Nieneve watched the girl clutch her stomach and felt her own squirm with dread. The girl was pregnant. She opened her mouth to check, to confirm that her suspicions were true, but the doors opened behind her and all her control of the situation vanished.
Apophis Vyper stood behind her, his eyes slightly narrowed, like the snake she had come to associate him with.
"I heard that an uninvited visitor has entered the palace." He was referring to Marrika, but his eyes was fixed on Pharneus Dracarys. Pharneus' eyes narrowed, but his smile widened.
"Surely you cannot begrudge me from taking pleasure in the company of a beautiful woman?"
"I merely find the presence of the future princess, and the dressing of a whore in her garments... odd." He replied but his words were loaded.
"I merely came to say goodnight to my brother. I had no idea that he had company. The dress was one that I donated to the poor earlier today. Perhaps her master dressed her in it for the visit to the palace?" Nieneve suggested. She realised they were on dangerous ground, and that if Apophis was as dangerous to the plan as he seemed that second, he had been all along and she had underestimated his role in all of this. He was the puppeteer for the King, but she wondered now if he was the Puppeteer of the entire kingdom.
He regarded her as a predator watches its prey until slowly a small smile appeared.
"Of course. But clearly this woman is in no state for... entertainment. Can you not see she is pregnant Pharneus?"
Marrika flinched and wrapped her arms even tighter around her belly, and Nieneve felt a desire to remove her from the room.
"The child is of no matter to me." Pharneus said, after recovering from the realisation that his whore was indeed pregnant, and that he was the only one that had not noticed. "She is here for one reason only."
"But surely she would like to return to the father?" Apophis pressured the point and Nieneve realised that the kindly tone he was using was as deadly as poison. He cared nothing for the child. He cared only for the name of the father. He had guessed as much as I had. "Girl, I shall escort you to the father so that he may look after you."
She glanced at him, then at Nieneve, and then back to Apophis. Nieneve saw the decision the girl had made before she even spoke.
"Yes please." Marrika said weakly, standing.
"Tell me who he is, and I will take you." Apophis said.
"He- the Prince... Leopold, he is the father." She muttered, still holding her stomach. And just like that everyone's eyes were drawn to the stomach. There was barely a sign, just a slight bump that was more imagination than reality. It was the woman's obsessive protectiveness of the belly that made it obvious. Nieneve saw a baby that would never have any rights to his father, that would never have any rights to the country that, in different circumstances, would have been his. Apophis saw a problem, one that he could easily deal with. Pharneus saw a threat, one that he would easily deal with.
"A bastard child of the Prince?" Pharneus muttered, treading carefully under the weight of his rage and sudden hatred. "How many of these does he have?"
"Who knows." Apophis said, more to himself than Pharneus. Then he seemed to realise he had been thinking and letting his guard down while he did so. His eyes snapped back in to focus. "The woman shall go to a safe location where she shall be cared for, and her child shall be cared for. I'm afraid you'll have to find your sport somewhere else tonight Pharneus. Come with me girl."
"Wait." Nieneve said, and earned herself a glare from her brother. "I just wondered if she needed anything for her travels. I have things she can have, things a woman needs."
Vyper looked as though he wanted to protest, but did not want to enquire as to what she might need.
"Two minutes. I will have a carriage waiting." He swept out. Pharneus stepped closer.
"A bastard child?!" He glared outraged at Marrika who shrank from him, towards Nieneve. She put her arm around her.
"It is alright brother. My child shall be the only legitimate heir; this woman and her child are no threat. Come Marrika, we'll go to my room and get you things for your journey." She led Marrika away, protecting her from her brother's furious face.
"My baby..." The girl muttered as Nieneve found an old riding cloak she could have to keep her warm.
"Your baby will be taken care of." She said, passing the cloak to the woman. "Tell me now, we don't have much time. Tell me how he treated you when you met. Was he forceful? Was he kind?"
"He- he was nice. A gentleman. Then he did not seem to care, as much, once he had gone. He has not kept in touch."
"Thank you." Nieneve smiled, stroking the woman's tears away. So he was a gentleman until he got what he wanted. He could be kind but he could play dirty. Most of which she already knew. But this meant that he would not force her before their marriage. He would try to lure her to his bed instead, with kind words, words of love. She would not, could not at any point, believe he felt something for her. Therein would be her weakness. And she realised that she had already shown it. She had thought he cared when her brother hit her. She would not make the same mistake twice.
Nieneve took the girl to the carriage herself. Apophis stood there until the carriage had left the castle, and then turned to her.
"My dear, I would advise you tread carefully around my nephew. I wouldn't want you to have the same fate as that woman." Then he turned on his heel and left. Nieneve stayed at the entrance of the castle until she could no longer hear the carriage, and then went inside.
She was not ready for sleep, and decided to walk the halls a little. As wandered, she thought. The knowledge she now possessed could be important. She doubted if the Prince knew of his unborn child, and she wondered if this could be something she could use to her advantage. He could, of course, care little for a bastard child, but then his reaction would be a greater help to her investigation of his person than any of the talks they had engaged in so far. She would have something to catch him off guard with. Something to surprise him with. This could be her advantage.
Her thoughts stopped when she realised she was outside Leopold's room. She could hear noises from inside, noises she could not work out. It sounded strange to her. There was a creaking, like wood put under pressure, and moaning... She realised with shock that he was having sex. Despite her brother's antics she had never heard anything and she backed away, hand over mouth. She glanced around and realised no one else was there. Intrigued, she stepped close to the door once more and almost with out meaning to placed her ear against it. The sounds were rhythmic, and she found a strange feeling inside of wanting to go away but being too fascinated to leave. Then the creaking stopped and the woman let out a noise that sounded like a kitten mewing. She guessed they had finished and might be coming out soon.
"That was amazing." She heard the woman say before she slipped away and ran silently back to her room. Once inside she leant against the door, flustered and warm. She had just heard the sounds of the man she was going to marry having his way with a woman. She had never known, of course she'd been told about sex, but she had never known what it... sounded like.
She was strangely fascinated.