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The Marotte

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The smiling mask contradicted the expression on Lure’s face so well it was almost funny.

Almost.

He ignored the discomfort of the salty tears slowly running down his cheeks to perform a- silent, he didn’t think he could manage to speak- dance for the princess, wielding a branch with a knot in one end as if a marotte. The princess laughed and enjoyed it, getting up and trying to copy the rigorous dance and tripping over her feet a few times, as Balsam and Yves sat back and watched with wide smiles. Morrick had a slight smile, though his mind was plagued with thoughts other than the dancing.

“This truly is the Dance of Death.” Vivianne got up for the upteeth time with a huff. “How do you do this?”

Lure had taken it to himself to stop the bouncing and helped the princess to her feet. “Would you like me to show you, Princess?”

She giggled. “Lure! You don’t have to call me that. Call me Vivianne.” Lure raised an eyebrow under his mask. “Is that an order?” “Yes, it is an order, my dear jester.” He gave a choked laugh and grabbed her hands.

“Now this dance requires a lot of balance... so go ahead and raise a foot.” She raised a foot, immediately her other foot sliding in her shoe and she lost her balance, tightly gripping his gloved hands. “I’ve got you, my Princess.”

“Vivianne.” She corrected insistently with a grin, and he tilted his head towards hers, a small smile appearing on his lips that contradicted with the falling tears. “I’ve got you, Princess Vivianne.” She huffed and sat down, blowing air from her cheeks into her wispy bangs. “Jerk.”

He gave a more cockier sort of grin, feeling like such a fool for smiling while so inwardly conflicted. “I did as I was asked, your Highness.” Obvious from her face that she had given up, his giggly smile fell. The girl never liked being considered higher than the jester and he knew that. Joking aside, maybe she could rid his mind of the suffocating hole he’d fallen into. After all, he knew he was in the right- maybe it could’ve panned out a little differently, but in the end there would’ve been the same result.

“Vivianne, are you gonna keep dancing?” Morrick kept a straight face, but Balsam’s head turned in shock and Yves began laughing, poorly concealed by a hand.
“Actually Princess, I hate to ruin your fun, but we really should keep moving. We are hoping to reach Delvyde before nightfall.” Balsam hesitantly interrupted. Despite having stocked by the docks, their supplies were running dangerously low. Balsam hated having to take the girl away from her fun, but it was necessary. Morrick and Lure began opting out of their servings, both used to exerting more energy than the others. Even Yves, whom was used to feeding himself well and it came that without that he wasn’t nearly as much of a hunter.

The princess had wonderful manners towards the sop- Balsam thought with a grin as he washed the dishes- compared to the pretentious jester. If it hadn’t been for the fact that the two had actually enjoyed his sop once they tried it, he’d playfully accuse them of trying to avoid his cooking. However that would mean bringing attention to their low supply, which he’d rather not do.

“Alright! Lure, can we sing a song as we go along?” She grinned towards him as he helped her up. She wore Balsam’s extra pair of clothes, pinned to fit her tiny frame, and with her hair tied back into a braid, she could easily be mistaken as the princess. Her gown was neatly tucked in the backpack, too furious to deal with and too revealing for the type of travel.

“Of course my Princess! What song shall we sing?” As the two discussed a song, Morrick leaned towards Balsam to whisper towards him. “Hey, is it just me or is something wrong with Lure?” Balsam hadn’t noticed it before, but the jester’s movements seemed too stiff, his voice softer than normal. “Now that you mention it, I think so... but let’s get to Delvyde before anything. The Princess really should get a good night’s sleep tonight. We all should.” Morrick nodded, throwing a worried glance towards the fool.

“Don’t worry about him, I’m sure he’s fine. Maybe just hungry.” Morrick’s worry didn’t cease but he nodded again. He couldn’t help but worry about the male.
“Maybe he’s hot: he has his full costume on. He shouldn’t be walking in this heat like this, or he’ll end up like last time.” Balsam nodded in agreement, yet knew they were close. “He’ll last until Delvyde.”

Xxxxxx

The jester practically stumbled towards the city, guiding Vivianne with a gloved hand. She grinned as she skipped, pulling the jester along excitedly.
“Hold it! That’ll be three shillings, fool.” The other guard snickered. Vivianne’s kind eyes turned dark as she realized that wasn’t in a nice way. “Oh, but I’m sure a jester doesn’t have the money, but let me guess. This child is dearly sick and needs in. Seen it before bud.”

