His gaze is intense – it makes my stomach pinch and roll. It is hard to swallow down the idea that he believes me. Why should he?
Because he could see the truth in my eyes? Is he really that perceptive?
Maybe he is just hopeful. He wants to believe the life he made the effort of saving does not have a heart ruled by malice. That seems more likely.
Valcan shifts and trots around to curl up against his master, resting his head down upon the prince’s lap. He is so large. A true alpha of his breed. His head takes up most of his master’s lap and legs. I am surprised he does not crush them under his weight.
“Lupa.” the prince calls me back from my distractions. He rests his hand upon his companion’s head, stroking his brow and ears.
“I’m sorry but can you please stop calling me that, Your Highness?” I beg through my gritted teeth. It feels so strange being addressed in that way - by him of all people.
‘Lupa’. That name is usually used in fear. Hate. And very rarely in admiration. Outside - amongst the streets of Agrabah - I am Lupa. I embrace the power in the name the people gave me. The feared creature that does her part keeping the corruption of this city in line. Where others do nothing. I have no choice but to accept the name.
But I wish to be her no longer here, inside these walls. There is no need. “As you can see; I am no she-wolf. My name is Trixks.”
He seems taken aback by my request. He remains silent for a moment. Thinking. “Alright. As you wish. However, I have a condition.”
“What?” A condition? He cannot be serious.
“Seems only fair that you call me by my own name in return”
The corner of his lips quirk; no doubt in response to my slack-jawed reaction.
I stammer, “B-But that wouldn’t…that would not be appropriate, Your Highness. It would be…disrespectful.”
“Disrespectful? Disrespectful - my ass!” He huffs. I feel my face colour as he continues, “You cause a riot in my city. Drive my city guards crazy on a daily basis. You have a bounty on your head for theft and murder. But you still snuck onto my land. You almost gave me a heart attack in the process…and you worry about using my given name because it seems…disrespectful.” He looks at me, quirking a brow as if I am the absurd one. “Seems to me you have your priorities a little backwards.”
I choke on my words. He is so…blunt! He has more of a backbone than first appearances would have led me to believe. Not entirely disconnected and cold like I thought the orphaned prince would be.
“Did…Did you just…make fun of the situation?” I ask.
“Mmm, I believe I did.” He shrugs, resuming his petting of Valcan. “Well, you were asking for it! It was such a silly thing to say in the great scheme of things.”
But it still seems wrong to me…
“Listen to me. I’m not going to behead you for calling me by my real name instead of addressing me formally.” My stomach sinks, reminding me I have not eaten in a while to feel truly sick. “Besides, I have asked you to address me by my name. If I were to sentence you, it would not be over something so trivial.”
I swallow through my dry throat and nod, as I cannot quite form words just yet.
“Now, let us get this out of the way. If you want me to use your name; Trixks. Then you will just have to extend the same courtesy to me and use my name; Roxas. Do we have an agreement?” His hand comes into view as I sit there, twirling my fingers.
I weigh my choices as my gaze flickers between his eyes and his hand. I bite my lip.
To heck with it.
I take a breath and reach out to grasp his offered hand, “We have a deal, Roxas.”
His presence settles as he grants me a smile and squeezes my hand gently, “There now. Was that so hard? Did anything bad happen?”
I gape at his teasing, You certainly are a smart-ass, Your Highness.
He laughs, “And you’re certainly brave for calling me out as one. What happened to my name, Trixks?”
I bite my lip and rip my hand away as if stung, Bloody filter from my brain to my mouth is broken.
“Don’t worry about it. Your honesty is…refreshing. You certainly are a brave one.” He frowns and falls back onto the ground, closing his eyes. Not afraid to get his clothes or his hair dirty, I see.
“I don’t have many people in my company like that. They censor so much around me.” He growls and runs his hand through his hair, aggravated. “I’m not blind. It is like they think I cannot handle the truth.”
The truth…can you handle it? I wonder to myself as Roxas opens his eyes to the sea of stars. He looks so wary, tired from today’s exertions...and possibly not just from today. Can you handle what I have to tell you about what has befallen the city past your walls?
“Whether I can handle it or not does not matter!” I jump as he bites angrily and pushes himself back up, forcing himself into my personal space as he stares me down. “You owe me. You owe me the truth. At least that.”
I had voiced my thoughts out loud again. I shy away beneath the anger in his eyes. I have never been so submissive before another human since I lost my parents. You have to have a backbone in Agrabah or you may find yourself barefoot and hungry in the streets, like so many others.
