Apparently working in the infirmary isn’t enough for Master Kai. He’s sent me academic work. Whilst we are quarantined to the infirmary, Infirmier Kim is letting Shun and I use his small office as a bedroom. He’s knelt at his table with a cup of sweet smelling ginger tea and a small bowl of rice. I don’t know how he survives on his meagre rations. With dried flowers and bits of driftwood he’s made the sparse sandstone space homely.
Peat and driftwood crackle in the grate.
“Try this.” Infirmier Kim takes my paper off me, reads it and then in the most beautiful handwriting he writes a note under the person practising yang-qi before sliding it across the table to me. “Trust me, Angus if you can learn it it will add to your life.” He hands it back to me and waves his hand over the paper. “I’ll help you when I can but there’s another wave of refugees on the way. The brethren are making emergency shelters so we can house them on the island.” He sighs. “Covesea Island was once my home. Your sister’s actions are destroying it and its people. You must be experiencing similar emotions?”
The note reads: Concentrate on your strengths and your intelligence as you work. Bring your talents to the study. And Don’t Ruin my Table with Your Pen!!!!
I sketch one of the yang-qi fighting moves and write an equation underneath it. I’ve been fascinated by the way energy is used in the display fights.
As their prince, I should not wish harm on my father’s people, but each wave gives me longer incarcerated in the infirmary with Infirmier Kim and Shun. They’ve been charged with educating me in the ways of the order and it’s a world away from the classrooms of the novices. I’ve been allowed to ask questions, I’ve been treated as intelligent and I’ve remained unbeaten for several weeks. “Umm Infirmier?”
“Uhuh?” He blows over his hot tea and takes a sip.
“Would you like me to read over the data we collected? I’m not being well...” Big headed are the words I’m looking for. I’m a child and the order has made it clear that’s how they see me.
“Don’t sell yourself short. You’re an intelligent young man and it’s possible you will see what I am constantly missing. I had kelp pox myself as a child. I’ve managed to go weeks without catching whatever this is, as have you. Did you?”
I shrug. “The palace housekeeper is the only one who might know.” Bessie was the closest thing I had to a mother but when I turned ten she was taken from me as our relationship was deemed inappropriate by my grandfather. “I didn’t have it recently. Do we know if they’re all from the place?”
“We know all the boats came from Noah’s Landing. But the sickest people are unable to tell us if they’re from the town. A lot are unconfirmed and have no identity and without going there we can’t know if it’s environmental. We now know it’s not airborne.” He places his finger over his lips and stands. With the same finger he used to indicate silence, he taps the side of his head. The brethren can communicate without speaking. I know it’s a superior when he kneels on the ground and touches his head to the stone. “Angus, you have a visitor.”
The door opens and anger drives me from my kneeling position. It catches me unaware as I grab my brother by neck is robe and propel smack into the back wall of the office. “You...” My fist raises.
“Go on then.” His expression is resigned. It saps the anger out of me.
“By the Universal Father.” I drop Soc and ram my hand in my armpit. It’s burning and my eyes are watering.
“Novice Angus, that behaviour is not acceptable in my presence.” The Father-Abbot swirls into the room. He tucks his pink mobile phone into the pocket of his robe. “Actually, it’s not acceptable when not in my presence. Kim, leave him...”
Infirmier Kim gets down on the ground with a small brown jar in his hands.
“Father, I don’t for one moment think you can condemn Angus for having sibling issues.” Soc steps forward and takes the pot of cream from Infirmier Kim. “Give me your hand, Squirt.”
I glare at him and tighten my armpit. “You… I thought you were dead.”
“It was safer for both of us.” He pulls my hands out and rubs in the minty soothing cream into the blister forming on my palm. His eyes look right into mine and the pain in them hooks my heart and yanks at I. “I’m sorry. I would never have left you if I didn’t think it was the best way to keep you safe.”
“As pleasant as all this is, Socrates, we have a lot to discuss with your brother and I suggest we kneel at the table. Infirmier Kim, you may make us tea and then get back to work.”
I glare at the Father-Abbot with my hands returned to my armpit. “I want him to stay. And I’ll make the tea. Infirmier Kim, sit down.”
I’ve put him in a difficult position and he looks from the abbot to Soc to me. “Your Highness, I must do as the father has commanded.” He goes to the corner and places his kettle on the fire.
Soc touches my shoulder and nods. “I won’t let anyone harm you, kid.”
“You should see the mess he...” I point at the abbot. “Has made of my back. It rivals our grandfather’s handiwork.”
“I’m sorry, Angus I really am.” He doesn’t say anything to the Father-Abbot though.
We all kneel at the table. I make sure I am as far away from the Father-Abbot as I can be. Infirmier Kim places the pot of strong ginger tea down on the table with three bowls of rice and a bowl of round orange fruit with furry skin– they look nothing like we get on Covesea Island. He bows to us all and gives me an apologetic look before he leaves the room.
