Wulfric & Anastasia
Anastasia's gaze shifted to Wulfric before nodding in agreement. Her eyes had been wandering over the beautifully decorated cakes while the servants inspected them. With a gentle sigh, she stepped back and leaned her head delicately on Wulfric's shoulder. At that, her brother wrapped her in a light half-hug, moving his arm to rest across her collarbones.
"Look at these cakes," she said softly, gesturing to the intricately decorated pastries. "Each one must have taken so much time and dedication. You can see the passion in the baker's work… His eyes were sparkling when he first came in here... This must be his dream." A tinge of sadness crept into her tone as she spoke in a low voice. "I imagine he thought being able to showcase his work to the king could have been his big break."
Wulfric’s gaze tracked the exquisite delicacies. They were beautiful, no doubt about it. Yet, that they came from Ezra coloured how he viewed them. Granted, he was generally wary of things brought to them by strangers. But with this man, he couldn’t help but think only of the avenues of attack he might pursue.
“His work is still here to be showcased, is it not?” Her brother seemed entirely unmoved by sympathy. “As you have heard, father is considering hiring him…If everything checks out, I suppose he will be attaining his dream.” By his cool tone, it was clear Wulfric disapproved of Ezra on principle alone. He thought that if the baker genuinely wished to work for royals out of the passion for his work, that would be acceptable. However, he did not believe it was just that.
Anastasia fell silent for a moment, lost in thought, before continuing. "I understand that being part of the royal family means we need to be careful and all that, but I can't help but wonder if we should be so quick to look for the evil in others… There is goodness to be found in people, Wulfric."
Unseeing to her, a frown formed upon his brow. “Have you ever felt-” he began, but cut himself off with a sharp exhale. “This…may be a more involved conversation,” he remarked. “Shall we relocate?”
He felt her nod against his shoulder. “Sure… We can go to my room.” She had then raised her head and looked toward King Edin. For whatever reason, she felt sorry to leave him on his lonesome. “...We’re finished with dinner. We’ll see you soon, father.” She added before turning to head upstairs. King Edin glanced their way and waved them off, finally standing up himself.
Wulfric was led upstairs to her bedroom, where they were greeted by a loud squawk. In the center of the round feminine bedroom perched a falcon, seated comfortably on her jewelry stand.
“That’s Thara.” Anastasia immediately explained as she closed the door. “Pretty girl, isn’t she?”
Wulfric was immediately distracted by the falcon. “A beauty…” he affirmed. There was a restrained, quiet marvel in his tone and expression. Though he kept several birds of prey in their royal mews, he did not interact with them on a daily basis. That, and he always enjoyed meeting a new one. Cautiously, he drew closer to the bird, observing its reaction.
“Thara,” he called out to it softly. It seemed content, preening its feathers. From the dishes that had been set out for it, he picked a piece of raw meat, offering a treat to the bird. For a moment, the falcon simply stared at him, but after fluffing its feathers, it obliged, and gently snapped it up.
Clicking his tongue, he extended a palm towards it slowly, though he was ready to withdraw it in case of an aggressive reaction. However, the creature was both tame and friendly, and allowed itself to be pet by a stranger even without its owner present. “Good girl,” he complimented with a tiny smile as he trailed his hand along its feathers.
“Whose is she?” he asked curiously as he stepped away, and found a seat for himself.
Anastasia had stepped forward behind him, her eyes on him. She smiled to herself upon seeing his. “Farim sent her to me for a visit. If you recall, he is visiting from the Alidasht.”
At her sister’s answer, he nodded, and returned to their previous line of conversation with a more serious expression. “Being kind and trusting are good traits Anastasia,” she could hear a ‘but’ coming. “Traits which certain individuals will happily take advantage of. People have all sorts of potential…both for ‘good’ and for ‘evil’. I believe it prudent to recognize both.” Though he was personally a proponent of the adage that it was better safe than sorry.
“Now, I do not know Ezra,” he admitted. “However…Have you ever felt about someone that they are simply off somehow?”
