and chamber of their parents. The floor was stone, like the rest of the castle, but covered by a soft woolen rug dyed deep blue. The wall was covered in tapestries of tightly woven gold and green threads. The window was encumbered only by drawn, thick curtains, and the mattress filled with only the finest straw.
On that mattress, in the dim night light that snaked through the window like an intruder, His Dread Lord, Prince James III lay, wrapped in blankets.
"I apologize," Oswald said, standing by the bedside.
"Sit," James said. Oswald took the ornamental oak chair from the cornerthe one with floral patters their mother so enjoyedand moved it near the carved headboard before sitting in it. His hands were folded tightly in his lap between his legs. "What is the matter?"
"Nothing is the matter. I just wanted to visit. Is there something the matter with that?"
"Yes," James said. "There is always something the matter with lying."
"I am not lying," his hands did not unclasp out of his lap, but neither did Oswald's head come up. As he glanced shyly sideways to glimpse his brother, his eyes did not blink.
"You are lying," James said, "And I would greatly like to know about what and why."
"It is nothing. Honestly, I am fine. I just wanted to see you," and this time Oswald did blink.
James twisted under his blankets. In the moonlight, his pale, sweaty skin glimmered white. "In that case, if nothing is wrong, would you mind giving me a bit of aid?"
Oswald nodded and quickly gets to hid feet, leaning over to pull the topmost layer of blankets off of his brother and doing his best to not wince as a gentle sigh escaped chewed lips. "Are you thirsty?"
James nodded. Oswald propped him up gently by rearranging the pillows behind his head, helping him sit mostly upright. Fetching the pitcher from the bedside table, he filled a bronze goblet half full and delicately pressed and tilted it against James' lips until the water ran out. Only a tiny bit escaped James' mouth.
Oswald guessed when to pull back, and when there was no protest, set the goblet down once more.
James' hands remained limply at his sides, with only the occasional twitch to show they weren't unnatural dead flesh attached to his very living, very breathing, brother.
Deep breaths filled the room over the night sounds. James' skin was still white and shimmering with sweat. "Now what's wrong?"
James scowled. "I am not dying."
"I know you are not," Oswald said. "Is it wrong for me to be concerned, regardless?"
"If you do not believe I am dying, what could be bothering you? You are not blinking."
Oswald blinked swiftly.
"What is it?" James' hands twitched at his side. Slowly, his arm rose, the movement starting at his shoulder and continuing clumsily to raise his elbow. It his forearm flopped listlessly as he carried it across the bed to rest on Oswald's shoulder. "Tell me."
"You are hurting yourself," Oswald muttered, cupping his hand over his brother's almost lifeless fingers.
"And I believe I may very well continue doing so." It was quiet for a brief time, and the night sounds chittered and squawked outside the window.
"They say I will be the next king," Oswald said, his voice low but no longer truly quiet. "I do not think I would be a good king."
"Oh," James said, and quite suddenly looked rather concerned. "Is it definite? That you will be king?"
Oswald nodded, moving to help lay James back flat on the bed before sitting back in his chair and rubbing his eyes slowly with the palm of his hands. "And it will be a short reign."
"They will not rebel against you," James scoffed.
"They might," Oswald scowled. "Not a rebellion two centuries and I'm most likely to receive the first."
Jams scoffed again, raising one of his limp arms by the shoulder once more and smacking himself in the face when he forgets that half the weight keeping him down was the sheet just recently removed. "You will have advisors advisors trained by the same advisors Father has right now. They will steer you clear of the people's wrath and you will be perfectly fine. The kingdom is not about to collapse because of you. Trust them."
Oswald nodded and sighed once more. "I am nervous."
"I assume you are terrified. I would prefer to be wrong, however," James said, snorting. "You will be perfectly alright as long as you do not show how worried you are."
Oswald nodded and clenched his hands together once more in his lap. He tried to not bite the inside of his lip. "I will do my best," he said, and took a deep breath, blinked again and pushed back all the squirming nerves in his stomach to somewhere he would not focus on them right then and there. "How are you feeling tonight?"
"Warm," James said, "May I have another cup of water?" Oswald retrieved the goblet and pitcher once more and delicately poured the liquid down James' throat. James took another deep sigh. Theirs was a family of sighs. "Thank you, again."
Oswald nodded, "It is nothing. But how are you?"
"Still warm," James replied, "and weary.
It is getting harder to move lately. I haven't been able to move my feet," as he spoke, he looked down towards his feet and as though to prove his point, there wasn't a hint of movement. Not even a slight twitch to make a cat believe a mouse was hiding beneath the thinner under-sheets.
"I should have held the horse firmer," Oswald said, watching the end of his brother's bed.
"I should have held on tighter is what should have been done," James replied, his eyes rolling back up and away. "But it is in the past now. We shouldn't complain. I am still alive and the throne still has a viable heir," his smile was small and flickering on his lips and his face was still pale. Oswald found it rather difficult to be cheerful.
"How long to you think before I ascend the throne?" he said, his voice once again dropping until it was quiet.
"You mean before Father dies?"
"I suppose I do."
"I shouldn't worry. Neither should you," James said, his voice growing somewhat more powerful in what must have been an attempt to bolster confidence. "It will be decades," Oswald's weak smile twitched into something slightly stronger.
James laughed a weak little laugh. Weak not because of lack of humor, but because his body no longer shook with him as he laughed. "It is no problem. Though I do suggest that if you are so worried about kingship, go out and do the things you wish to now, before a coronation ever has the chance. After, there will be very little time left to yourself. Go out, there must be something you wish to enjoy before more restrictions are placed," James grinned a toothy grin and gave Oswald a wink. Oswald sat beside his brother with his mouth hanging open and his hands again clasping tightly.
"IJames, what are you suggesting?" he said.
James laughed his weak (never-would-boom-again) laugh and grinned his toothy grin, "Did you not mention a certain special someone you wished to see again last solstice?"
Oswald paled rapidly. "I most certainly did not."
"You most certainly did-to," James said, "and as I recall, you were rather obviously pining not a month ago."
"It is not a kind thing to spread lies," Oswald spoke through gritted teeth. "I was twelve."
"Yet, five years later and you are obviously still pining. Stop scowling. No one knows," James said, "I have kept your little secret and now in return for keeping it, I demand you act on it rather than spending the next several years sitting around, thinking about it, and moping."
Oswald's hands came up and covered his face. He groaned into them noisily and heaved out one more great sigh.
"James," he said, "you do realize I have more than one secret."
"Of course," James said.
"Then you also realize that I have not given you their name for a reason."
If James could have leaned closer, he would have Oswald could tell by the look on his brother's face. His brother who hadn't laughed and exposed him. His brother who had grown with him in the castle and run with him down the halls. His brother who he'd known every little nervous quirt and habit of. Until his brother lost all those bodily little quirks nervous habits with a bad, bad fall.
His brother who'd known Oswald for nearly every moment of his life.
"Well? Are you about to tell me?" James said. If he could have leaned closer, he would have; it was so obviously by the look on his face.
Oswald took a deep breath and leaned forward instead, so that his breath ran over the shell of his brother's ear. "I suppose I am."