“Thank you, Infirmier.” I smile at Infirmier Kim.
He manages a nervous nod back.
The Father-Abbot reaches over and takes a piece of fruit. “Socrates, serve us and remember your reduced circumstances..” He peels the fruit with a knife he’s produced from the pockets in his robe.
“Your Holiness.” Soc stands up with the teapot in his hand and pours a cup for the Father-Abbot, then mine and finally his own before retuning to his kneeling position. He deflates in front of me. “May I tell him myself, Sir?”
Father-Abbot ignores him and slices the fruit, eating each one from the end of the knife. “Your brother is to abdicate the throne.”
“He can’t abdicate a throne doesn’t hold.” I’m not believing that Dad is dead until I’ve seen a body. “Unless you can show me my father’s body...”
“Angus.” Soc keeps his eyes lowered. His voice is quiet “Dad can’t have survived.”
I sniff and ignore him. There’s a chance. Until there’s a body I don’t know and I refused to be as sure as everyone else.
“Socrates, you do not have permission to speak. You no longer have that status. You must wait to be asked.”
Underneath the table my hands form a fist in spite of the pain from whatever he did to me this time and I tuck them under my arse to prevent me from using them. I can feel the nasty bastard itching around inside my mind. I know he can hear my thoughts so I swear at him as much as I can. He knows I hate him but it’s his own fault for invading my thoughts like this.
“Until your father makes an appearance you are a regent and act in his stead.”
“No. No. No. I swallow. “In which case, Soc, you have my permission to speak because I want to know what on Litae is going on. And this...” I bite back the expression I really would like to use. “Well I don’t have the ability to scratch about in his brain so I don’t know if I can trust him. I don’t trust anyone who needs to invade privacy like he does.”
He raises his head and gives me a weak smile. “Thanks, Squirt.”
“Socrates, his name is not Squirt. Remember your place.” His face is going red and his Adam’s apple wobbles.
“Until I abdicate my crown my circumstances as regent to the King of Covesea Island make me your equal, Father.”
I wave my hand. “Whilst I’m not fond of Squirt, I’m even less fond of your highness or all the other pointless titles my birth blessed me with. Soc, why?”
“Because… because we need to get rid of Evie.”
“And then if and only if Dad’s dead we put you on throne.” There’s no way they are making me king.
He shakes his head. “We have an ace up our sleeve. A DNA test…” From the pocket of his robe he takes out a series of papers. “Dad did them when Grandfather died.”
There are four. Dad, Soc, our sister and me. I lay them out and look at them. I’ve done some science and I go through them. “Soc?” The results don’t make sense. My brow furrows till it hurts and I try squinting my eyes but still nothing makes sense.
He nods. “I’m not dad’s and neither is Evelyn. Because we’re twins I can’t expose her without exposing myself.” His hand shakes as he taps on mine. “This shows you’re his son. It didn’t matter to him. He said I was never to tell anyone. What we don’t know is how to tell everyone still in Covesea Island that you are the legitimate heir. We hope it will give the revolution some strength.”
“You’re not my brother?”
“Yes I’m still your brother. We’re half brothers. Dad didn’t care why should you.”
“Because… I don’t want it.” I push the papers back to him. “Dad’s not dead, and I don’t want to take the throne from you. I want you to stay the crown prince. And you’re still my brother without any halves involved.”
“Angus… look… we just need everyone still on the island to know this. You need to be the crown prince – they need hope and a figurehead.”
I’m not ready to concede defeat and become king but there’s a wisdom in people knowing that our sister has no right to the throne. “I’m not ready to a be a figurehead.”
“I’m inclined to believe him.” Father-Abbot smiles at me. “He’s a terrible student of yang-qi. He is rude, constantly fighting and… well the other novices don’t like him. Perhaps it would be better if I became the figurehead.”
At that I take back the pages. “I’ll do it. Does Covesea International News still function?” I make it clear I am addressing Soc. I don’t want the Father-Abbot involved in this.
“Yes but it’s in Evie’s pocket. There’s no way...”
The Father-Abbot’s attitude has me on edge and I shout without meaning it, “I’m not planning on asking them, Socrates. By the universal father don’t treat me like an idiot as well.” I pick up my pen and on the pad I’ve been working out the yang-qi trajectories and energy ratios I write a list. “I need these things. Is Nate with you?”
Soc nods. “He’s outside teaching the novice’s how to fight with sticks.”
“Give him this. I need my copper back and then I need him to help me get into the university computer labs.”
The Father-Abbot moves and looks uneasy for the first time. “Young man, you have to be kept safe. You have no heir.”
I stand up. “If we don’t get rid of my sister then there will be no crown, no throne, no country to for my heirs to inherit. Unless either of you think you can hack into the Covesea International News?”
Updated Thursday - I've changed the days round to fit a change in lifestyle since the start of a new school year. Even though we don't do school it still affects us.