Emery wasn’t stupid.
Yes, he was a figurehead prince with no real power; yes, his younger brother is the crown prince; yes, he was the illegitimate child. But he wasn’t stupid.
A suicide mission was a suicide mission.
And it was one that he couldn’t refuse, since it came from the King, who gave him the crisp letter of death with an equally crisp smile.
“I trust you to make the best decisions.”
Best decisions? Best decisions? More like a glorified reason to kill him off and tell everyone else that he had died on a ‘noble mission’.
He threw the letter into the fire, crackling merrily in the heath near his head. There was no point in keeping it anyway, since the contents were scorched into his mind with a vengeance.
For the First Prince, Emery of Surean.
Commission: To assassinate the Crown Prince of Creotha.
Unlimited use of the kingdom’s resources.
Signed: King of Surean
He sighed and laid down on the overgrown carpet in his room, staring at the ceiling. What was the use of an unlimited budget if it couldn’t save his life? The Crown Prince of Creotha was known across the seven seas for his calculative, intelligent mind, and he had so many spies and assassins that Emery would probably die as soon as he even thought about crossing the border. Even the chandelier hanging on his ceiling looked like it was pitying him, the glowing crystal orbs shining with a tragic light. He closed his eyes.
Footsteps tiptoed outside, making swishing noises as they scuffled along the carpet.
Emery didn’t bother to open his eyes — who else would care enough to come see him beside his dearest younger brother? “Micho.”
“What are you here for?” His eyes were still closed.
The door clicked shut, a quiet settling over them both like a blanket. Emery was brought hopelessly back to when they used to be children, hiding under the mountain of sheets, tucked in securely between the pillows. When Micho was just Mic, Emery’s younger brother, and not Micho, the Crown Prince.
He opened his eyes now and took in Micho’s appearance. Same wispy blonde hair, same cerulean blue eyes, same lines of tension around his eyes that were the only tell in his otherwisely calm mask.
“Have you been sleeping enough?” Was the question he blurted out. It came out like a muscle memory, a reflex, a sense of responsibility instilled since birth.
Micho’s voice went soft around the edges. “Eight hours everyday.”
There was a pause.
And then came the dreaded question, “Are you alright?”
Emery stared at the pitying chandelier again, wishing that somehow this was all a mistake, that the letter had been meant for someone else, but he knew his father. He knew the ruthless methods to keep control.
“Am I alright?” he wondered aloud.
“I can try to convince Father.” Micho said. “I can get you on a ship to another place. I can —”
His voice shattered, and suddenly it was Mic, standing alone and broken, leaning against the door, with his blue eyes wide and his hands shaking. “Just — don’t leave me.”
‘Like Mother did.’ hung in the air, unspoken. Emery squeezed his eyes shut.
Mic was fighting tears now. The mask was still on as firmly as ever, but there was a tremble of the lips, a sudden stiffness in his jaw.
Emery hugged him solemnly. Mic was still as thin as ever, always skinny for his age, and he felt like he would crush the bony shoulders if he squeezed too hard. “I’ll be back before you know it.”
Empty promises, but necessary ones.
“Don’t you dare die.” Emery felt the first drops of water hit his shoulder. “Don’t you dare.”
The words ‘I won’t’ got stuck in his throat.
The chandelier, pitying and benevolent minutes ago, suddenly seemed to cast razor-sharp sunblades across Emery’s hands. He suppressed a flinch. The clouds must have shifted, he told himself, this won’t be the last time he’ll see the sun, or the sky, or Micho. The blades of sunshine slid across his knuckles and lit up Mic’s neck, and he felt the first goosebumps of fear raise on his arms.
Stop being superstitious, he told himself. Mic’s not going to get hurt. He’s not the one that should be fearing for his life. In fact, Emery should really start pulling himself together and finding the best plan of survival.
But the image of the slices of sunlight reflecting starkly against Mic’s skin haunted him. Was the plan really to get Emery out of the equation?
Written by Amy Zuo and edited by Shafquat Tabeeb. Published on 3/9/23. Header image by Sophia Pu.