Son of Silvermoon, Part Five

Croatius searched frantically for the flints in his father’s blue eyes, the pieces of madness that would spark and burn at the slightest provocation.

“Croatius. Don’t Argue. Just go.”


Author’s Note

“I made it for you, Father. For the holiday.”

Croatius cautiously pushed the little card onto his father’s desk. The quel’dorei stared at the boy from across the polished, black surface, his icy blue eyes full of impatience. Did Croatius see a little stir in there of something else? Not of fondness, or he dared not to hope it. Almost… recognition.

Recognition of what?

“Merry Winter’s Veil,” Croatius said with a dry voice, trying to put a bit of cheer into it, but the attempt fell flat. As his father continued to stare, the little boy started to shuffle awkwardly in place. “I-I thought I heard you, well, being upset, and I thought this would help. We-we made them at school last week, and…”

His father said nothing.

“…and I thought you’d like it.”

“Come away, now, Croatius,” said his mother, a hint of urgency in her voice. Croatius didn’t pivot, instead stepped backwards, not turning away from his father, just as one dared not turn away from a troll or a rabid lynx. Wrong decision. It would stand out in his mind later as the wrong decision, the thing that had set his father off that time.

Yet in the moment, he simply inched back, until he felt his mother’s hand touch his shoulder. Then, he quickly ducked behind her and fled down the manor hall.

The yelling started up again, behind him: his father, expressing his “upset” at his mother. Hot little prickles touched Croatius’ cheeks, and he rubbed them away fiercely, increasing his pace until he reached the safety of his room. The tall space seemed drafty to him, like a stone cathedral with too many years of irreverence and not enough congregation to fill it. He tore past the curtains of his bed, not caring as one came down on top him, burrowing into his cold blankets and trying to forget the world outside.

At breakfast the next day, he found the fragments of the card around and on his plate. His father stared across the table at him, his expression unchanging as the servant plopped the morning meal on top of the fragments, covering them in a gray-white gruel.

Was he daring Croatius to protest? To cry again? To flee? Croatius just stared back, and when the servant added the meal to his father’s plate, finally the magister’s gaze broke, and Croatius could breathe again.

His mother was late to the breakfast. Again. The shadows under her eyes were darkened, like purple bruises in her too-pale skin. Croatius gave her a stare too, trying to determine if the bruises were real this time. He didn’t understand why her makeup had to be so heavy some days. They ate in silence. Croatius slid off his chair as soon as he had shoveled as much food into himself as he could manage. Though the cook always made sure her sauces were perfect, it stuck like glue in his throat.

“Croatius,” croaked his father.

Croatius put one hand down on the table, as if to reassure himself the bulk of it was real and standing between him and the magister’s terrible gaze.

“Look at me.”

Croatius did. Out of the corner of his eyes, he saw his mother wince — a little party wince, or so she called it, when her squint was the only amount of emotion she permitted herself to express to polite company. Croatius dared not look at her, dared not give the little social faux pas away.

“A lesson,” said his father firmly, and he beckoned Croatius back to his chair.

Croatius didn’t sigh in relief, not yet, and sat down.

“A magister cannot submit to sentiment,” his father went on, once Croatius had settled. “It is a weakness in the court, which our enemies will use against you.”

“Dear, he’s only eleven years old,” said his mother.

“Silence!” His father barked. “The Light would have me be merciful, but there is no mercy in unpreparedness–!”

“Dear,” his mother interrupted, her voice louder this time. Croatius wasn’t the only one to stare at her. She never disobeyed a direct command.

His gaze whipped back to his father. He searched frantically for the flints in the quel’dorei’s blue eyes, the pieces of madness that would spark and burn at the slightest provocation. “What she means to say–” Croatius found himself saying.

“Croatius, don’t defend me.”

“But Mother–“

“Croatius. I mean it. Leave now.”

Croatius glanced back at her and gripped the table until he couldn’t feel his fingertips. His heart thudded in his throat, as if struggling against the glue of his earlier meal. He went nowhere. His father’s eyes were spitting sparks, but they hadn’t yet begun to burn–

“Croatius. Listen to me,” said his mother, her voice still firm, but it was wavering now, like a boat surrendering to the current. “There is a box in the attic. I want you to go and bring it down to the servant so she can start putting the Winter’s Veil decorations away.”