Vivianne ran back towards the others, several yards behind the two. Lure was overheating and she could feel it through his hand, to the point he was practically inconsolable. She knew even getting him away from the direct sunlight should help a ton. “Shill-? Balsam, get three shillings?” He murmured, soft enough that the two guards couldn’t hear.

“They’re being mean to Lure! Tell them to stop! They’re calling him a fool. He’s a jester. Of course he’s a fool: they don’t have the right to say such a thing.”
Morrick sighed. “Off to save him, again.” He took the three shillings Balsam- whom had pulled on Yves’ hood to hide his face- offered and bought their entry, guiding Lure into the gates by his shoulder. Being in the shade of the buildings already had Lure feeling loads better, though he couldn’t wait to reach the water. “Lure, you knew we had to pay. Why didn’t you wait?” The jester barely mumbled a soft response, leading to the fact that Morrick noticed how heated he really was. “Lure, you shouldn’t let yourself get to this point.”

The jester groaned. “I know, I know. I just, I’m not supposed to be out of uniform in front of the princess.” Morrick gave a slight chuckle. “I think we could make an exception here. Who's gonna get mad at you?”

“The princess, for one. It’s just not right, as a jester I should always be in uniform... but is she looking back? I’d love to remove my gloves for at least a few moments.” The girl was well ahead of the two, skipping through the street of dust and waving at the drab passing people, eyes wide with wonder as she took in everything around her. She looked back and grinned, slowing down before glancing at everything her eyes could possibly soak in. Lure removed his gloves, sighing in relief as his clammy hands hit the air. They may still be hot, but not suffocating in their own sweat now. Though he kept his hands out of sight from the princess.

“Does she not get out much?” Morrick grinned, and Lure weakly grinned back under his mask. Of course, the guilt-riddled jester couldn’t do much more than that. Coming back to Delvyde reminded him of when they claimed Morrick was a Lord from Alcathoy, which of course reminded him of the murder he committed. He nearly choked: he ended someone’s life, despite the fact the man was evil and would end up hurting someone else, he still did it. That in itself was bad enough.
“No.” He managed. “She really didn’t. Farthest she ever stepped from the castle was in the courtyard when we would play outside on the nice days.” By this point Vivianne turned around from her skipping to look to Lure.

“Hey Lure, catch up slowpoke!” She giggled at the use of the name before waving her hand to coax him forward. “Last one there is Miss Pennywise!”
Lure couldn’t help but smile again, conflicted by the mixed emotions and never before had been so thankful for his mask. He tugged back on his gloves, ignoring the heat and slightly staggering as he began jogging to catch up. “I’ll see you guys on the... whatever level had the water! Ask Balsam, he’ll remember!” He called out, now guiding the girl towards the elevators. Morrick fell back, walking slowly so the other two could catch up.

“She’s a real cutie.” Yves spoke up, and the other two smiled towards him. “Yeah, so well mannered too. I can’t believe someone so influenced by Lure would turn out so... her.”

“I know what you mean, I’ve been wondering how someone so sweet is so much like the pretentious jester, but at the same time she isn’t... that isn’t to say I don’t love Lure of course.” The two, luckily, didn’t catch on entirely and he mentally scolded himself. “Yeah really, she even ate my sop! But Lure is so good with her, despite everything. It truly is amazing to watch him with her, they seem so close. Honestly, I’m glad that the girl we risked our lives to save turned out so... good. I was expecting a brat.”

“She really has a liking towards Lure. If she wasn’t the princess, I would ask if they were siblings.” Morrick choked over himself in laughter as the three chattered on, Yves having not a single clue.

Meanwhile, if Vivianne was impressed with the surface she was entirely baffled by how amazing the underground city was. Crystals glimmered and many people glanced by her, seeing her as just another village child. The eyes were on Lure, which she grinned at their strangely warped faces looking towards the male filled with colour. Lure sighed in relief as the temperature decreased, the elevator slowly lowering them to the level of water. He took the princess’ hand, quickly dragging her towards the faucets and helping her get a drink before sticking his masked face under the water, only slightly moving it away from his face to let the water run through. The cool water felt nice against his heated skin.

He then took her hand. “Now that we’ve gotten here, here we wait for the actual slowpokes.” He grinned under his mask as the girl continued to look around.
“Lure, how do you stay in that all the time? Doesn’t it get hot?” The question jarred him out of his slight daze. “I’m sorry, what?”
“Your costume. How are you in it all the time?” She repeated. The look on her face showed that she was serious: lips slightly pursed, eyes hardly narrowed and face showing no amusement, pure curiosity and almost amazement issued the curiosity.

