Aoife was left in a stunned silence as she pulled herself away from the book’s pages. She had heard her fair share of rumours about the monarchy, but never anything this depraved. To accuse the prince and princess of incest? And the crown prince of murder and regicide? It was… Well, it was treason. Treason was almost as bad as sacrilege, in the young orphan’s eyes. Her world was miles away from the royal pantheon, and she knew it was incredibly unlikely she would ever meet any of the royal family, but she loved her king and her country. She wouldn’t have such slander spread about their ancestors, though part of her couldn’t help but wonder if it was true. Why else would someone have gone to such great lengths to document it? Surely the royal family tree was readily available for anyone to view, unless that had been doctored? It made the young woman’s head hurt to think too much about it.

Rinian, on the other hand, found it all incredibly fascinating. The scandal, the drama, the debauchery. Oh, it made his heart soar. What an incredible rush one got from reading about such things! Perhaps that was just a result of his agnostic beliefs; the thrill of reading something the rest of the world would find incredibly taboo, perhaps even worthy of punishment. He was a law abiding citizen, there was no doubt of that, and he would never dream of breaking the law, but he would always allow himself this one indulgence.

“What is this?” Aoife asked eventually, breaking the silence that hung between them. Part of her found it hard to believe such a book could even exist, let alone be kept in the former capital. Why would someone document such dangerous and scandalous knowledge? Had someone intended to use it against the crown? She’d heard stories of revolutions in far off lands, but as far as she knew, all had failed. A scandal like that would certainly have shaken the royal family from favourable view.

“No one is really sure,” Rin said, turning to the book again, flipping through the pages delicately until he found what he was looking for. “Very few people know of this book, even fewer know a copy still exists.”

“Is it dangerous?”

“In the right hands, anything is dangerous. There are a lot of people that would pay their entire estate for this knowledge.” Rin paused, a gleeful look in his eye. “Why don’t we make a deal? For every story you read—and enjoy—I get to ask you a question.”

A frown creased Aoife’s brow at his suggestion. Behaviour like this was terribly improper, especially for a young woman who was soon to become a Sister of the Church. But the allure of knowledge—especially such restricted knowledge—and of new stories was too great to resist. She could pretend she was the great warrior Arsinoë, who used her wit to gain advantage in battle, and her allure to gain advantage in politics. Even Aoife had to admit the idea of going down in history to the same impact as Arsinoë was a little more exhilarating than she was comfortable with, but comfort be damned, she was going to do her best to do the warrior justice.

“Deal,” she said, eventually voicing her compliance with Rin’s idea.

The smile that spread across Rin’s face suggested all too well that he hadn’t been expecting her to agree. Neither party would be aware of it yet, but it would be this arrangement that would tie the two youths together for the longest of times and the hardest of struggles. But those days were a long way off. For this short moment, all the need concern them were the stories in old books, and lazy afternoons spent in the warm embrace of the library.

The End

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