After dinner Axra went to the lounge with Lilly, Twila, Lysara and Rachel. Axel and Zero excused themselves.
“So, tell me about the bath incident,” Lysara insisted. “No, wait, start by giving the background and then tell me about the incident.” She nudged Rachel. “You’re curious too, right?”
“Well, Darling,” Rachel began “it wouldn’t be lady-like to pry. If my sister cares to share that information, I will courteously listen, of course. But I shan’t push her.”
“I don’t really mind,” Axra said. She looked over at Lilly. “I’m guessing you already told Twila?”
“Ummm, just the basics,” Lilly said. “Sorry.”
“The background isn’t really complicated,” Axra said. “When I was eight my dads decided that I needed a maidservant, but they wanted her to be close to my age so they went out looking and brought back Lilly.”
“M… My parents were poor,” Lilly explained. “W… when the kings came they were happy to see me go to work at the palace. B… but I wasn’t mistreated or unhappy or anything. Axra always treated me more like a friend than a servant.”
“Well,” Axra continued. “I didn’t really need someone to clean up after me or any of that crap. So I had Lilly accompany me when I would play. We’d run around, explore and just have fun.”
“And, the incident?” Lysara asked, leaning closer.
“It happened when we were teenagers,” Axra said. “We’d been playing in the forest and come home muddy, but we didn’t mind. We were laughing and joking and just having a great time. Lilly told me to take a bath first, but I said we could just take one together and keep talking.”
“A… after that it became a regular thing,” Lilly said. “W… T… One day, I was summoned by the kings. Th… they were furious. They accused me of taking advantage of Axra… and they said I couldn’t see her anymore. Th… they sent me to apprentice under a ranger they knew.”
“What they told me was a little different,” Axra said. “They said I was simply too old for a maidservant, but that Lilly would still be serving the house as a ranger. They said she was working really hard and I couldn’t visit her because it would be a distraction. I always suspected that they were just trying to keep us apart.”
“That’s so romantic!” Lysara cried, she grabbed Twila’s hand. “Isn’t it?”
“Romantic?” Axra asked. “What are you even on about?”
“Two lovers torn apart by angry parents,” Lysara stated. “Eventually finding their way together again. It’s super romantic!”
“We were never lovers,” Axra said. “We were good friends, but that was it.”
“Ehhhh,” Lysara exclaimed. “You can’t be serious.”
“It isn’t that unusual for friends to bathe together,” Twila said. “In some areas it’s pretty common.”
“Really?” Lysara asked, looking disappointed.
Twila nodded. “Well, I’m going to spend some time in the library. We may not get a chance to come back soon and there are some books I really want to read.”
“I’ll come with you,” Lysara said. “That librarian guy is kind of scary.”
“I should be going as well,” Rachel said. “A lady needs her beauty sleep.”
Axra and Lilly were left alone.
“What’s with them?” Axra asked. She glanced over at Lilly. “Why are you crying?”
“I… I’m sorry,” Lilly sniffled. “I… After… It was lonely. I… I used to dream about disobeying orders… about going back to you… but I never had the courage. I… I used to write you letters… to tell you… but… I’m a coward.”
Axra wiped her tears. “Lilly. You aren’t weak. You’re just smart enough to know when a situation is out of your control. So, don’t cry. We’re back together and my dads aren’t going to separate us again, okay?”
“Princess, Lilly!” Bonnie rushed into the room. “So, so sorry, Princess, but Lilly and I need to talk, please excuse us.” She hurriedly dragged Lilly out of the lounge.
Axra was left alone.
“Oh… Bonnie… can I help you?” Lilly asked.
“That was close,” Bonnie said. “I thought that she was going to kiss you for a moment there.”
“R… really?” Lilly asked. “Why, that would have been wonderful!”
“No,” Bonnie said. “No it wouldn’t have been. Honestly, you’ve never gotten it. We’re servants. Nothing can happen between us and our masters. At best, she might use you for a while.”
“Axra wouldn’t do that!” Lilly declared. “She… she’s not that cruel.”
“Even if she didn’t intend to the end result would be the same,” Bonnie argued. “Her fathers would never allow the two of you to be together. I know how you feel about her. I doubt there’s a palace soldier who doesn’t, but nothing can come of it.”
“E… even if that’s true,” Lilly said. “E… even if it’s just a short time… I want to be with her. I… I love her… more than anything.”
“You’ll have to settle for staying by her side,” Bonnie said. “I don’t get you.”
“W… what’s not to understand?” Lilly asked.
“Is love really worth that kind of pain?” Bonnie inquired. “Is it really worth throwing away your career, possibly even your life, for?”
“I… I’m sorry,” Lilly said. “I forgot that you’ve never been in love.”
“I guess that’s true enough,” Bonnie conceded. “I guess I can’t understand what it’s like until Aphrodite decides to inflict me.” The two stood in silence for several minutes. “When you guys leave, I’m coming with,” Bonnie said. “King Zero wants me to help Velvet guard the princess and prevent any payapaya. I won’t shirk my duties, not even for a friend.”
“I… I understand,” Lilly said.
Zero heard a sharp knock on his study door. “You may enter.” He looked up from his work. “Axra? What a pleasant surprise. What can Daddy to do for you?”
“Dad,” Axra said. “Have you ever seen a mage lose their mind because of their familiar dying?”
“A few times,” Zero answered. “What brought this on?”
“I met my mother,” Axra stated.
Zero felt the colour drain from his face. “I see,” he said, not knowing what else to say.
“She was mad,” Axra said. “She didn’t even recognise me.”
“Well, she did leave you with us when you were just a baby,” Zero said.
“Was she like that when you knew her?” Axra asked. “Was she just some rambling madwoman for you to use and discard?”
“Axra,” Zero began “it wasn’t like that. When Axel and I knew her, she was still in the early stages. She was a bit eccentric, but she still had her mind. It was only an unhappy coincidence that we fell for her.”
“So you did get involved with her knowing that it was only a matter of time before she lost her mind,” Axra stated, there was definitely an accusation in her tone.
“That’s why we had to make every moment precious,” Zero said. “We knew that she wouldn’t be herself forever, that it was only a matter of time. Still, we wanted to make that time count. When she ran away, I feared that the worst had come to pass and that she’d never return. I never expected her to come back with a baby. Still, I’m glad she did.” Zero walked over to Axra, putting his hands on her shoulders. “Your a reminder, of the feelings your mother and I shared for that glorious time, even if it was short. I truly believe that her last act of sanity was to entrust you to us. She really did love you and want you to be safe. She may have forgotten that in her madness, but you must believe it.”
“Oh, Papa,” Axra hugged Zero. After a while, she pulled away. “Do you… know how she lost her familiar?”
“She did mention it,” Zero said. “She tried to lead a revolt against the underground’s Oligarchy and it was killed by Elaine Silverstar.”
“Twila’s aunt?” Axra asked.
Zero nodded. “I’ll understand if you hate her now, but please work with her long enough to establish peace. We can’t afford a war with them right now.”
“I couldn’t hate her,” Axra said. “No matter what her family may have done to ours. I… I think about her all the time. It makes me confused and restless. I… don’t know what to do. Am I betraying my mother by not hating her?”
“No,” Zero said. “Your mother would have understood.”
“That’s a relief,” Axra said. “Good night, Father.”
“Good night, Sweetheart,” Zero said.