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stillness on a broken stage

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prologue.

“You are a Henituse,” Cale says to his new younger brother, all of eight years old and not yet trash but well on his way. The world is cruel, he knows, and while he refuses to take part in it, he will at least prepare Basen for what is to come. It’s the least he can do before it all goes to hell. “You have our name and as far as anyone else is concerned, our blood. That means you don’t bow, no matter what. You will be Count, one day. You must keep that in mind.”

“Count? But, Hyung-nim—”

“No. I will not be Count.”

Cale Henituse probably knew, soon after his mother died, that he would not become Count. He would have no choice, and so he makes his plans early. Basen is only a secondary motivation.

“Ron,” he says in the night as he is being put to bed.

“Yes, young master?” Ron says. An easy tone, smooth movements, gentle hands. As though Cale had never seen him kill a would-be assassin without spilling any blood on his immaculate coat. The look in his eyes was frightening, the first time he saw it.

“Things will be changing soon,” he tells him decisively. Ron looks at him. He elaborates, “I have decided I will not become Count. I shall instead become something so terrible my father will have no choice but to make Basen Count instead. It’s the only way.”

“The only way?” Ron echoes.

Cale does not dignify him with a response. He only tells him to warn him, the man who is raising him without any true care for him. “You’re dismissed, Ron.”

In the years that follow, he cultivates his image perfectly. He drinks constantly, developing the appearance of being constantly drunk despite his high tolerance. He throws fits, shouts at the servants, becomes the very picture of everything a Count should not be, and Basen takes over the duties that were originally his the moment he comes of age.

One day, Cale will be banished from the property. He counts down the days.

 

i.

He miscalculates a little.

He’s seventeen years old, hoping to soon be disinherited entirely when he crosses the wrong person. In his defense, he thought he would sneer at the boy a little, maybe throw something, and then be able to walk away, because the boy was clearly starving and exhausted.

Living with Ron and Beacrox, he should have known better. Really. He thought he was better than this.

Cale ends up bedridden as he recuperates, seething with anger at the mistake. He stubbornly refuses to allow anyone but the servants into his room, and only those who are supposed to help him. Not even Deruth is allowed in.

Covering up that wounded pride, no one says, but he hears it anyway.

In reality, his only regret about this situation is his incapacitation.

Oh, he knows his father would have been happy to help the peasant, but his father has always had a bleeding heart. Their house doesn’t have the time to waste on some village and he stands by that. All that really matters to him is the fact that his mouth got his legs broken.

And I usually know which battles to pick, too, he thinks grumpily. First the table, now this. It’s just not his week.

There’s a gentle knock on the door, and a call of, “Young master, it’s me.”

“Come in,” Cale says. It’s late by now, so there are very few reasons for Ron to be bothering him now.

He already knows what he’s going to say the moment he sees Beacrox standing behind his father. “Oh, you old bastard.”

Ron smiles without any emotion. “Young Master, I’m afraid me and Beacrox will be leaving your services.”

Cale glares, just barely keeping from snapping at him. Then he turns to Beacrox, who is carefully blank-faced. They don’t know each other well. Beacrox is most likely confused on why they’re even bothering to come to him.

It’s a valid confusion. They should be going to his father, but Cale is confident that they won’t.

They have an agreement, after all.

Fine,” he huffs. “I can’t do anything to make you stay anyway.” Ron bows at his waist, and after a moment, Beacrox follows.

“It’s been a pleasure serving you, Young Master,” Ron says as he straightens up.

“Don’t lie. You know how I feel about lies.”

His smile doesn’t even twitch.

Ugh,” Cale says. “Get out of my sight. If you’re still in town by tomorrow morning, I will tell my father.”

Ron bows his head, a final act of servitude, and he and his son leave without another word.

In the morning, they’re long gone, as is the peasant they chose to follow. Cale screams and flips over his breakfast, shattering the plate and glass, like he didn’t know this would happen. It’s not even really an act—he just wasn’t stupid enough to get angry in front of Ron now that he wasn't in his employ.

Deruth assigns Hans as his new butler. Cale doesn’t really trust the man, but he’s the most competent out of the others. He deals.

But not without another tantrum.

Can’t have him thinking Cale likes him after all.


It’s not long after Cale’s disastrous mistake that Basen is set to head for the noble gathering in the Capital. Cale takes this opportunity to throw a fit about recovering in the estate and wanting to go elsewhere.

“But young master,” Hans tries, as dignified as he can be at the unexpected demand, “you’ve never had a problem staying within the territory before.”

Before,” he scoffs. “Well that was before and this is now! And now, I don’t want to stay here!”

Usually, he doesn’t have much problem staying here. He moves freely, switching between the village and the estate as he pleases, which is as much traveling as he really needs. But usually, he’s not injured, and though he’s not completely unable to move, he’s not allowed to wander outside. He honestly thinks his father might have a heart attack if he’s caught slipping out.

Not that he can manage even that much.

(He tried.)

All these years, he had been careful to not get into any fights that would severely harm him. Gangsters were easily dealt with, usually using too much brute strength without any strategy, and he was always prepared for them. He’s never been hurt enough to this extent.

After a mere few days, he’s already frustrated.

“Where would you want to go?” Hans stammers. “There’s nowhere else for you to stay.”

Cale waves a hand. “We have places outside of this village. Take some servants and let’s go.”

“We’ll need to make preparations, and run this by your father—”

“Well get to it then.”