I just cannot help it. His anger intimidates me. It is probably the hovering threat of an execution that bends me.
I take a breath to steady myself. I do not hold back.
“Your-Ah, I mean - Roxas,” he settles a little, giving my space back. “How much do you know of the condition your people – your city - are in beyond the palace walls?”
“What has this got to do with your crimes?” He frowns.
“Please, just answer me.”
“Well…I know they riot against my upcoming coronation regularly. Xemnas says they wish for me to be wed before I take the throne as Sultan.”
I open my mouth to rebut him but I think better of interrupting him.
“But I have heard rumour amongst the guard of there being another reason. It has nothing to do with me being unwed. The people are unsatisfied with the food I supply through import and even supply from here within the palace.”
What? What food ? I wonder but allow him to continue.
“I see that my carts are loaded up with provisions in the morn once every fortnight. Fish from the far sea, and meat I order in from merchants. Bread baked in my kitchen. Freshly plucked fruit from my gardens. Water from my springs. They ride out with the orders to disperse the provisions amongst the people.” He sighs, rubbing his pinched eyes as if troubled by a headache. “And each time they come back empty so I know I have given all I can. I have even ordered lower taxes since my father’s rule as a means of trying to convince them I can be the Sultan they desire.”
Lower taxes? He lies. Taxes have risen immensely since his father’s death.
“I try my best to supply my people with whatever they need but I am told they hunger for more. That they do not accept that this is all I can give. They call for more… For another Sultan. For someone older and wiser. Beyond my years.”
They think you know of their suffering, yet do not care….
“I wish I could ask them, personally, what more they wish of me. What else I could do to help them. To ask them; why am I not enough? But to do so - I am told - would put my life at risk.”
I feel ill once he grows silent and looks to me. As if I have the answers.
I do not. I only have more questions.
This is wrong…He does not know. He does not see.
“Roxas. Your people do not call for more food.” His brow furrows for a moment as he regards my stress. “They call for any food.”
All I hear is the bounding of my heart in my ears.
He looks at me and growls. “That is a sick joke!”
“No, Roxas!” I scream as he clamps me around the wrist and yanks me up to my feet with him. Valcan jumps away, startled and alert to the fury radiating off his master.
“You lie! I watch the food I supply leave my palace gates and enter the city every day. Do you think me blind, woman?!”
I yelp as his grip tightens, the bones of my wrist grinding against each other painfully as I try to pry his fingers off me. “No, Roxas, you do not understand! Please stop and listen to me!”
“Why should I? You are obviously incapable of telling the truth.”
“But what I say is the truth. Why would I lie about such a thing? What have I to gain by lying to you?”
His hold on me shakes as he grinds his teeth. I stop trying to pry his hand off me. Instead I lay my unbound hand gently on his and look him dead in the eye. Willing him to see. “Look at me. Do I look like I am lying?”
His faces twists as if he has swallowed something hot and painful.
“You asked me for the truth. Whether you could handle it or not - you said that did not matter. So I give it to you now.”
Roxas shakes his head, such a tiny gesture I barely register it. He does not want me to stop, but he wishes I was not going to say what I had to next. To hammer the last nail in the coffin. Make it final. Real.
“The people are starving.” I hear my voice crack. “They are poor. And the taxes have not gone down, Roxas …they have gone up.”
As my words break through, his pincer grip releases me. He stumbles back as if a blow has been struck. I ignore the pain that courses through my bruised wrist as he lets out a wounded ‘No’. His eyes begin to swim.
I give him a moment. I watch as Roxas’ reality starts to crumble around him. He begins to shake his head in helpless denial as his breathing becomes erratic and painful. He chants ‘No” again and again to himself.
He reaches up, yanking his crown – along with some of his hair – from his head and tosses it into the dirt with a broken cry.
I can no longer stand back and watch him shatter. I step forward, slowly, and grab his hand. No sooner I do this, Roxas drops to the ground. On his knees, he holds onto my hand like a lifeline to his brow. “This is the truth…?”
I wish I could tell him it was not. That I could spare him. I get down to my own knees and hold onto him, offering him what comfort I can. I forget boundaries. If he does not want me holding onto him, he can push me away.
“It is. I am so sorry. I wish you did not have to find out this way.” I speak softly as he trembles.
“No.” My heart clenches as I hear him give a tearful sniffle. “I am afraid to say that I would have remained ignorant of my people had you not said anything.”