The priestesses worked well into the evening, preparing the bodies for the memorial by washing and dressing them. Only the king and queen will be put on display for the people to pay their respects. There they will remain for three days as the ceremonial pyre was set. The king’s mates and servants’ bodies were set to be cremated in the morning. The destruction of their earthly forms will help ease their path to paradise.
It had been hard for Donatello to leave but now that Nevio’s body was being taken from the room, he sought out the prince. He needed to get away from the stench of death.
Raphael had left the room midafternoon and spent several hours privately with Oroku Saki. It was close to dusk when Donatello found him in his room, standing out on the balcony that overlooked the courtyard.
Taking a deep breath of the cool, clean air, Donatello looked out in the direction of Raphael’s fixed gaze.
In the distance a cage was hung and inside was Lacey, naked but with a blanket. There she will remain until nothing remains. It wasn’t a method that was often used. Only the most horrendous of crimes were punished this way.
She will not die from dehydration or starvation. Food and water will be supplied to her daily, along with a knife. The point of the cage was to torture a person until they took their own life, so that they would be denied entry into paradise.
Nights were warm enough that there was little chance of her succumbing to the elements. The cage was guarded by two soldiers at all times to make sure no one could give her a merciful death. If she endured long enough, she would eventually die, but no one ever did. The longest anyone had ever lasted was a month before they slit their own throat with the knife.
Donatello turned away from the courtyard and looked at Raphael. The recent events were weighing heavily on him. He looked as if he was dead on his feet.
“I never wanted to kill anyone before,” Raphael said, keeping his eyes on her. “I know my father could be cruel but I still loved him. She deserves to suffer. At the same time, I hate that I put her in there.” Tears filled his eyes and his grip tightened on the rail. He turned to look at Donatello. “She killed innocents, like Nevio, just to get to my father. Doesn’t that make you angry?”
Looking back out over the courtyard, Donatello sighed. “It hurts that Nevio is dead, but I can’t really feel much beyond that. I don’t want my grief to consume me like it did her. I can’t wish death on her.”
“She was going to do it anyway,” Raphael said as if it left a bad taste in his mouth. “Even before what happened with her daughter. She agreed to it months ago. Her grief only had her acting early. The plan was to kill my entire family; my grandfather, my uncles, my cousins, and everyone who dined with them all at the same time.
“The date she gave Saki is more than a month away. Plenty of time for messengers to reach the other kingdoms within my grandfather’s empire. Those who are working with the crocodiles will be dealt with.”
“Do you think there will be a war,” Donatello asked.
Raphael shrugged. “I don’t know. This was a cowardly plan by the crocodiles. Cowards don’t go to war.” He turned and headed back into his room. “I want to check on Mikey, make sure he’s okay. Go to the kitchen and grab him something simple to eat, meet me in his room.”
“Yes, my prince,” Donatello said with a slight bow.
In the kitchen only one oven was burning so that the slaves could keep fresh bread on hand. Donatello grabbed a loaf and an assortment of cheese and fruit. When he entered Michelangelo’s room, it was empty, so he waited.
Leonardo had stood out in the hall with Michelangelo and Saki until a priestess came out to escort Michelangelo in and Saki left to check on the progress of the interrogation. Left alone and with nothing else to do, Leonardo decided to head back to Raphael’s room.
He stood looking at the bed, contemplating sleep then thought better of it. He knew sleep wasn’t possible at the moment. Not after being so close to death. He needed a distraction.
After grabbing a candle, he made his way through the hidden halls to his father’s library. He selected a journal and began to read. Hours passed and by the time he was halfway through the third book, the sun’s rays began to shine through the small window.
He had to set the book aside, unable to believe what he had just read. He needed time to process and decide what to do with the new information. Exhausted, Leonardo leaned forward and, with his elbows on his knees, rubbed his eyes with the heels of his hands.
The door opened. Leonardo looked up in time to see Michelangelo enter the room. The dark circles under Michelangelo’s bloodshot eyes were a sure sign that he had been awake and crying all night.
“My father is dead.” Staying by the door, Michelangelo asked, “Did you have something to do with this?”
Leonardo shook his head. “I did not.”
“They don’t work like that,” Leonardo assured him. “If they assassinate, it is done quickly and without sacrificing innocents. What was done to your parents and the others was….” He struggled to find the right word to describe how he was feeling.
Giving up, Leonardo got to his feet and walked towards Michelangelo. “I almost requested the custard. If it wasn’t for the fact that my system isn’t used to such rich foods, I’d also be dead.”
Michelangelo sighed and leaned in, accepting Leonardo’s offered embrace. “Do you know anything about the honey?”
