Kain stood alone in the shadows, watching the royal court chatter and glitter. They were shallow. Every one of them, save three.
One of those three was seated on his throne, benevolently overseeing the ball. It was his birthday they celebrated, but King Odin of Baron was content to watch his court enjoy the ball.
From his darkened corner, he couldn't see the other two. Doubtless Cecil and Rosa had slipped off to be alone somewhere. Dark Knight and White Mage....such an odd combination. Kain was one of the few privileged to know that Cecil's heart was not as dark as his armour.
Moodily the young captain of Baron's Dragon Knights tossed back the rest of his wine and set the glass on the tray of a passing servant. Damn it, he wanted to be the one to hold Rosa and whisper words of love in her ear. He wanted to be the one she turned to with that incredible warmth in her beautiful eyes. He wanted...
You sorry bastard. Do you deny your brother his happiness? he snarled at himself. Cecil loves her and she him. Do you deny her the right to choose?
Rosa...beautiful innocent Rosa, who radiated goodness and compassion. She was already the best healer in Baron, despite her youth. There were rumours that when the current White ArchMage died, Rosa would be chosen his successor.
Cecil and Rosa were visible now, the dark knight sweeping her in a stately waltz. Soft voices put Kain on the alert. He drew deeper into the shadows and listened intently.
"That girl is a disgrace to White Mages. She should never be allowed to even speak to such as that Dark Knight! Yet openly she hangs on his arm and simpers at his every word!"
Kain clenched his fists until his nails bit into his palms. No one would speak of Rosa that way. Ever. Stealthily he drew the slim dagger he always wore, even to ceremonial events where weapons were not at all the norm.
"Be silent, fool," another voice hissed. "That Dark Knight will be the next King of Baron, and if you wish to keep your head atop your shoulders, you'll quench your jealousy. She's only a woman. If it's her looks you want, there are dozens of blondes in this castle, some more beautiful than she. And if it's her magic you're after, choose some other White Mage. Rosa would never bow to your will."
Kain's death grip on the dagger relaxed ever so faintly.
"The girl belongs to me," the first man insisted.
The second man laughed mockingly. "If that is so, why does she cling to the Dark Knight? Why are there rumours he has petitioned the King for permission to wed her? Why does she spend half her nights in his tower?"
Kain squeezed his eyes shut in utter agony. He of all people knew where Rosa spent her nights. He inhabited the floors below Cecil's tower, and the sound of her soft footsteps whispering over the floor above his head was like a knife to his heart. And when she did not come to him, Cecil's heavily booted feet found their way to her quarters.
I cannot bear this. I cannot bear loving her and knowing she sees me only as her friend, as the brother of the man she loves. Hard on the heels of that thought came another. I can't betray my brother. There might not be blood between them, but he and Cecil were brothers as surely as if they had been born twins. Moreover, they were King Odin's sons as much as if he himself had sired them. Kain never forgot who his blood father had been, but Odin had never let that fact stand between them, nor sought to replace Kain's sire.
He clehnched his hand tighter around the dagger until it seemed the blade would simply snap from the hilt. How can she not know what she means to me? How can she not know?
Because you never told her, idiot. You've been careful to play the big brother, careful not to betray yourself.
He wanted to tell her. Oh, God, how he wanted to tell her. He wanted her to know what she meant to him. If something happened and he never returned from one of his missions with the Dragon Knights...would she ever know how he had loved her? Would she know that he had kept his distance out of respect for her? If there was no tomorrow, would she ever know he had cared?
Was there even the faintest possibility that she felt as he did?
He started to step toward her, to draw her away from Cecil and tell her how he felt.
I can't. She loves him. She is happy. It's enough.
I'll make it enough, damn it.
He remained in the shadows, accepting that he would ever be in the shadows where she was concerned. Caught in the shadows of the ballroom tonight....trapped in eternal darkness because she would never return his love.
Today's shadows would become tomorrow's darkness.
Rosa would be happy.
It was enough.