Anastasia shuffled her feet. She certainly had on many occasions, but she had also ignored the feeling. Sometimes it had been because she wanted to give people the benefit of the doubt, other times it had simply been because she didn’t care. “...I have.” She answered softly nonetheless, opting not to give further context.
Wulfric quirked up a brow. So she did have some sort of a danger sense. “And?” he prompted, urging her to elaborate.
She was hesitant to answer. “I guess I ignore it sometimes…I assume I don’t have the best judgment based on my track record… It doesn’t help that I’ve screwed up a lot today.” She admitted sheepishly. Anastasia had never been comfortable opening up. She paced in her spot for a moment before sitting down on the edge of her bed. “When you feel that way, do you end up right?”
“Ignore…?” Wulfric frowned. “Sister, there is a reason we have these instincts. Their function is to protect us.” This was a notion he hoped to imprint upon her. “As for mine, they are fairly well-honed. I am usually right,” he asserted. “Though, I have been wrong before. Both to trust, and to doubt.” He paused. “Being wrong about trusting someone tends to be more,” painful, “harmful.”
He tapped his fingers against his leg as he considered how to address her other remark. “I do not frankly know what your judgment of the present situation is. If you want to know mine, I would caution that this so-called friend of yours - Marek - is not to be trusted.
Anastasia knew his advice made sense. It was better safe than sorry when it came to such a matter. The problem was that the princess never quite lived her life with much regard for the consequences for herself.
As for Wulfric, it was different. He was so important to the kingdom and his people. Everything he did mattered. Though a heavy burden without a doubt, she wondered what it was like to feel as if one’s life truly mattered.
Her thoughts were cut through like a knife at the mention of Marek. She stiffened as she considered his words. “I don’t know about Marek.” Anastasia admitted both to herself and her brother.
“He’s been our friend for a long time and I’ve never seen him ever try to hurt anyone… When I saw what had happened to Zarai, I felt confused and angry. …But I didn’t want to send him to his death without knowing for sure.” She met Wulfric’s eyes, her tone etched with sadness. “I need to know for sure before our parents hurt him… If it wasn’t him, then it’s not fair to do this to him…”
At that, her brother’s expression hardened, his eyes narrowing. “Know for sure?” he repeated, quiet but aggravated. “It was at his party where you were all drugged, your memories taken. His party where each and every one of you could have died. Where you had nearly died. Do you have any idea what states you all returned in?” Anger blazed in his gaze, and tension had gripped his whole body. He had leaned forward, expression stern and intent, fingers digging into the upholstery of his seat. Upon becoming aware of his agitation, however, he visibly took a moment to calm down.
“Besides, just what do you think the investigation is for?” he questioned, traces of frustration still remaining. “To find out precisely the what, how, and who. Yet you, while claiming you would like to know are acting in his protection. Your silence hinders our attempts to explore the lead we do have, Anastasia,” he told her seriously. “Do you think that fair?” he couldn’t help but wonder.
Wulfric then sighed. “I don’t expect you’ll tell me more about him. But think on this carefully. How many of the times that you were with him do you even remember? How would you know if he had or hadn’t done something? If last night hadn’t been the first occurrence, then when and what else? And if it had been, do you think it a coincidence? Or insignificant? That so many people were put at risk?”
He gave her a look of grave significance. “You call him your friend, but just how well do you truly know Marek Delronzo?”
Anastasia’s brows slowly furrowed. “I know him enough… Can’t you at least try to understand how I feel?” She finally argued defensively once space was available in the conversation.
She got to her feet once more and approached him with her hands on her hips, visibly frustrated, “Don’t you have friends, Wulfric? If your friend was being accused of something, wouldn’t you want to at least talk to them yourself before just throwing them to the wolves? Yeah, it was his party but for all I know someone else did that to us! I don’t remember, remember! I don’t have any info for your investigation.”