Michelangelo pulled back and looked up into Leonardo’s eyes. “It was the exotic honey in the custard that killed them. Lacey got the honey from the crocodiles, or their supporters.” He looked down and shook his head. “I’m not really sure about all the details.” He looked back up at Leonardo. “Do you know anything about the crocodiles’ plans?”
Leonardo shook his head. “I will ask the rats what they know tonight when I give them my report.” He pulled Michelangelo into a warm embrace. “For now, try to get some sleep.”
“I don’t know if I can,” Michelangelo whimpered, his voice muffled against Leonardo’s chest. “Every time I close my eyes, I see my dead mother.”
“I’m sure once you lie down you will fall asleep,” Leonardo said as he guided Michelangelo to the lounge sofa. After moving the book, he coaxed Michelangelo to lie down.
“I don’t know if I’ve read that one yet,” Michelangelo said. “You’re reading through them fast.”
Leonardo smiled and admitted, “I skipped to my father’s. It’s the last one he wrote before… he died.”
“Learn anything interesting,” Michelangelo asked while doing his best not to yawn.
“He didn’t love my mother,” Leonardo said with a shrug, looking down at the book in his hand. “It was an arranged marriage. The one he wanted was too low in stature to make a fitting queen. That didn’t stop him from having a secret affair.”
“Kind of like what we’re doing,” Michelangelo said sleepily.
“Seems like it,” Leonard said with a smile and looked back up at Michelangelo.
Sure enough, almost as soon as he settled, he was asleep. Leonardo sat himself down on the floor next to the sofa and continued to read.
He was almost done with the book when the door opened and Raphael entered the room. His eyes narrowed for a moment and Leonardo was sure that Raphael was going to start accusing him of conspiring against the king but then he smirked.
“That one’s an interesting read.”
Closing the book, Leonardo got to his feet. “You’ve read it?”
“I found them an interesting way to pass the time,” Leonardo said, doing his best to sound nonchalant. “I can’t sleep. The history of this kingdom is fascinating. Did you know it was never part of the crocodiles’ empire?”
“I know.” Raphael’s eyes drifted up to the painting of Demetrio. “You look like him,” he said, keeping his tone hushed so not to wake his brother. Bringing his full attention back to Leonardo, Raphael smiled. “Is that why you’re here, because you think you have a right to be here?”
Though his heart was hammering in his chest, Leonardo did his best to appear calm. Setting the book on the table, he shook his head. “I don’t know what you mean.”
“Don’t lie,” Raphael warned. “I’ve read the book. I know about the mistress, the bastard, and the king’s promise. She was supposed to leave you as an abandoned baby with the priestesses. You were meant to be a pampered servant for Donatello. Only my father invaded first. She had to kept you and now you’ve figured out a way to worm your way into the palace. Don’t tell me she never told you.”
“She told me.” Leonardo decided it was best to run with the story Raphael believed to be the truth. “But there was never a plan. I was raised as a farmer and I was happy. I never cared to live here. My work brought me to where I could meet Michelangelo. I didn’t mean to fall in love with him.”
Part of that was the truth.
“You’re lucky I read the book,” Raphael stated. “Saki also noticed the resemblance to Demetrio despite your attempt to hide it, and he was growing suspicious. He believed my theory that you want nothing more than what was originally promised but don’t be surprised if he ends up keeping a closer eye on you.”
“If it weren’t for my feeling towards Michelangelo, I would be more than happy to return to my life on the farm,” Leonardo lied. The rats wanted him in the palace by any means. “He’s the only reason I have to stay.”
“He won’t be here for much longer,” Raphael said, his voice cracking with emotion. “I’m too young to take the throne. My grandfather will come with one of my older cousins or an uncle. I don’t know what will happen to us. You still want to stay?”
Leonardo let out a deep breath and nodded. No matter what happened, no matter how much he heated it, the rats expected him to stay. He would have to figure out a way.
Shaking his head, Raphael let out a humorless chuckle. “You’re an idiot…. Or, in love.” He shrugged. “Same thing.” He looked at Michelangelo and there was sorrow in his eyes. He looked at Leonardo again. “I wish you could just take him away from here.”
“If I did,” Leonardo dared to ask.
“My grandfather would have you hunted and killed,” Raphael said as a matter of fact. “Help me get Mikey back to his room.”
“Does Donatello know,” Leonardo asked before Raphael could wake Michelangelo. “About me?”
“I told him he has a bastard brother after I read it,” Raphael replied with a nod. “But he doesn’t know it’s you. I only just recently figured it out and he’s never seen the portrait of Demetrio.”
“Figured out what,” Michelangelo asked as he woke up, stretching. “What time is it?”
“Close to dusk,” Raphael answered. “As for your first question. I figured out that your lover is the bastard son of the former king?”
“He’s the what?” Michelangelo looked from Raphael to Leonardo and back again. “The king had a bastard?”