He shrugged lightly. “Nah, I’m used to it. Sure it can get heated and stuffy, but nothing some cool water can fix in a jiffy!” He smiled a wide smile under his mask, earlier thoughts and fears the last thing from his mind, as he realized that she couldn’t see the smile. She got a thoughtful look on her face.
“You know... I’ve been wondering. Why always stay in costume?” The jester’s smile faded at the question and he shrugged. “It’s in the job description, y’know? Not something I can fight. The royal family isn’t supposed to see their jester out of costume.”

“But I don’t care.” He gave her a look under his mask. “I really don’t. I know you got really hot in your costume when walking. Why don’t you wear some regular clothes? I’m sure we could find somewhere that has something. Here, you can wear what I’m wearing if that’s better.” The Princess offered with a smile. He sadly shook his head at her.

“I appreciate the offer Vivianne, I really do. I just cannot, you see, it is-”

“Aha! See, you’ve already broken your oath. You called me my name! Can you not break your oath a little more? I promise I won’t be scared or anything, even if your face is super scary! I don’t care if you’re ugly, it won’t change how I see you!” Lure felt tempted, but he knew it wasn’t true.

Though he began to question why he should hide such a thing from the Princess. After all he had just lost what she believed to be the rest of her family- wouldn’t she be happy to find out she really had a brother?

However, he still held his mother’s honour high. He would have a talk with Morrick on such things, perhaps he could give a certain amount of input that he needed.
“It’s... complicated Vi- Princess Vivianne.” He corrected himself and knelt to her level before scooping her up. “Let’s go, I think I see them!”

Her face was somewhat stern before he began running towards the group, giggling loudly. Lure fixed her up on his shoulders and she buried her hands in his hat.
He quickly sped to the group, smiling under his mask towards the three before realizing they couldn’t see it.

“Any better Lure?” He nodded to Yves, who looked towards him with slight worry. It was strange to have Balsam’s face pretty much covered by Yves’ hood, which only reminded the jester that they needed to get a hotel room as soon as they could. Balsam likely didn’t like having his face covered for so long. Lure remembered how uncomfortable it was to get used to.

The jester and the knight both led the three others to a place that seemed to be a hotel- pointedly ignoring the one from before- though it turned out to be some sort of two-story store. Yves handed the jester a handful of coins. “Go in there and pick out something more comfortable for the princess. If you see anything that may help with travels, get that as- actually, Balsam, I’ll go with Lure and the Princess. You two go find a place. We’ll find you.” It was clear that the man likely didn’t trust Lure, but for the sake of the princess he tried to shrug it off and grabbed her hand, cheerfully leading her back inside the building as she happily jabbered on about how excited she was to be getting home.

Lure gave the coins back so Yves could pour the shillings into a pouch before the two separated, Vivianne in tow with the jester to view the small selection of children’s clothing.

She excitedly pulled through the drab colours, grinning as Lure pointed her to a shelf with more colourful options. She quickly headed towards that shelf instead, finding a blue shirt- suspiciously close to the lighter teal of Lure’s attire- and slacks to match. He also led her to laced shoes, figuring them easier for her to wear through all the walking than the flats too large for her feet.

Lure went to lead Vivianne towards the area Yves had disappeared into before he spotted a jester’s marote, on sale. The wooden stick was in near perfect condition, aside from a large split in the handle which could easily be bound together by twine. He went to reach for his knife, thinking of how he could probably barter the blade for the marote, when Vivianne crossed his mind. He didn’t want to do anything to possibly compromise the situation, and now that the young girl was with them bartering off his dagger didn’t seem the smartest. Though, for only five shillings...

No, Yves certainly wouldn’t get anything for the jester. Perhaps Morrick or Balsam could weasel a few, but Lure knew that the hooded man didn’t particularly like him. Despite the better terms, more for the princess’s sake than their own. He took one last glance at it... he’d felt the wood of his old marote splinter, but he could possibly salvage it. If not, he supposed, he’d have to figure out some way to get one.

Vivianne groaned and led the jester away from the stick- something she recognized as a prop he used and she remembered having seen it splintered and broken beyond repair on the floor as she was carried out. The way she’d assumed Lure was gone.