It’s not long before he hears his father’s quiet but frantic footsteps heading towards his room, along with Hans. Cale sets aside the alcohol—which Deruth has been heavily disapproving of, for once, in light of his current injuries—and sits as straight as he can to receive him.

“Cale!” his father says as he enters without knocking.

“Father,” Cale says, nodding cordially.

“What is this about you wanting to leave the estate? You’re in no state to be leaving.” He doesn’t sit beside him, instead standing by his bedside, but he does take his hand gently. Cale represses the urge to cringe away.

“I have done nothing but sit here for days, Father,” he says. “I’m tired of it. I would at least like to see something other than my normal room, for once.”

Deruth shakes his head. “I’m afraid that’s not possible. You’ve other rooms to spend time in. The study, for instance.”

Cale does not wrinkle his nose, though he wants to. He could do his work, certainly, but he doesn’t like it. He prefers fighting. “I’ve seen all of the rooms,” he argues. “If you won’t let me walk around the village, I would like to have somewhere new to stay, at least. We have some villas, right? Other residences?”

“We do, but the journey would be hard on you in your current state.” Deruth sighs. “Cale, if you wanted to travel, you should have said something earlier. As it is, I cannot grant your request. I’m sorry.”

Cale narrows his eyes.

This isn’t over.

He doesn’t stop making a fuss, arguing with his father on and off for days. He can feel himself getting increasingly agitated the more it goes on. In one instance, he shouts even worse than usual at an unsuspecting servant who walked in during one of their meetings.

Deruth likely notices his increasing agitation, because it’s not long after that he finally concedes, on the condition that he’s accompanied by his brother.

“He’ll be leaving for the Capital soon, so he can drop you off on the way,” he reasons. Cale begrudgingly accepts. Basen isn’t the worst—they usually just ignore each other, which is just how he likes it.

They’re ready to go probably much faster than anyone but Cale expected. The knights and servants walk eggshells around him while Basen shifts uncomfortably whenever they have to be near each other, but Cale ignores them all with practiced ease. He sits back contentedly in the carriage, sipping his on-the-road drink. At their father’s request, he and Basen are taking the same carriage. Probably because Basen is one of the few Cale won’t explode at.

If he can respect Deruth for anything, it’ll be for the fact that the man at least isn’t stupid.

“Um, Hyung-nim,” Basen deigns to say, “may I ask—”

“You may not.”

Basen slumps in a manner most unbecoming of his status. Cale takes another swig from his bottle.

His journey won’t be long. Cale will be dropped off before the halfway point to the Capital, some ways away from the village where Marquis Stan’s household resides. The villa there shouldn’t be close enough for them to cross paths, being in a completely separate village, so it should be nice and quiet.

(Well.

Nice and quiet for Cale.

The servants need to be kept on their toes, anyway.)

Cale is probably the only one who has fun in the time when he’s traveling with Basen’s entourage. He’s not oblivious to the way they all try to keep him as content as possible—not that it does much when some of them are so incompetent that he has to let them know.

Especially the knights.

Cale cannot stand the knights.

Basen tries in vain to scold him, but for the most part leaves him alone. Cale watches him clean up after him, comforting the servants and redirecting those who might be in the line of fire.

Everyone trusts him. It warms Cale’s cold, dead heart to see.

Basen will truly make a great Count.


Some of the knights are on the verge of crying out in relief by the time Cale is dropped off. The servants of the residence, on the other hand, look like they’ve signed their death warrants.

“Wipe those looks off your faces!” Cale snaps. At the knights or the servants, he doesn’t really care which. Being of the house of Henituse, they listen well to the command. Cale lets a wry smirk cross his face.

“Hyung-nim, we can pick you up again on our way back, if you’d like,” Basen says, for formality’s sake more than anything.

“No, no, that’s not necessary.” He waves a hand lazily. “I’ll write Father if I need to. Now, off with you. I’ve been standing for too damn long.” Basen grimaces at the casual swear—how cute, truly—and nods.

“If you’re sure. I will be off, then. Goodbye, Hyung-nim.”

Cale watches him off. Once his carriage is out of sight, he says to the servant supporting his weight, “Take me inside already, would you? And Hans!”

“Yes, Young Master?”

“Get me a bottle immediately and bring it to my room; I know this place has some in stock.”

“Which kind?”

“I don’t care as long as I can get drunk.” Not that he ever gets drunk.

“Yes, Young Master.”

Cale trudges his way inside. His room would normally be on the topmost floor, but given his injuries, he’s been redirected to the first floor for the foreseeable future. He hadn’t thought much of it on the journey here, but he hadn’t had to walk much during that time. Now, with his injuries pulling at him with every step, it’s all a terrible reminder, and he can feel himself growing frustrated once again.

Hans better not take long.

The servant helps him to his bed and he shoos them off. The servant all but scurries away.

He rolls his eyes. Cowards, all of them. He didn’t even raise his voice that time.

Hans returns a few minutes later with a bottle in his hands. Cale snatches it from his hands and takes a long sip of it, relishing the sweet, sweet relief down his throat. Even though he can’t get drunk enough to forget his injuries, he can at least appreciate the warming effect.

He smacks his lips as he lowers the bottle and looks at Hans. “Alright,” he says.

“Young Master?” Hans says questioningly.

“How, exactly,” he starts, “did you manage to hide two cats from Basen this whole time?”