Flava's oppressive silence was suffocating Justin as he trudged around the castle. It had been three days since his father had passed and he had not grieved.
It was not that he was cold-hearted or careless, he simply found that he couldn't. He didn't think it was shock - he'd been expecting the end ever since his father had called him to his chambers two weeks past. He did not understand his feelings, but he knew that despite everything, he was not upset. He didn't feel very much at all, in fact.
Jonah had taken it hard. Their father had been his idol, his absolute role-model in every area, and he was lost without him. His eyes had been permanently red and blotchy since his father had died and he had almost completely confined himself to his chambers. He had not sorted out the pressing issue of arranging their father's sending off ceremony to secure safe passage to the next world.
Justin found himself at the sea front in his favourite spot - a small rocky alcove that almost resembled a crude meeting place, with chair-shaped stones and a small large slab similar to a table.
He stared out onto the waters which were unusually still. Even nature appeared silent with mourning.
Should I try to cry? he wondered. He knew it was not a sign of weakness for a man to cry and that it could help with grieving and loss. But he did not believe he could cry even if he tried to force himself to.
"I should go north," he said to himself under his breath, "As my father would have wanted."
He picked up a few pebbles and began skimming them across the water with great skill. He remembered doing it as a child with his siblings and cousins; he was always the best at anything dexterous. The bow had naturally become his weapon of choice. Jonah had always teased him about it - he was firmly a broadsword sort of man, wishing to be up close and personal with his enemy.
"I wish to hear my enemy scream when I cut through their heart," he recalled Jonah saying when they had spoken about it a few years ago.
Justin sighed and left the sea front, returning to the castle. No doubt there would be important tasks waiting for him. The kingdom had been thrown into turmoil since his father's death, as Jonah had not yet come of age. His ceremonies would have to be rushed through in a matter of days in order for him to take the throne and restore order.
But Jonah is hiding in his chamber.
"Not for me to worry about," said Justin to himself again, "I am not going to take this responsibility. It is not mine to take."
But Justin could not prevent himself from heading to Jonah on his return. Although he did not want to take direct control of the problem, he felt he had to at least try and convince Jonah to get back on his feet.
He knocked on the solid oak door that guarded Jonah's chambers. There was no response.
"Jonah?" called Justin, "It is your brother. I wish to speak with you. It's important."
"I do not wish to talk,"
Justin, for a moment, wondered who had replied to him. The voice was small, croaky and weak. The words were so thick with grief it was difficult to decipher what had even been said. It did not sound anything like Jonah.
"I am here for comfort," said Justin. The situation felt very surreal. Since when had he had to console his older brother?
It took another ten minutes of convincing and gentle talk, but finally Jonah unlocked his door. What Justin saw shocked him more than the voice of his older brother. The person in front of him was not the burly man he had once known to be Jonah.
What he was presented with looked like a skeleton. Pale, grey skin hung off of gaunt and cracked flesh. Matted greasy hair hung limp against his shoulders, plastered to his face with sweat and tears. His eyes were bloodshot and red raw, the skin underneath them a mix of deep bags and split red skin. He was clad in only a nightgown, stained red with blood. Justin dreaded to think who owned that blood, and how it had come to be splatted upon Jonah's gown.
"Jonah," he whispered in a quiet voice, holding out a hand.
His brother shied away, staggered backwards, and returned to his bed.
"He was not supposed to die..." his brother said in a hoarse voice, his eyes downcast. He pulled the dirty, smelly bedsheets around him and clasped his veined arms around his knees like a vulnerable child.
"You knew his days were numbered," said Justin, edging over slowly. It was the wrong thing to say to a man in this state, but what was the right thing? This person was not the Jonah he had known. This thing did not even look human. It was grief personified. A wash of grey and blood and despair.
"HE WAS NOT SUPPOSED TO DIE!" Jonah screamed, throwing a tear-sodden pillow at Justin's face. He began to bawl, thrashing like a small child in the midst of a tantrum.
Justin dodged the pillow and backed away quickly, shaking all over.
What was this monster? Where was Jonah?
"Please... please calm-"
"GET OUT!" his voice was shrill and full of hysteria. He staggered out of the bed, getting tangled in the stained yellow and red sheets, collapsing to the floor. Justin made a move to help him up, but Jonah screamed again. He fumbled to his feet and lurched towards a large mahogany table by the window. On the top of it was Jonah's favourite dagger; a gift from a wealthy uncle many years ago, bound with onyx and gold in a ribbon-like pattern that spiralled up the handle. It was an exquisite item. And if Justin remembered rightly, it was not just something magnificent to look at - the blade was also lethally sharp.
Jonah held it in his hands. He angled the tip directly at Justin's furiously beating heart.