Her heart went out to the jester, her best friend. She decided she’d somehow get it for him, perhaps offering some of her father’s gold to the good huntsman when they got back to the kingdom. Lure deserved such a small thing, he deserved much more than that in her opinion. It was only a matter of convincing somebody to get it for her.

Vivianne wasn’t stupid. She knew it was far likely that the words she’d been told of her father were true. She remained hopeful of course, something Lure had always told her to be. But she also held the fact her father was likely gone high in her mind. She’d tried not mentioning such a thing, hoping to overhear some word on her father, but nothing came from it.

A surge of confidence fled through her. “Hey Lure?” She looked up towards his mask. Why did he still wear it anyways? “Uhm, so... is my father okay?” Part of her hoped- far fetched as it was- that the fact he wore his mask still contributed to the fact her father was alive. However the jester stopped, effectively stopping the young princess, and knelt down. He gently stroked a gloved thumb over her cheek. “My Princess, I’m so sorry... I thought you already knew...” Despite expecting it the tears welled, and she cursed her childlike instincts. The clothes she had clutched in her arms dropped to the wooden floor. She wrapped her arms around the jester in the middle of the isle, muting her loud sobs in his shoulder as he gently stood and lifted her with one arm, the other one grabbing the clothes and shoes before wrapping across her back. “I’m so sorry my princess...”

She only nodded into his shoulder, curling into the familiar warmth. Man had she missed him. She felt the guilt when she missed the jester just as much as her father, if not more. He was like her best friend, like her brother. He was family. Blood or not, he was family.

She didn’t want any secrets.

“Did you know that you’re my family?” She lifted her face from his shoulder after her sobs had calmed. The jester choked in surprise as she continued. “Family doesn’t mean blood. People don’t need to be blood related to love somebody. I love Elia even though she isn’t really my family. Just like I love you.”

Lure felt tears coming, but this time they weren’t tears of guilt. They were the tears when somebody tugs your heartstrings just right, when somebody fills you with that sort of happy feeling to the point you can’t stand it.

“I love you too, my princess.” She smiled in relief that he didn’t seem to think it was weird. “I actually have a confession...”

Lure didn’t need to talk to Morrick about it, he decided. He knew that he really shouldn’t be telling the young girl such a thing, but then again, what is life without a little risk?

But then again, this could hurt her he decided. The girl had perked up in interest. “However,” he continued on. “It isn’t important right now.”

“Aww...” Vivianne was now curious but she shrugged it off. “Where is that guy... Yves? Where is he?” The two began a search, quickly finding him in some sort of food aisle. Most of the stuff he was grabbing were things like dried meat, so it was more likely to last them until Alcathoy. He also had a blanket draped over his arm- no doubt for the princess- and another canteen for water. He had a new bundle of arrows balanced between his arm and body as he tried to keep piling on the foods.
“You need some help?” Lure let the princess down, handing the clothes off to her and grabbing the stuff balanced on Yves’s arm. “We may need another backpack.” Lure tried to joke, but looked down towards his ankles to find that Yves had already grabbed one. “Is so much stuff necessary? We’re over halfway there by now, aren’t we?”

“When we are escorting a princess, of course it’s necessary, yes.” He hissed towards the fool. “Don’t do anything for me, please. I don’t want to be a problem sir.”
“You aren’t a problem, Princess. I just would rather be safe than sorry.” Yves said, his tone softer now than it had been before. She nodded gently, her facial features still showing her worry. She didn’t want to be a hassle or make them require any more. “This should be good, Lure if you’ll grab the backpack we can go buy this stuff now.” Vivianne quickly grabbed the bag instead, wanting to help in some way and grinning towards the two as she led them towards the front of the store, where she remembered somebody sat and looked to be the one to take the money. She was right, according to Lure, and heaved the things she carried onto the table with a smile.

“Well hello little girl! Are you travelling somewhere? Helping your mommy and daddy with the shopping?” The cashier seemed to be in her mid to late forties, appearing to be a mother herself as she smiled back at the girl.

“Yeah! We’re going back home. We went on this ship- it was fun!” She was careful in her wording so the lady wouldn’t know where she had really come from or who she was. “That sounds fun!”

The lady looked up towards the two. “She’s cute. You raised her well.” Lure huffed indignantly at being called a woman, but Yves shot him a look. Just go with it. He was sure not to talk, his masculine voice would give him away easily.