“Mother, I–“

“Croatius. Don’t argue. Just go.”

The silence stretched and bent like a bit of holiday taffy pulled too far away from the rest of its batch. Croatius’ mouth was dry. Their eyes met, and Croatius was startled to discover hers were hard. Usually they seemed made of glass, cracking like a spiderweb under duress, then melting and reforming as she strove to bend away from the hardship, like a willow or a wandering trickle in the mud, but now they had a sharp reflection to them. Like steel. Or like ice.

Croatius turned away this time, fleeing from the room as slowly as he could manage. He glanced back only once, at the sound of his father standing abruptly up from his chair. Croatius caught only a glimpse of the magister’s face as he turned the corner; the quel’dorei’s eyes were on fire. He looked back at his mother then, expecting to see the answering melt and bending in her eyes, but her lids were closed. Tears were tracking their way through her violet makeup.

He carefully shut the door. He was almost too late. He heard the thunder of his father’s voice on the other side, but chanting instead of shouting. Something hard hit the door. There were other sounds he couldn’t decipher then, thumps and scratches and scrabbling and cracking, but he never once heard his mother scream.

He ran now. Past the ladder to the attic, past the servant hesitantly trotting down the hall, coming to see what the commotion was about, past the manor doors, past the garden, past the street heaped high with snow, past the drafty old cathedral where he had his lessons.

Evelos looked up at him in shock as he barreled his way into the library. His friend stared at him, and in Evelos’ eyes was the soft gold-and-blue of snow on a bright winter’s day, of the triangles of elegant stained-glass windows, of water glimmering and wrinkling in a quiet brook, of the candles the priest lit every night during the last moon of the year to chase away the darkest part of the gloom. Sanctuary, not like his father’s. A Light untouched by hardship, not like his mother’s.

Then they blurred, and Croatius couldn’t see. He blindly stumbled past Evelos, into the stairwell, up the stairs, into the bell tower, to the little ledge where he could tuck himself out of sight. The whiteness of the winter day jumped up at him, like a blow to the face, and he hid his head in his arms to get away from the light.

He didn’t remember if he cried. Evelos found him some hours later, put a blanket around him, and sat nearby, awkwardly reading from a libram. Useless friend.

That evening, when the priest came to change the candles on the altar, Croatius told him his parents were sending him to a boarding school, and he had come to say goodbye. When the priest asked him which of his parents was doing the sending, Croatius couldn’t speak.

“Croatius,” said the priest, in a tone that said he knew Croatius was lying.

“I am sending him, actually,” said his father, suddenly, from the door.

“I see,” said the priest, face clearing as he turned, and he gave the magister a respectful bow. “That is unfortunate. Your Croatius has quite the knack for communing with the Light, and his skills would be a blessing to our little clergy here. What precipitates this change, if you don’t mind me asking?”

“There has been a death in the family.” His father’s voice was like stone. “I do not trust myself to see to his needs while I attend to… the funeral arrangements.”

“Ah,” said the priest, looking at Croatius, and Croatius could read understanding in his expression, a compassion he couldn’t touch.

The floor seemed like it was rocking, but somehow, he wasn’t surprised. He willed it to still, like he’d will a Light spell into being, and looked at his father.

There were ashes in the magister’s eyes. Without meeting Croatius’ gaze, the quel’dorei turned away and walked down the cathedral steps. His form seemed to shrink against the bright glare of the snow, now turning red in the sunset’s light.

“Was the deceased close to you?” the priest asked, his voice gentle. Croatius felt a hand placed on his shoulder.

“No,” said Croatius, shrugging the hand away. His father had accepted the boarding school lie, shielded him from it. So, he did the same in return now, though he didn’t know why. He looked up at the priest, at the bright golden glow of the Light’s faith in his eyes. He closed his own: clouds against the sun.

“Then go with my blessing,” said the priest.

“Light bless,” Croatius mumbled, and he left.

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