When Crow arrived at the Great Hall, he habitually stopped to look for Penelope among the crowd. It wasn’t long before he spotted her, and he smiled to himself before taking a step toward her table. However, in the next moment, he wavered, noticing that she was eating her supper with a knight he recognized as Tybalt, the captain of the castle guard. Remembering that she had made plans to eat with the older man in an attempt to get answers about his nightmare, he reluctantly turned away from the two. He was still doubtful that her questioning was going to get her anywhere, but he didn’t want to interrupt them regardless.
Letting his eyes wander over the other faces in the room, he eventually caught sight of Naida eating at a different table. His sister caught his gaze and waved, beckoning him over. Unfortunately, though he would have liked to spend time with her, he wasn’t as fond of her company. He hesitated as his gaze rested on Braden’s back. It had been a while since the last time he’d spoken to his brother, but none of their encounters had been positive so far, so he didn’t really feel like trying to speak with the crown prince again.
Naida didn’t give him much of a choice.
“Hey, Collin!” she called out when he made no moves to join her. “Over here!”
Crow grimaced as her loud voice drew the attention of the other people in the Great Hall. Some of the nobles near her looked up from their conversations to eye him across the room. Not wanting to stand out any more than he already did, he ducked his head slightly and made his way over to the princess. There was no point in avoiding her now, especially since Braden was one of the nobles who was staring at him.
As soon as he was seated at the table, the princess nudged him, “Where have you been lately? I haven’t seen you at breakfast in a while.”
“I’ve just been sleeping in later than usual,” Crow shrugged, feeling a twinge of guilt for lying to his sister so easily. “If you’re ever around in the later morning, we might cross paths.”
“I wish I could,” Naida sighed. “But father always has me working on something or other early in the day. That’s why I get breakfast right away.”
“It’s better than spending time with a peasant,” Braden muttered from across the table, poking irritably at his food.
Crow rolled his eyes without saying anything, but Naida didn’t dismiss his words as easily.
“He’s not a peasant anymore, Braden,” she narrowed her eyes at him. “And besides that, he’s family, so you should stop making such rude comments.”
“I’ll stop when he quits pretending he belongs here,” the prince spat, shooting Crow a hateful glare.
“My mother may have been a peasant, but I share just as much of father’s blood as you do,” Crow quipped, resting his chin calmly in his hand. He wasn’t bothered by the other man’s harshness. Though Braden was his brother, the prince’s opinion meant little to him. As long as he refused to treat him with any respect, the viceroy had every intention of returning the favor.
His remark seemed to get under Braden’s skin. His brother clicked his tongue, “That doesn’t change the fact that you shouldn’t be here. Just do us all a favor and go back to where you came from, village rat.”
“Braden,” Naida hissed warningly.
“No,” the prince turned his glare on her. “Everyone is too scared of father to say something, so I will.” He tilted his chin up at the viceroy. “It was a mistake for father to have brought you here. I don’t know what he was thinking by giving you a title you don’t deserve, but he should have left you, forgotten on the filthy border.” With that, he stood abruptly from the table and stepped away, only glancing back at them once to address his sister, “I’m going to eat in my room, where there’s no stench of street trash to ruin my appetite.”
“Gods,” Naida groaned exaggeratedly as he walked haughtily away from them. She offered Crow an apologetic look. “Sorry. He just found out that you were at father’s last meeting, and he’s been in a foul mood ever since.”
“I can tell,” the viceroy made a face. “That’s the worst his attitude has been since he found out we’re related.”
“He’ll get used to you eventually,” Naida shook her head. “Unfortunately, until he gets it through that thick skull of his that you’re not after the throne, he’s going to keep acting like a child.”
“Lovely,” Crow muttered. He looked up as Preston stopped by to bring him his supper. Once the attendant had walked away again, he returned his focus to his sister, conversing with her while he ate. Of course, he didn’t have much to say to her since, even though they hadn’t crossed paths during breakfast recently, they had talked within the last few days and didn’t have much to tell each other. Naida had been busy with a few guard shifts and some extra training that Albin wanted her to go through, and Crow had spent all his free time on his lessons. By the end of it, they were both in better moods though, having recovered from Braden’s earlier outburst.
Eventually, the light faded from the windows overhead, and Crow began to feel his exhaustion catching up with him once again. He bid a quick farewell to his sister and headed back to the corridor that led to his room for the night. On the way, he yawned tiredly and stretched his arms over his head. His nap had done him some good that evening, but he could tell that its effects were already starting to wear off.
Rounding the corner on the third floor on his way to his bed chamber, the viceroy slowed his walk as he caught sight of Penelope up ahead. His heartbeat picked up of its own accord, and a smile tugged at his lip. Even though he wasn’t thrilled about the fact that she knew how his nightmares had been affecting him, he supposed it was nice to know that she was going to be close by. He liked being able to speak to her privately for a little while every night.
“Hey, love,” he greeted her, casting a quick glance over his shoulder before pressing a kiss to her cheek. “Did you get everything done today that you wanted to?”