“Thank you very much, madam.” Yves paid for the goods and quickly piled them in the newly bought bag and loaded his quiver with the new arrows, Lure leading Vivianne outside where Yves met the two. “Mommy? Mommy! So I’m a mother now, great.” Yves sighed, rolling his eyes and dragging the Jester along. Vivianne was covering her mouth, shoulders slightly shaking due to the laughter she concealed.

That was how the knight found the three: Lure still complaining about being mistaken for a girl, Vivianne’s face red as she held back laughter, and Yves leaning against Lure with tears in his eyes from the laughter. The fool was being so dramatic about something so miniscule.

“What is going on?” Morrick questioned as Yves wiped the water away. “Lure’s being dramatic again.” That was answer enough and sufficient in getting Morrick to stop questioning it.

“Hello Sir Morrick, were you able to find a hotel?” Vivianne asked softly, looking up to the knight. He knelt to her eye level. “We sure did, and likely tomorrow we are going to leave.” He now directed this next part towards the jester more than the princess. “The hotel owners prefer not to house alchemists or jesters, quite honestly. This is a... personal favour.”

Lure understood immediately. “We’re in room B06, if Lure wouldn’t mind taking the princess there? Balsam is already there.” Lure nodded and grabbed the backpack from Yves, taking the princess’s hand. “We’ll meet you there shortly: I’m going to go fill the canteen.”

Yves followed the knight as the jester gently led Vivianne towards the dreaded building: for once he was in silence as an anxious vice swelled around his chest. He managed to get past the entrance, the employee behind the desk was clearly the woman Morrick had flirted with. Behind her all the crystals were back in the walls: all but one. He inwardly winced, but the squeeze of his hand reminded him that Balsam’s doings were worth it.

When Lure slowly cracked the door open, Balsam’s eyes snapped guiltily and fearfully towards the door until he saw who was there. “We’ve got some things: Balsam, turn your back so I can help dress the princess.” He nodded and dutifully turned around, Lure locking the door- despite the fact it likely wouldn’t do anything- and gently guided Vivianne into her new clothes. If her saviours hadn’t been all male, he would’ve had a woman dress her. However, he knew she’d feel more comfortable with him than anybody else.

Lure unpinned the clothing and folded the cloth, setting them aside before guiding the girl with tugging on her shirt and pants, insisting she could do it before tripping with her pants halfway up, feet trapped. “We got plenty of perishable food items if you wanted to make anything with it. It’s in the bag.” He pushed the bag towards the silent apprentice. “Hey, everything alright?”

“Yeah... no. I mean, I just. I feel bad. I want to apologize, but I know I can’t...” The younger confessed. “I totally get you Balsam. It’s complicated, I know. Don’t worry about explaining it to me.”

Balsam smiled back towards him, a gentle smile. A smile that showed he understood too.

Xxxxxx

Vivianne watched as the door closed, lamps being blown out and the lady she’d seen earlier disappeared.
She tested the lock. The door easily creaked open.

She was really going to go through with this. She took a hesitant step, wincing at the slight creak but already grateful for the extra padding and tightness of her new shoes. She easily took a few more steps, weaving around the aisles to where she remembered the marotte to sit. The face carved into the wood atop of it had chipping paint and she shuddered at the faded colours, making the whole thing seem creepier than it really was. Though it wasn’t to say that a marotte wasn’t creepy.
Vivianne also noticed some sort of speckle of paint throughout half the face and handle, figuring between that and the crack- the leather easily bound it together- it was basically scrapwood in most people’s eyes.

She looked around herself before wrapping her hand around the marotte, which was a leather wrap, and her hip hit against the display as she quickly turned to leave, not wanting to stay and get caught. Guilt weighed heavily on her, but she left the five shillings on the display and held the wooden staff to her chest as she left as quick as she came.

However, Vivianne hadn’t seen the change of the price since last she’d looked at it. Since they realized just how valuable such an item truly was.

It didn’t read for five shillings as she originally thought.

It read for five hundred shillings.

Xxxxxx

The knight was roused by harsh knocking at the door. He easily sat up to look towards the door, figuring Lure had gotten locked out. Again.

Well, not necessarily locked out. The door jammed. The locks in Delvyde still didn’t work in the slightest. Though the jester still manage to get himself locked out of the room. That was the fool for you.

However, with the heat wrapped around his arm- tighter than just a friendly embrace but not enough to indicate fear- indicated that the jester was curled in sleep against the knight.

He looked back towards him and laughed silently as he saw the princess had left the bed and now was curled against the jester’s chest, clutching some stick- it was too dark to make out what it was- in one hand and the fool’s blouse in the other.

