Al’bert was certain his father was an ambitious man. He was distant from his children for reasons Al’bert never really knew, nor did he analyze, but there was nonetheless a familial pride all Fromages shared, regardless of the quality of their relationship.
In the dining hall, the seating arrangement was always the same for dinner. They had a long, beautiful table, and at one end sat the Duchesse, cold and lovely, and at the other sat le Duc, distant, but mildly pleasant. In the center of the table, far from the parents, Al’bert and Camilla sat across from each other and did most of the talking on most nights.
This night they were discussing Prince Fangline and Camilla’s prospects. It seemed to Al’bert that his father was more or less delighted that Camilla had made such an impression on the prince, but when le Duc du Fromage looked pleased, it was very subtle.
The union of the Fromages with the royal family was practically the only thing left for the house to move up in the world. They’d long ago outstripped the other noble houses in rank and le Duc spent most of his time making sure they stayed at the top of that mount, so to speak. The politics of Schloeffelonia weren’t simple, but the Duc’s innate skills helped make the job far easier for their estate. The Duchesse, on the other hand, spent her time compulsively assuring that the estate itself was a thing to be envied for it’s beauty, fashion, and perfection.
The siblings were just in these recent years learning their prospective duties, but for Al’bert it simply came naturally, and had hit it off blithely with Fangline from childhood. Their friendship hadn’t been intentional, for it formed before anyone had thought of the political ramifications, but was only a happy consequence of chance and was as natural for each of them as if they’d been plebeian neighbors.
Fangline and Al’bert were opposites, and fully fulfilled the concept that opposites attract. It wouldn’t be a case of attraction, really, but more two halves making a whole. Somehow Al’bert brought Fangline a measure of rare happiness with his presence, and Al’bert felt comfortable with Fangline like a years’ worn winter coat.
Due to her being Al’bert’s sister, Camilla had from an early age filled the third wheel role with the friends. Fangline seemed to like her more than most women, even though he’d teased her when she was young, and referred to her as “silly” now, because on occasion he would perform some type of vague subtlety that would prove to Al’bert that the prince considered Camilla an integral, if small, part of his world.
He sat tonight, over bisque, and relished the fact that he was entirely right to council Camilla on the matter of correspondence with Fangline.
“You should invite Prince Fangline to the estate this weekend, Al’bert,” his mother was saying.
“I would, if there were anything to do,” he said.
“What is it you do at the castle?” she asked him, seeming slightly offended Al’bert wasn’t thrilled with the entertainment her estate provided for him.
Al’bert glanced down into his bisque, considering how exactly to break it to his mother that there was always something interesting happening at the castle, and the Fromage estate, for all its beauty, was remote, desolate, and bereft of the warmth of life. He didn’t have to think for long, because his father spoke.
“Hawking,” he said. “Bring in a hawker,” he told the Duchesse, in a final sort of way.
She glanced at him and nodded her head lightly.
Al’bert shared a grin with his sister across the narrow table.
“I’ll send a letter first thing in the morning,” said Al’bert, and the matter was complete.
After dinner, Al’bert and Camilla walked through the hallway in an aimless, wandering manner. They had nowhere to go, but conversation to pursue.
“Why won’t you let me read it?” he asked her, referring to the last letter she received from Fangline, which he’d caught her reading and noted it was several pages long. Not only was it singular for Fangline to be writing so much, but also for his sister to keep anything from him made him almost alarmed and definitely wildly curious. Since then, he’d prodded her nearly incessantly over it.
“I told you I promised, Al’bert,” she whined. “We have to have secrets, right?”
“Yes, but only the kind of secrets I don’t care to know,” said Al’bert, grinning at her. He enjoyed teasing her like this, and although he was curious, half the fun for him was figuring out what it would take to goad her into letting him read it.
“Well,” she said, raising her chin and feigning superiority. “You’re just going to have to live with it.”
With that she began to stride off in the direction of her rooms.
Al’bert wanted to laugh and murder Camilla at the same time; so instead, he stole her away to his room and tickled her until she screamed for mercy.
Afterwards, as he sat lounging in a chair and halfheartedly brooding since she still hadn’t told him a thing, she lay sidelong across with width of his bed, thoughtful, with her hair strewn over the side. It nearly touched the floor, but didn’t, and instead teased it with its proximity. They spent some time in silence, being perfectly comfortable with it between them, but eventually Camilla’s voice broke the void.
“He’s not a very good kisser,” she ruminated.
Al’bert laughed, finding himself overwhelmed by this revelation.
“I’m… sorry?” he offered, still affected by the absurd hilarity of the moment.
“I don’t know,” she said. “Maybe it was just bad luck that one time.”
“Maybe…,” replied Al’bert, fully aware that it generally didn’t work that way. A person was either good with kissing or bad; there would be no switching sides in the middle. “I do have to say, though, it makes an odd sort of sense.”
“Well, I thought with all of his sulking and brooding that he’d be better,” she said. “You know, the passionate, tortured soul and so on.”
“Maybe, well,” began Al’bert, choosing his words carefully. “Maybe you’ve got to get his heart into it.”
Camilla replied to this with a longsuffering, languid sigh.
“It is my experience with Fangline that he can be extremely good at anything he wants,” said Al’bert.
“You know,” Camilla said, thinking. “I wonder if that was his first kiss? Ever?”
“Probably,” said Al’bert.
“How can the two of you be so incredibly different?” she asked him.
“He’s…” began Al’bert, but he trailed off thoughtfully. “Fangline just hasn’t ever shown much interest in that sort of thing. I don’t know why. He likes things like weapons and chance and power.”
“So do you,” said Camilla. “And you use them, too, in this particular category, no less.”
“Then I’ve no answers for you,” said Al’bert. “But you have some for me, don’t you? In the form of a letter. A letter you won’t let me read.”
He paused for drama.
“Because you’re cruel.”
“Oh, Al’bert,” she said to him with a smile. “Don’t be jealous; it doesn’t become you.”