Month 3, Day 20, Saturday 12:45am
The adrenaline of Titus’s confrontation with Lord Dryden had passed, and it had been long enough since Titus’s last meal that he no longer felt hungry, only tired and weak. He inserted his finger between his tie and his neck, pulling side to side to loosen the elaborate knot a little. But no matter how tired he was, his thoughts continued rolling along with the wheels of the carriage below him.
Titus had caught Oliver at the perfect moment, in almost the perfect circumstances. He had learned a lot from the normally smooth man’s reactions. Oliver had asked him what he could really learn by speaking only to those who knew Mr. Siverling. But Titus knew you could tell quite a lot about someone from the relationships they had with others.
He pulled out the drawer next to his feet, took out a glass, and opened the small ice box artifact within, from which he pulled a bottle of his favorite juice. Taking a sip, he sighed gratefully and relaxed back into the carriage seat, savoring the sweetness mixed with just a hint of tartness, all riding on the magical velvet serenity of the golden apple. As little bubbles of compressed air popped on his tongue, he considered what he had learned.
Sebastien Siverling had a worrying number of admirers. It was even more concerning how far Lord Dryden was willing to go for him. This Siverling had Oliver wrapped around his finger like a piece of thread, gaining benefits, loyalty, and protection while in return providing nothing more than the seeds for Oliver to cultivate a one-sided longing. How much practice had Siverling had at this?
Titus could imagine that even if Damien was not romantically interested in other men, he could still be emotionally vulnerable to a skilled manipulator. Childhood scars lingered for life, and Titus hadn’t been able to protect his little brother like he wished. He had failed their mother’s memory, in that. But he would not let his inability keep him from trying his best.
No matter how serious Oliver could get when those he cared about were threatened, in the end he was naive. Though he spent an unreasonable amount of resources trying to help the poor, never quite grasping that no matter how much he invested of his time, care, and energy, he couldn’t change the base nature of this world. He would never meaningfully, or permanently, improve the lives of more than a few thousand people, at best. Most would slide right back into the poverty, addiction, and filth that had plagued them before Oliver came along with his misguided righteousness.
Just as Oliver invested into his philanthropic projects for a future that would never come, he was lavishing both coin and care on Sebastien Siverling, hoping to sate a longing that would only grow. Perhaps Oliver even realized how hopeless it was, but couldn’t stop himself. Oliver wasn’t normally the type to need to purchase a prostitute, after all.
Unlike Oliver’s other beneficiaries, Siverling would use everything he was given to its best effect. Coin, clothes, influence. Opportunity. Siverling may have come from poverty and struggle, but he was the type to make sure he never slid back. His ambition was obvious.
As Titus’s carriage stopped in front of Westbay Manor, he looked up at its dark windows and sighed. The rain was coming harder now, and the umbrella he usually kept in his carriage had been left behind at Harrow Hill the week before. If he had half the skill of their mother, he would be able to free-cast a shield against the rain. But, alas, Titus was forced to run up to the house with his jacket held up to half cover him, waving off the carriage driver’s attempt to help.
Inside, he took off the wet outer layer of clothing, padded in his socked feet to the kitchen, and turned on the ceiling lamp to peek into the ice box. Being careful so as to not make enough noise to wake the servants, several of whom had quarters near the kitchen, he pulled out the small metal pan of simple soup he required always be stored within, using the stove to heat it. While he couldn’t cook, he had learned to do at least this much competently.
He used a cloth towel to pick up the small pan by its handles, moving to the dining room table to eat. When he had gone too long without food, anything more would leave his stomach cramping horribly.
As he ate, chewing each bite methodically and allowing time for the food to settle before taking another bite, Titus continued to consider Damien’s situation.
Siverling’s vague connection to King Krell had concerned Titus more than he let on. Oh, he wasn’t worried that the young man had any sort of legitimate claim to nobility. What raised his guard was the thought of what might come from someone being told their whole life that the throne was stolen from their ancestors. That they were unjustly forced to live in poverty, in hiding, despite being worthy of better. He was worried about the kind of mental state that would have someone, upon becoming an adult, choose to take up the name of those ancestors once more.
Titus respected ambition, but when it grew to be the single most driving force of one’s life, it could pull one thin and taut like a razor wire.
Most importantly, Titus worried that Damien would get tangled up in that wire, and then sliced apart by its uncaring, sharp edges.
No, Titus thought, staring at the dregs in the bottom of his soup pan. Oliver was naive, and someone with the right insight and leverage could take advantage of his loyalty, how deeply he cared. The man had tried to hide some things, such as his attraction to someone so inappropriate, but Titus believed he had been generally honest, with his emotions if not with his words. But there were things Oliver didn’t know.
And Sebastien Siverling had made a mistake. Perhaps the young man didn’t realize how close Titus and Damien were. Because Titus distinctly remembered Damien complaining about how arrogantly Sebastien had bragged that he, too, had a history of free-casters in his family.
And how could that be the case, if he was truly an orphan with no knowledge of his heritage?
Oliver had been right about one thing, at least. Titus had accomplished all he could, circling around from the edges. It was time to speak to those involved directly.