The fist bounded on the door again and he groaned, pushing himself off the wooden floor, covered in a dusty rug they’d pushed against the wall to create padding for their butts, and answered the door in a state of both weariness and being aware.

He was also aware of the princess sitting up in wake, terror in her eyes. He pushed a finger to his lips before he had opened the door, though it didn’t seem too needed when he answered it to the housekeeping owner of whom he couldn’t remember her name, looking flustered.

“It’s that apprentice again, isn’t it?! Or maybe that fool! I thought I could trust you.” Morrick began noticing small details, her flared nostrils and the angry blush against her cheeks as she quickly spoke, eyes filled with betrayal.

“Hold on, back up. What did that jester do this time?” He quickly realized any sort of jest wouldn’t be appreciated. “What happened?”

“A theft happened, and it’s got your guy’s names all over it. That apprentice returned the crystals- all but one- last time in guilt. This time there are shillings left, a meager amount. Whether or not you are aware, you are travelling with a kleptomaniac apprentice.” She sighed at his face, filled with confusion and a small amount of doubt. “Look, how about... leave. Give me the marotte and leave, don’t come back. I don’t know you. I just went in to clean the room up and found it.”

“We don’t have it- Balsam!” He choked out, looking back into his room. He was careful with the door as to not let the lady see inside, just in case she was correct and there were stolen goods in the room.

The young apprentice shot up, spooking the hooded pillow awake as well. He saw the less than subtle beckoning signal from the knight and quickly came to his side, vision swimming from getting up too fast. “Did you steal anything from... somewhere?”

Now it was Balsam’s turn to choke. “No, I did not steal anything! What reason would I have?” The lady seemed to buy it, seeing as how expressive the boy was. “How about your jester then? It was a jester’s tool, souvenir really, that was taken.”

“The jester has been asleep all night, trapped by a young girl and a knight. I can assure you he did no sort of stealing.” Though he had just mentioned he needed a new marotte, he trusted Lure too much.

“Thank you, I am sorry for bothering you.” The lady took her leave and Morrick quickly closed and- without faith- locked the door. “You really didn’t steal anything, right?”

Balsam’s voice cracked with surprise. “What- no! I promise, I swear I didn’t!” Morrick nodded, sufficed with his answer. However he only now looked towards the child princess, who clutched her stick and looked towards him, wide-eyed with guilt and fear.

That stick didn’t look much like a stick anymore...

“I’m sorry...” her voice was so quiet it could hardly be heard, but it was enough for the three men to know exactly what she had done. Her eyes looked down in shame and fear of their reactions, guilt welling up in her eyes in the form of tears. “I-I left the shillings! I promised Yves I would give them back when we get home because I was saving. They just didn’t see them! I swear I paid! I-I wanted to get it for Lure, but now... am I in trouble?”

Morrick bent down to her height. “No, my princess, but we do need to leave. I don’t think you left enough. Somebody, wake up Lure and tell him w-”

“No!” She cried out. “Don’t tell Lure-” “Don’t tell Lure what, little missy?” She yelped out and hid the staff behind her back, standing straight to be sure to be tall enough to hide the marotte from the jester. Lure could tell something was being hidden, but he didn’t push. With how everybody was looking at him, it seemed that somebody had died.

“We have to go. Quickly, pack up. Vivianne, you’re going to-” Morrick cut short at the look she was giving him. Her eyes were wide and gentle, tears making them appear wider and shine, even in the minimal light. Once Yves lit the lamp, the amber colour spilled through and his resolve slipped. “Let’s just go, alright guys?”
They quickly were off, getting a few odd glances but managing to be a lot more subtle and sneaky than last time. At one point they broke into a sprint when they noticed an army of guards coming towards them, but the men didn’t seem to spot them. After that they made sure to get out of the city, startling the two guards awake as they ran out the gates.

Lure managed to get Vivianne on his back so the young girl didn’t slow them down, nobody saying anything about the marotte wielded in her hand as they got a measurable distance from Delvyde. They all breathed hard, only stopping once they reached a sort of wooded cove.

“So,” Vivianne started slowly, glancing towards the four adults in shame. Especially Lure: she couldn’t see any of his emotions. “I’m so sorry. This isn’t how it was supposed to happen, I swear! Please, forgive me. I-I’ll do anything.”

