A few hours later, Ian sat down on a stone bench with his secretary. He’d sent Phillip off to go bathe and get a change of clothes, so he would have a little time to figure out what to do with the boy’s future. Generally speaking, Ian didn’t need to have much to do with raising the boy at all. He could easily have sent him to live in the Squire Barracks and only have seen the boy on inspection or at tournaments. But Ian wasn’t the sort of person who could just do that. Still young himself (only having reached 21 three months before) and having lost both his parents at 16, he felt a keen connection to the boy, and wanted to not only protect and shelter him, but raise him, and let Phillip know that someone still cared about him.
The secretary, a young woman with olive colored skin and dark brown hair, held a large book on her lap, with a quill pen and ink well at the ready. She held the pen over the page, and waited for the king to start speaking.
“Right, he’s pretty skinny…” Ian said slowly, staring away over the tops of the fruit trees as he tried to think. “So we need to get him a bit stronger and fatter. So…tell the cook to serve him stuff to get him…to gain weight, basically.” He swallowed, allowing the secretary to write down the order while he kept on thinking. “Um…we’ll start him with some light training for now, just enough to get him to know the horses and maybe the archery range. We’ll try swords a little later. Right now, I just want him to get over his overwhelming fear. Meet people and get to know ‘em and stuff.”
The secretary (her name was Annette) nodded. “Very good sir. May I ask if you have any plans for his schooling?”
Ian brought his gaze down from the tree tops and stared wide eyed at Annette. “…Schooling?” He asked. Annette burst out laughing at his facial expression, something Ian was getting used to. “Wait…why does he need anymore schooling? He’s almost ten, doesn’t he know how to read and write enough already?”
“Actually sire, according to our records…” Annette flipped through a few loose papers at the back of the book, stopped, and scanned one. “Yes, he only knows the very basics of arithmetic, and struggles with spelling. He seems to rearrange all the letters in any word he writes.”
“Great. I have to torture the poor kid with tutors.” Ian sighed, and crossed his legs and arms. “Alright. Give him tutors on Tuesdays and Thursdays to work with him on…all that stuff.” He sniffed and looked up at the sky. “I feel like I just sentenced him to a beating twice a week.”
Annette laughed heartily. “I assure you, sire, he’ll be fine. Will there be anything else?”
“Yeah, I think that’ll do it.” Ian said, clearing his throat and standing. He ran his hands through his red hair a few times, mussing it until it stuck out in several directions. “That’ll be all, Annette, unless you can think of anything else. It’s probably kinda obvious that I know next to nothing about raising kids.”
Annette stood as well, closing the book and holding it close to her chest as she collected the inkwell and pen. “I can’t, sir, I think you’ve dealt with every matter for the moment.”
Ian nodded, still feeling a little frazzled over the whole affair. “Good….good…”
“And if I may say, your majesty,” Annette said suddenly. “I think it’s a wonderful thing you’re doing, actually raising the boy instead of just sending him off to the Squire Master. It’ll mean a lot to the young Duke, I think.”
“I hope so.” Ian said sincerely. “I don’t really feel…cool or anything for doing this. I just feel like I’m in way over my head. What if I raise the kid to be a mass murderer? I wouldn’t put it past myself! I mean…I turned out to be a rebel leader! Sheesh…what if…” He saw Annette’s look and stopped talking. “Sorry.” He said sheepishly.
“I wouldn’t worry to much, your majesty.” Annette said comfortingly. “Children don’t become mass murders that easily.”
“Dead certain.” Annette replied with a straight face. Ian nodded, with a grateful but un-reassured smile, and Annette took her cue to curtsey and leave. As soon as she disappeared around some of the trees, Ian sprawled out on his back on the bench, folding his arms behind his head and staring up at the sky.
“I…am going to die.” He announced melodramatically to a fluffy cloud that looked like a consoling sort of bunny. He moaned and shifted in position. “What am I getting myself into?”
Phillip was getting ready for bed, with the help of a manservant who, quite frankly, scared Phillip to no end. The man was pale, stiff, with a perpetual disapproving frown and narrow, dark eyes like a snake. Hence why Phillip was suddenly so eager to get to bed. He wanted to get as far away from this manservant as possible. He hurriedly tumbled between the sheets as soon as his pajamas were fully on and dismissed the manservant hurriedly.
The bed was nice. It was large, but not so large that he felt dwarfed beneath it, like in Lady Almeria’s bed that had carried on for seemingly miles. The mattress was firm and yet soft at the same time. The sheets were crisp, not silky, and were very warm. There was also a large, red quilt to cuddle up in should he need it.