“What I understand…” Wulfric tilted his head and gazed at her calmly, “is that you do not agree with some official procedures, nor trust that the ‘right’ thing will be done unless you do something by yourself.” Just what did she expect to find out from her position of blind faith, however?
“Moments ago, you said it yourself; you don’t actually know about Marek. Yet it seems to me that all you want is reassurance that it wasn’t him.” What was worrying was that he knew perfectly well she was ready to act on that, and approach Delronzo by herself.
“If it were me, I would want to know the facts.” He gazed up at her, not feeling it necessary to stand up as well. “And there are some available already. Someone put Fletcher up to bringing you all to that party. The party where you were harmed. Yet, none of you remember any of it. Your memories cut off precisely before arriving at that location. When you were retrieved, your states were critical, but there was nothing to see there anymore. Because the evidence had been disappeared,”he layed out the events.
“Don’t you see how convenient this all is for him? The very man responsible for the event?”
Her eyes had begun to brim with tears at the mention of Darryn. She felt as if everyone had spoken down to her like she was an imbecile today: Darryn, Wulfric, and even Callum, who usually was on her side. Anastasia could not help but wonder if her words would always fall empty on the ears of others.
“If the responsibility falls on me to give up a man’s name to our parents, people who had Darryn tortured this morning, then yes, I do want to find out the facts first. I want to know everything for certain… I care about these people, Wulfric…” Anastasia ran a hand through her hair stressfully and then looked upon her brother again after a shaky exhale.
Witnessing her distress, he took the time to think about this one. “So do I.” The assertion was solemn. Their ways of caring and their viewpoints were entirely different. But perhaps, if he offered her a concession he hadn’t to Callum, they could find common ground?
“I don’t want to fight with you too, Wulfric… I’ve fought with both Darryn, who’s lost his mind, and then Callum, and now Callum basically hates me because he thinks I gave you Marek’s name. I promised him I would talk to Marek tonight and now I am giving you a promise too.”
At the mention of Fletcher and Callum, Wulfric blinked in surprise. However, he focused on what his sister wanted to tell him presently.
Anastasia moved closer to him, her tone pleading and weary, “Please just give me tonight to see if I can find anything out...Then tomorrow I will give up everything I know about him. I promise.”
What if you can’t? What if she was silenced? But he knew that regardless of what he said or did, she would go.
A deeply conflicted expression set in. After a long moment of silence, he finally stood up. “Fine,” he gave in unhappily. Her brows lifted in surprise at his words.
He stepped closer, and settled his palms upon her shoulders. “But I will set some people on you - covertly - for your protection.” This was a condition he wouldn’t relent on. “Please do not attempt to seek them out, nor to avoid them.” If she was this set out on acting as the proverbial ‘bait’, then at least it would be better if she had a fallback.
In a rare show of vulnerability, he enveloped her in a full hug. “I need you back safe,” he told her quietly. This was paramount.
He released her, though his touch lingered. “Alright?” he asked as he met her gaze.
“Oh… Okay, that’s fine.” Anastasia replied with hesitation. She was surprised that Wulfric was compromising with her. She had been certain he’d have given her more of a pushback on that one. Then he hugged her and she found herself even more surprised, both by the embrace itself and by what he had told her.
Anastasia tensed up for a split second, unsure of how to react, but then his words registered. She gradually relaxed and wrapped her arms around him, returning the embrace. “I promise I will… You’ll always have me, Wulfric.”
I hope so. He reached out to gently brush back her hair, smoothing it down caringly. His expression was difficult to discern; besides the barely visible concern, there was very subtle melancholy there. With a heavy sigh, he sat back down. It appeared as if this all had taken much out of him.
She then asked after a pause, “…Who gave you and mother his name anyway?”
“The name…” he nodded slowly. He had a concern about revealing it right now, and he decided to be frank. “I fear Delronzo may have the means to make you tell him whatever he wants without you knowing.” He wouldn’t mention magic to her. Not…yet.
Anastasia was perplexed and did nothing to conceal so from her expression.