“Slow down, Princess. We aren’t angry with you. Maybe a little upset, yes, flustered may be a better word... but this was just an accident.” Balsam softly explained. “You’re learning, you didn’t know. You thought that it would be all right, but hey it didn’t turn out that way. And that’s okay. Now you know, and now we’ll just need to avoid Delvyde for a few years until they forget about us... but Princess, don’t fret.”

Vivianne looked towards Lure, still clutching the marotte tightly in her hand, to the point her knuckles were white and she could feel a splinter wedging into her skin. She nodded, but kept her eyes on the fool. The fool who recognised this marotte.

He seemed to have caught on for the most part. “I think I know why this was such a big deal.” The jester’s tone caught everybody off guard. “That is the marotte used to kill Mince, hah. They didn’t even wash it. Why such an artifact was on sale in a place like that beats me, but now that we’ve left we can’t return it...” He knelt. The girl’s face was hopeful as she held the marotte out towards the jester, but had heard the story of Mince and the Jester. She knew that the jester wouldn’t accept such a gift- even if it hadn’t belonged to such a jester, he probably couldn’t take something due to regulations now that she thought about how keen he was on the rules- but the jester took it in his hands.

“How about,” he knelt down in front of the girl, holding the marotte towards the girl: the red splattered paint gleaming brightly in the sun as it seemed more and more like blood. “We make a proper burial for your father. Right here, it’s quite a nice place here.”

A smile came to her face as she nodded. The cursed face on the marotte seemed to have lost its glimmer as they created a dirt mound, making some sort of pattern of rocks on and around the pile. Vivianne set the handle of the marotte down into the soft soil as the sun began to set, looking about thirty yards over where Balsam was cooking and Morrick set up camp. Yves was gone, actively hunting.

They had purposely set the face looking away from where their camp was set up, of course.

Vivianne ate her soggy vegetables and sop without complaint, smiling gratefully towards Balsam. Yves was back early with some sort of large bird and a squirrel, sitting on the log next to the princess.

“Hey, Princess, I’ll tell you what. If you really want to get Lure a marotte, how about I help you make one? I think it would mean a lot to him. That was hard for him to not accept, I know that for sure.” Yves said softly towards her, loud enough for Lure to hear but not enough for him to piece together the words he spoke. She nodded eagerly towards the huntsman, who grinned back under his hood.

Xxxxxx

Eventually, the five made their way back to Alcathoy. They’d learned a lot about the child princess, such things as she had actually taken on a lot more of Lure than they’d realized, but most of them the better qualities of the jester (to their relief.) She also realized her love of snakes, and her absolute terror of heights and, surprisingly, beetles after one crawled into her ear one night and made a nest. She still didn’t seem to have recovered from that.

She was doing well about the kidnapping. Occasionally she’d wake up in a cold sweat, finding the jester to clutch onto for relief and comfort of her night terror. She got him moved into her room- much to his dismay- so he could be closer to her. She seemed to sleep better, and if she didn’t then she would leave her bed and curl against the jester in his cot.

She and Yves had a thing going. Whenever Lure was in the council meetings, they would leave the city to go through the trees until eventually they found a nice sized limb: pretty slender, perfect length and a large knot at one end. After that, she’d start going to Coffcord’s to work on the marotte: tying leather for a grip, whittling down the shape and sanding it so he wouldn’t get splinters, and painting the stick. She had the most fun with that part: halfway through she remembered that a marotte should have a face but decided against it. It looked better this way anyways: more personalized and not nearly as creepy.

Pretty soon, the pair had finished the gift for Lure and Vivianne excitedly skipped back towards the castle, pacing anxiously as she waited for the meeting to end. A few times she would poke her head in silently, groaning as she watched the faceless jester turn towards her and shoo her away without the others noticing.

The meeting released and the jester was the first out the door, leaving to tell the princess the events at the council meeting. Before he could find her, however, she bounced into him excitedly and nearly knocked him down. “There you are! You guys took forever! I have something for you!” Before he could even register what she was saying, something smooth and thick was shoved into his gloved hands.

He glanced down towards the object in his hands, his face breaking out into a smile as he realized what the princess had gifted towards him and- without a single word- bend down and scooped the little girl into his arms. She was quick to hug him back. “Do you like it?”

“I love it!” He trilled excitedly, the girl bouncing happily against him in some form of a dance. She was excited and so, so happy it turned out well.

As he had suspected, he had come back to the castle to find his old marotte unsalvageable, charred and splintered and covered in blood and who knows what else. He quickly realized the marotte was different than most, but that made it so much better in itself. Seemed so much more like Vivianne. “It’s so perfect! You made this yourself?!”