As he burrowed into the sheets, Phillip told himself rather sadly that the bed seemed to be the only good thing that had happened to him all day. He thought back miserably about all the terrible things that had happened to him today. First there had been the long carriage ride over horribly bumpy roads that had thrown him against the wall and made him get a large bruise on his head. Then there had been the dreadful breakfast (which he hadn’t had much of) at the inn. And then there was the actual meeting of King Ian of Dalros, his new guardian.
Phillip couldn’t tell what he really thought about the King. He knew the red headed monarch was a little odd, that was for sure. And the way he slapped Phillip on the shoulder (it still hurt) had been rather unsettling. But he had insisted that Phillip call him by his first name, which was very nice of him, and he had provided a nice lunch. He’d even insisted that Phillip have a second piece of cake afterward, and had then raced him to see who could finish it first.
The race had ended in disaster, however, when Phillip accidentally pushed his fork into the cake so hard that it had tilted the plate, and sent the cake flying as if from a catapult. The dessert course had landed straight on a large tapestry that was hanging on the wall, no doubt staining it beyond repair. Phillip had been mortified. And he was sure that the red face and choking noises coming from the king’s direction had been total rage.
A whimper escaped from the boy. He wanted so badly to make someone like him, but he seemed talented at causing the greatest and most ridiculous disasters possible. He had never been clumsy when Mother and Father were alive. He had never caused any foolish problems then. But it just seemed like he was always so anxious to please so many strangers now, and the harder he tried, the more nervous and anxious he got, and then he always annoyed them to death, and was sent away to another place to live another month and be sent away again.
He couldn’t help it. He turned over on his stomach, buried his face in his pillow, and started crying quietly. “Mommy…” he whimpered, secure in the knowledge that he was alone, so he could cry for her. “Daddy…” He moaned a little later.
He was so deeply buried in sobs that he didn’t hear the door quietly click open, nor the soft footsteps that crept softly into the room and made their way over to his bedside. He was only alerted to another’s presence when a hand was placed rather hesitantly on his back, and someone said, “Alright kid. Cry it out. That’s it. It’s okay.”
Phillip made a few hiccupping sobs, and then tried to swallow them back in an attempt to collect himself and turn to see his visitor. The instant he swallowed, however, he felt ill and instead of regaining his composure, he leaned over the side of the bed and vomited on the floor.
Phillip’s visitor muttered a word which Phillip had been taught never to say, and rubbed the boy’s back comfortingly. “That’s it, it’s okay. Get it out of your system.”
The boy was sick a few more times, during which his sobbing and misery only seemed to increase ten fold. He was so ashamed of himself for sobbing and being sick all over the floor, and doing all of this in front of who ever it was who was rubbing his back. He just wanted to curl up in a ball beneath the sheets, far away from everyone, and just be alone. He closed his eyes, and kept hiccupping. He was so miserable that he barely even noticed when two strong arms picked him up and started carrying him somewhere.
“You’re gonna be okay kid.” Said the person who was carrying him. There was a snapping noise, followed by a slight creaking of hinges, and then a breath of sweet, fresh, cold air in his face. “’Kay, just breathe that in, alright? Focus on the air, okay?”
“Okay.” Phillip choked out.
“There we go. Now, take deep breathes from inside your stomach. From right here.” A finger gently prodded the lower part of Phillip’s belly, and he did his best. His stomach muscles were still sore and he was winded from all the vomiting, but he tried his best. He moaned minutely as he took an extra big breath.
“Yeah, it hurts a bit at first, but it helps settle your stomach.”
His stomach and his crying settled, Phillip opened his eyes and saw his visitor for the first time. He was shocked to see the green eyes and dark red hair of the King. But what was even more surprising was the kind smile on the King’s face.
“Howdy mini man.” The King said. “Feeling better now?” Phillip nodded, his grey eyes wide with amazement. The king rolled his eyes and laughed. “Don’t look so shocked, kid, I had a younger brother once.” A flicker of emotion passed over the smiling face, and the smile lessened very slightly. But he recovered quickly, and continued, “He used to get sick a lot. So…uh…yeah.” He coughed a little awkwardly. “Well, uh, I think we’re going to get you a new room. Come on.”
Phillip blushed bright red, and was about to protest, but one look at the king’s face told him it wasn’t really worth arguing about. Also, the fact that king wasn’t putting him down was a bit unsettling.
“I can walk, sire.” He said weakly.