“So, once you’re back, I will tell you,” he promised. “Callum too,” he glanced at her. “I believe…I have an idea how he came to his unfortunate conclusion.”
He then leaned back into his seat, clearly in deep thought. His demeanour gradually shifted towards neutral, even businesslike, which was more usual for him. “I would also like for you to be openly escorted by one or two guards.” He paused to gauge her reaction. “They should remain by your side throughout the visit. If your friend is reasonable,” or if he wanted to act that way, “he will understand that we are concerned for your safety.”
He gave her the time to opine, but she merely nodded.
“While you are visiting, do your utmost to be careful. Don’t carelessly accept anything,” he warned. “Even if he regains your trust, do not agree to be alone with him, not even for a moment. Be cautious of any future potential meetings as well.”
He tapped a finger against his knee, and gave her a serious look. “If anything feels amiss, even slightly, listen to your instincts, and trust them.”
Anastasia had nodded to each and every statement, though her nods grew less enthusiastic and more weary as he had droned on.
Once they’ve discussed the safety procedures, Wulfric decided to address a somewhat related topic. “Mind telling me about Fletcher?”
“I found him outside and well, he was not happy.” Anastasia decided to make up for her lack of information to tell about Marek, she proceeded to recount her conversation with Darryn, giving him most of the details. She left out the little gift he had left with her, unsurprisingly. Her tone was guilt-ridden and the conversation was reiterated in a manner that revealed her view that he was a victim and she agreed with what he had said. “...Then he left me on my own…He’s never gotten angry like that. I felt so horrible about it.”
Wulfric’s expression had darkened as she had recounted their meeting.
That’s what I get for letting a traitor live.
In one brief instant, a strong murderous intent flared up. It was akin to the split second in which an ambush predator made their appearance, aiming for the kill. But then, Thara made a distressed sound, and had puffed up comically, so Wulfric reigned it in.
Easy. He took a deep and slow breath, exhaling just as carefully. Even if the utter scum did not deserve it, the prince had promised his life to Callum. Besides, even as a part of his mind whispered that they didn’t have to know, he realized his siblings would be upset for him to die. Unfortunately, Anastasia too was much too much sympathetic in regards to Fletcher.
“No doubt he has been fed strange substances too. Emotional instability like that is one of the signs of drug abuse,” he said cooly. He felt like ‘drugs’ might become his go-to euphemism for magic, but what he said was true too. Her eyes averted at that statement.
“Besides, he was the one using you, Anastasia, not the other way around. He knew perfectly well what he was doing when he drove you to that party.” At the very least, he would have known the dangers of bringing royalty anywhere dubious, even more so when it’d been on someone else’s orders.
“I know maybe he’s not the person I thought he was, but I feel guilty for my part… But I guess all I can do now is try to be a better person… I just hope he’ll be okay.” Anastasia replied to Wulfric and rubbed her arm with worry. After a moment, she gestured to the bird. “Well, I suppose I better go give Farim his bird back…He invited me to that dinner anyway… Don’t suppose you wanted to come crash it with me?”
Wulfric shook his head at that last question, though he smiled faintly. Anastasia did seem to be feeling a tad better. “Do you know where he might have gone?” he questioned in regards to the stableboy.
“He went south from Alibeth Avenue... I don’t know where he was going.”
He then confirmed when she intended to visit Delronzo. “I suppose you have some time then. I recommend keeping your dinner crashing short, so you can get some rest. It would be best if you were in top form for that meeting.” She had struck him as quite tired, after all.
Having concluded their chat, Wulfric stood up to leave. He approached Anastasia before departing, however, and laid an arm across her shoulders. “I shan’t oppose your determination to change for the better, as I find it admirable. But don’t believe someone’s malicious opinion about you so easily. You aren’t a bad person, sister.” He could have found countless reasons to refute each and every one of Fletcher’s statements she’d relayed as being bothered by, but he hoped his gaze told her all.
Anastasia smiled genuinely at his words.
“Well, why don’t you go show them all?” he smirked, clapped her back, then took his leave.