“Yves helped me! But yes I did! I found the stick and we carved it and sanded it so you don’t get hurt and I painted every single stroke all by myself! Look, right here I made me and you!”

He turned the marotte over to find on the bottom of the knot, there was a small portrait of the princess and the jester- although drawn in the same size scale- holding hands. He knew if he grinned any wider his face would certainly crack: he already felt his mask fitting uncomfortably compared to how it typically fit, his face muscles not used to such an ear to ear grin. “You’re the best!”

The princess’s smile turned more shy. “Actually, I’m not. Or else I would’ve made this marotte for myself. You’re the best.” She grinned wider again and pointed to small lettering towards the leather grip.

To the World’s Bestest Jester, love his best friend.

He couldn’t stop a few tears down his cheeks from that one, but the princess couldn’t see and he was glad for that. Of course, he knew she wanted differently, but didn’t want to hurt her with that information. Not yet, not until-

He was stalling. He knew he was stalling. “Hey Vivianne, you wanna go play in your room?” She nodded and dragged him quickly, shutting the door. “Close your eyes!”
“Actually Vivianne... you close your eyes. You’re right.” Before he could convince himself otherwise, he removed his mask.

Her reaction was unexpected. She giggled and poked at his cheek. “You are real! I was starting to think you were just a suit that was alive!” It was obviously a joke, and he cracked a small smile. “Hey, you even have the same eyes as me! That’s so cool!”

He grinned. He seemed to look younger, but she pushed it aside. Before she backtracked. “You have the same eyes as me. But only... huh?” Her voice went softer. “Have you been my brother this whole- but your skin is different. Your hair... but daddy always said my eyes are so rare that only my mommy had them, then I had them... but you have them too?”

“Vivianne, you need to understand. I can’t tell you- do you understand what sort of reaction people would have? Our dads are different. I don’t know my daddy, but we have the same... yeah. Does that make any sense? I know I’m not making any sense. I promise though, I will love and protect you with my life. I promise.” That last bit seemed a bit strange, but she still smiled nonetheless.

She nodded, which was a relief. “Yeah... I won’t tell anybody I know! Don’t worry, I can keep a secret. But... doesn’t that mean you should be king? Not a jester? But that would mean telling people, and then mommy would look bad...”

He had to give credit where credit was due. She was smarter than she let on and was taking this quite well.

However, it was about now that something felt off. Vivianne looked around, Lure evaporated into smoke, and light flooded into Vivianne’s eyes.

“Sorry to wake you, but would you like to move to your bed? I don’t think the floor is too comfy, my Princess.” Vivianne was looking straight up into Lure’s eyeholes of his mask, seeing the black veil, and the dream- she was pretty sure it was her dream- would make sense. He held the marotte in one hand as he helped her up with the other, knowing she would want to walk herself.

“Lure, are you my brother?” She bluntly asked and the jester sputtered. Which means he also likely hadn’t told her. Leading to the fact it likely had been a dream.
It seemed Morrick and Balsam had entered the room at some point between the twenty two seconds- yes, she counted- had passed of his silence. “Alright, repeat that question Princess. Who told you the jester is the Queen’s bastard?”

Lure reached over and promptly smacked the knight’s arm, but she noticed that he hadn’t given an answer.

“So, are you?” Lure just kept staring. “Where would you get something like that from?” She shrugged. She could picture his face clearly: amber eyes, standing out on his chestnut face, his features soft yet masculine, lips naturally curved in a smile. “Maybe it was just my imagination then. I had a dream, like, and you didn’t have your mask. You don’t look like me much, like you have darker skin and hair, but your eyes are just like mine.” Under his mask he narrowed his eyes, glancing at Balsam and Morrick.

“You said you got to hold her as a babe, right? Maybe she subconsciously remembers, if you didn’t have your mask.” “Perhaps...” Vivianne began to get impatient with the beating around the bush, even though it had really not been too long. She just wanted, needed to know. “So, are you?”

“Essentially, yes.”

She grinned. “Really?!” She received a nod from the jester, throwing her arms around him. He looked uncomfortable, as if he was worried about her reaction. “Don’t worry, I’m not upset. I know you couldn’t tell me. But I figured it out!” He finally relaxed into the hug, and it hit him. The princess, his princess, his sister, now knew they were siblings.

He wondered how their relationship might change, and could only hope that she wouldn’t tell anyone.

As for Vivianne, she was just glad to have her brother.