Ian looked down at him and raised an eyebrow, seeing the boy’s still pale face. However, he nodded, and set the boy down on the ground. Phillip took a few steps, and then his legs seemed to turn to jelly and he stumbled. Ian grabbed the back of his night shirt and steadied him. Phillip was horrifically embarrassed, and waited for the King to insist on carrying him again.
Ian had other plans, apparently. He moved forward, placed a hand on Phillip’s shoulder and steadied him. Then, as though he did this every day, walked nonchalantly forward. Phillip leaned against Ian, steadying himself when he got dizzy, and feeling extremely glad for the king’s presence.
A little while later, Ian tucked Phillip into an entirely different bed, in an entirely different room, one directly across from Ian’s own room.
“Feeling better man?” Ian asked, patting Phillip’s shoulder. Phillip nodded.
“Thank you very much sir. I’m…very sorry about…everything. The cake today…and then the getting sick…I’ll do better, I promise!”
He grew suddenly terrified when Ian looked away, down at the floor, and then suddenly broke into a loud shout of laughter. It was a moment of frightening worry for Phillip until Ian, calming down to a chuckle, patted Phillip’s hand and said,
“Alright, three things. One, stop calling me sir. Ian, remember? Two, the cake? Hilarious. Best entertainment I’ve had in ages. We should set up a cake catapult in the kitchen for specifically that purpose. Three….Phil, you don’t have to do better at anything! Seriously kid, I’m not expecting like…perfect behavior or I’ll throw you out or something. See kid, you and I are family, right bro? And family sticks together. That’s what they do. So I was thinking we should do the same.”
“My parents didn’t stick with me.” Phillip commented.
Ian nodded, frowning a bit. “I know what you mean. I lost both my parents and my younger brother. You think it’s like…they left you. But you know, they really are still sticking right by you. You just gotta think of it as if they’ve never even gone. Whatever happens, they’ll stick right by you. You just have to stick by them and keep them with you. Don’t push ‘em away. Keep ‘em with you. Stick right by them. Right here.” He poked Phillip in the general area of his heart. “Make sense?”
“I think so.” The boy said thoughtfully. He looked down at his sheets, then raised his gaze to Ian’s. “Can I ask a question?”
“How did you lose your family?”
Ian wrinkled his forehead and looked up at the ceiling momentarily. “Let’s see…it was…five years ago now. Kingdom got attacked by a band of annoyed dragons. Castle was burned, Mother and Luke, (that was my brother’s name) were trapped inside and couldn’t get out. Father died fighting the dragons.” He grimaced for a moment. “Wasn’t pleasant. Death isn’t a pleasant thing. But you know that just as well as I do.”
Phillip nodded, not quite sure he did know just as well but not wishing to pry any more into the subject. “I never had a brother.” He commented. “Is it nice?”
Ian nodded, then tilted his head from side to side in an indecisive sort of way. “There’s good parts, and there’s bad parts. But yeah, I’d say on the whole that it’s…it’s pretty cool.” His eyes suddenly gleamed, in a way that Phillip would more than likely learn to be wary of. “Say…I got an idea!” He sat up straighter, and Phillip sat up in bed and leaned forward, looking interested.
“How about you…” Ian patted Phillip’s shoulder. “And I…decide we’re brothers.” He grinned, looking very pleased with himself. “How’s that for a jolly idea, eh?”
Phillip appeared thoughtful. “It sounds good…but…we wouldn’t be real brothers, would we?”
“Well, not in the most literal sense of the term, but in all other senses, we would be. You’ve heard of brothers at arms, right? Well, we’d be brothers at…at…um…at home. Or something.” He coughed, a little frustrated that he couldn’t think of a better term. Phillip didn’t seem to notice, however, and nodded slowly.
“I think I’d like that.” He said pensively. “But…what would we do?”
“Annoy each other to death.” Ian teased. “That’s what brothers do…okay, no it isn’t. We’d just hang out, and talk, and thump each other on the back, and all around have fun. How’s that sound? Sound cool?”
Phillip broke into a wide, adorable grin and nodded excitedly. Ian grinned at him and patted the quilt. “Well, you’d better get to sleep now. Been a long day for you.” He stood, and leaned over to blow out the candle that stood by the bed, pausing to say, “Good night bro.”
“Good night, Ian!” Phillip called out, as he snuggled back down into the covers.
Ian smiled down at the small shape of his new younger brother in the large bed. It was not lost on him that Phillip had just called him by his name, rather than his title. “Sleep well, kid. Tomorrow’s gonna be awesome.” He snuck out the door, softly shutting it behind him.