Mrs. Wilthric took her daughter's place at the table, looking suddenly weary as if fourteen years of raising children had risen to the surface all at once. Will saw through her primped looks and saw dark bags underneath her eyes and tired bones beneath her luxurious clothes.
She took a china teacup in her manicured hands, sipped it shakily and then shot a scornful look at her son. 'I wish you wouldn't irritate her so. You're old enough to know better, Andrel.'
Andrel rolled his eyes at her. 'It's not my fault she's so cranky lately,' he said, draining his glass of orange juice.
Mrs. Wilthric's eyes narrowed in a moment of malice that filled her with shame. 'That isn't her fault and you know it,' she said, looking down sadly. 'Do you honestly not care about what happens to her?'
‘It’s not my fault she’s so cranky lately,’ he replied, draining his orange juice glass,
Mrs Wilthric’s eyes narrowed at him momentarily, ‘that isn’t her fault and you know it. Do you honestly not care about what happens to her?’
Andrel shrugged nonchalantly, but Will knew that it was pretend, to in some way make himself feel better, or even make his mother worry less. Andrel worried about his sister, suddenly all of his strange reading choices over the previous year had made sense. He'd checked out dissertations on diseases, mystic encyclopaedias, never finding what he wanted. Even Matron - skilled in reiki healing - had heard of no way to eradicate the kind of malady his sister suffered with. Most of the books were hidden under his bed in the loft, and he only read them in front of Will, as if caring about Persephone was a closely-guarded secret.
Breakfast continued with Persephone still shut in her room and the table eerily quiet apart from the clink of cutlery and glass. Mrs. Wilthric seemed plagued with worry and wonder, moving from her seat only to bring a new rack of toast or to refill the butter bowl. Abruptly, she looked up at Will and spoke.
'Will, could I ask you a favour?'
'Of course, Mrs. Wilthric,' he replied, half-choking with a mouthful of fried egg.
She took a deep breath, apprehensively continuing. 'As a prince, you come into contact with important people, don't you?'
Andrel and Arlamus looked at their mother from across the table with confusion. Will thought how he should answer. 'Not very much now. We're being kept out of the public eye. There hasn't been much chance...'
'I see...' she said, disheartened,
'Why do you ask?'
'It's just that...' her knuckles whitened around the teacup, '...I know it might be asking too much, but it crosses my mind that royalty have the best medical care in all of Maegard, and...'
'Be serious, Mom,' said Andrel, cottoning on. 'Do you honestly think that a royal physician could do more for Seph than the hundreds of specialists we've already tried -,'
'Yes, I do!' she snapped. Andrel flinched, the boys were all shocked that she had raised her voice so. 'They think I'm stupid, but I'm not. All of those "specialists" don't try with Persephone. They've already made up their minds that she should be quarantined or put to sleep like a common dog!' Her anger subsided and she looked at Will kindly. 'I understand it would be difficult. You may not want anything to do with the Wilthrics once you're coronated...but if you ever have the chance...could you mention that -?' She choked on her voice with sobs. 'I'm sorry,' she sniffed. 'I'm being too emotional. It's just that I don't know what to do anymore. I - I'm afraid that -,'
Before she could become more upset, Arlamus slid out of the bay and wrapped his arm around his mother, his arm lax with awkwardness. 'Cheer up, Mother,' he said, his voice cold with calculation. 'It's not as if Persephone's fully transformed. Even if she always has a scar and a slight mutation -,'
'No,' she said curtly, scaring him off. She shook her head. 'I don't want her to stay like this forever. I know it's probably vain of me, but the world is cruel, and Persephone is so innocent, she won't be able to understand why people treat her so differently. I want them to see her as my daughter, not a monster, and if that means trying to change her...then so be it.'
Will knew he had to say something, not just as the boy with royal blood, but as a prince. He sat up and looked her square in the eyes, his foot tapping nervously under the table. 'Mrs. Wilthric, first of all, I don't think any less of you for asking. I'm your guest and I owe you for your hospitality. I want to help Seph, it doesn't matter to me whether I'm coronated or not. If - when - I get the chance, I'll make sure she's helped.'
She beamed, her eyes creased happily. 'Thank you, Will. Thank you.'