“Demetrio had a mistress and sired a bastard with her,” Raphael said. “You spend how much time in this room and you never noticed how much Leonardo looks like him?” He chuckled and shook his head. “I always thought Donatello looked a lot like him, but Leonardo is almost an exact copy.”
Leonardo was still getting to know his father’s face and he had rarely ever seen his own. Looking up at the painting of Demetrio, he could see the resemblance Donatello had with him. How was it that he had never noticed it before?
“I should have read the journals faster,” Michelangelo groaned. “Now it feels like the ending has been ruined.”
“You’ll live,” Raphael said and offered Michelangelo a hand up. “Time to get back to your room.”
Accepting his brother’s help, Michelangelo got to his feet. “You and Donatello are brothers.” He looked at Leonardo as if he was studying his face for the first time. “I guess you do kind of have a family resemblance. He must have gotten his coloring from his mother.”
They took Michelangelo to his room where Donatello was waiting. He helped Michelangelo change into fresh night attire and then sampled each item on a small platter of fruit, bread and cheese. After waiting a few moments, he passed the platter to Michelangelo, who sat himself in the large armchair by the fire.
“We discovered that Leonardo is your brother,” Michelangelo said before stuffing cheese and apple into his mouth. It wasn’t the way Leonardo would have preferred to tell him but at least it was out of the way.
Donatello looked Leonardo over. “You’re the bastard?”
“Apparently,” Leonardo replied.
“Lucky,” Donatello said fatly before turning to collect the dirty clothes. He walked to the door as he spoke. “Leave the platter just outside the door when you are done. Someone will collect it.”
“I will,” Michelangelo said and then took a bite of bread. “I was a lot hungrier than I thought.”
“You haven’t eaten since supper last night,” Leonardo said, walking over to kiss the top of Michelangelo’s head. “Try to get some more sleep.”
Raphael joined Donatello at the door and turned to Leonardo. “You take the passage back to my room. We still need to keep up appearances. If you thought my father was strict, just wait until you meet my grandfather.”
The mention of his grandfather had Michelangelo stopping mid bite. “How long do you think it will take for him to get here?”
Raphael shrugged. “A few weeks, depending on his haste and the size of his traveling party. A month at the most.”
“What do you think is going to happen to us,” Michelangelo asked.
Raphael shook his head. “I don’t know.”
Tears fill Michelangelo’s eyes. “I’m not ready to go to Gabriel yet.”
“There is nothing I can do,” Raphael said. “It would be best if we did as grandfather wishes.”
Placing the bread on the plate, Michelangelo got to his feet and passed the plate to Leonardo. “I’m not hungry anymore.” He walked to his bed and fell into it. “I didn’t think things could get any worse.”
Raphael walked over and sat on the bed next to his brother. “We don’t know if you will be sent to him yet. Don’t let yourself get worked up over things that haven’t been decided.
“No one will be focused on you tomorrow,” Raphael said doing his best to smile. “You and Leonardo can spend some time hiding out together in the hidden rooms. Make the most of the time you have remaining.” He got up and took the plate from Leonardo and set it on the bedside table.
“Try to eat some more and then get some sleep.”
“I’ll try,” Michelangelo mumbled.
He kissed Michelangelo on the cheek and then got up. “I’ll see you back in my room,” he said to Leonardo as he headed towards the door.
Taking that as his cue to leave, Leonardo reentered the secret halls. As he made his way back to Raphael’s room, he heard voices in the distance. Taking a slight detour, he headed over to listen in.
“Raphael has to be king,” Saki said in frustration.
Leonardo looked through the small peephole and saw Saki sitting, petting a golden fox that was sitting in his lap. Hun paced the room, coming in and out of Leonardo’s view.
“That bitch has potentially ruined everything,” Saki growled.
“You’ll just have to convince the emperor that the prince is ready to rule,” Hun stated.
Saki sighed and scratched the fox between its ears. “I hope the emperor is one who can be easily persuaded.”
“If he isn’t,” Hun asked.
Saki’s frown deepened. “I don’t know. I’d hate to have to throw everything away and start over. It took so long to get this far.”
“Whatever happens,” Hun said, “you always manage to figure things out.”
“Until the emperor gets here, we will continue as normal,” Saki said, looking down at the fox. “If we have to adjust our plans we will.”
“I will get things ready for tomorrow,” Hun said before taking his leave.
Leonardo continued to watch Saki for a while. When a slave entered the room and things started to take a more intimate turn, Leonardo decided that he wasn’t going to get anymore information. Besides, he needed to get back to Raphael’s room before the prince grew impatient.
Later he would sneak out to report to the rats. He now regretted not taking that nap earlier. It was going to be another long night.