The laughter of children had been replaced with howls of indignation. Mieu had delegated Wren the task of fetching the royal twins from play. An important emissary would be arriving today from the ruler of Dahlia. Diplomatic protocol in modern Palman society made it necessary that the entire royal family be present to receive them.
Past assistance in the development of Sa Riik heirs had taught Wren that children had a massive supply of natural energy that required outlet. This energy was best released through regular interaction with other children. Children at play tended to become very dirty, which necessitated frequent cleanings, especially before the arrival of important dignitaries.
The scene he arrived at was familiar. A boy, relatively large for his age, was face down in the dirt, a small boot firmly on his neck preventing him from rising again even as he thrashed in a futile attempt to dislodge his conqueror. The boot's owner glared about him, daring the other children near him even as a golden-haired girl cried close by.
His prime directive to protect his master activated. However, threat analysis indicated that his protection was currently unnecessary. "Prince Adan, Princess Gwyn, I have come to fetch you."
The little princess ran from her brother's side and wrapped her small arms around Wren's metallic leg, still weeping. Prince Adan did not move immediately. He reached down, grabbed the larger boy's hair, and yanked it, pulling the boy's face out of the mud. "The next time you make my sister cry, you won't be so lucky."
The black-garbed blond youngster hopped off the back of his defeated opponent, his boyish stride an approximation of the proud royal march of his father. Wren calmly bent down and cradled the tiny princess in his arms before dutifully following the young master. His scanners analyzed the little girl's dainty features, taking note of the sniffles that escaped her every few steps as her large indigo eyes ceased releasing tears and slowly regained their otherworldly quality. She had not lost the blood-red ruby that adorned her forehead during the incident. Her long golden mane appeared undamaged as well; it already reached halfway down her back, and if it continued growing at its current rate, would likely equal her mother's tresses.
Gwyn stirred herself, adjusting her position to make herself more comfortable as Wren quietly followed Adan deeper into the castle. The young master was going straight towards the chambers he shared with his twin. Wren calculated that the little prince did not wish to chance an encounter with his mother that would require an explanation of his torn shirt and bloody knuckles.
The young master stopped, which necessitated that Wren cease moving as well. "Yes, Wren?"
"The queen is waiting for you in your chambers with Mieu."
The little prince neither turned around nor advanced. A short while later he resumed moving. "Thank you, Wren."
As he had forewarned Adan, his mother and Mieu were waiting for the royal twins in their room. A fiery redhead with a dancer's frame, Mieu's blue eyes widened the moment she saw Adan. She stood up, her youthful face concerned as she rushed to the young master, her leotard and boots the same color as her mop of hair. Her hands passed over his body, checking for broken bones. Anyone who looked at her would not suspect that her full designation was Mieu Type S2, a humanoid machine with advanced AI and sophisticated empathic programming that far surpassed Wren's own.
"What happened?" Mieu asked.
Adan said nothing, his eyes on his mother. Mieu frowned slightly before she turned toward the Queen and shrugged. "He doesn't want to tell, Laya."
His mistress, Queen Laya of Landen, was a statuesque woman with long, golden hair that reached to her knees. Her face was aesthetically suited for immortalization in marble, finely and delicately featured, elegant, and decorated only with the blood-red ruby whose origins she alone knew. The otherworldly indigo eyes she had passed on to her offspring were more human than they had been when Wren first met her, filled with what Wren had catalogued as the emotions of marriage and motherhood.
At present, she wore the expression of the stern mother. Wren highly doubted that this would successfully get the full story about the incident from Adan. The young master had proven remarkably able to use silence as a weapon despite his scant seven years of existence. The Queen seemed aware of this, and turned her eyes toward the little princess. "Gwyn, what happened to your brother?"
The young mistress flinched and tried to burrow deeper into the perceived safety of Wren's arms. "Um..."
Her red and white dress rustled as the mistress walked towards her daughter. "I won't get mad, if that's what's worrying you."
Wren had noticed that the royal twins shared a particularly powerful bond. The stronger brother strove to defend his sister against all threats even as the sister sought to prevent her brother from suffering harm of any kind. It was not surprising that the little princess peeked out from underneath her bangs and asked, "You won't get mad at Adan?"
The Queen smiled gently. "Yes, I promise."
"Um," said the young mistress, "Adan got into a fight."
The Queen glanced at her disheveled son and nodded once. "Why did Adan get into a fight?"
"I promised not to get mad."
The girl hesitated a little longer before she finally said, "Greck tried to take away my ruby and pushed me and said something bad and Adan got mad."
"What did Greck say?"
Adan finally spoke. "He called Gwyn a half-breed witch."
Half-breed. An insult Wren understood practically invited retaliation in modern Palman society, especially for two children as special as Adan and Gwyn.
The royal twins were heirs to the legacies of both his original master, Orakio, and Laya's sister, the original Laya. The two ancient leaders of the Devastation War had become deities to their respective peoples, even as those peoples waged war against each other in token compliance of the law both leaders had issued to their followers: kill no human being. One thousand years of hatred and bloodshed had left miscegenation so reviled that King Nial's marriage to Laya had been disturbed by an assassination attempt. Such a brazen attempted violation of the law had been followed by an attempt to introduce an abortifacient to the Queen's food during her pregnancy.
Mieu had successfully thwarted both with Wren's assistance, but that did not mean the children were safe. Trusted guards, both mechanical and human, stood watch over the children at all times. But there was little armed guards could do against the cruelty of children to fellow children.
The Queen sighed before she moved to a chair and sat down. She regarded her son with the same air of stern sympathy that Nial's mother had often worn during the King's own peccadilloes. "Adan, please come here."
The little prince went to his mother, his anger temporarily removing the otherworldly in his eyes. Adan was not a bad boy, as Mieu would fiercely snarl at his detractors. Wren concurred with her assessment. The young master was respectful, courteous, and gentle. He was also proud and severe. It reminded Wren of Orakio.
Not that the young master resembled Orakio. Adan, like his sister, took after his mother. Observation indicated that this strong resemblance had not had a significant impact on the application of maternal discipline to either child.
"What upset you when Greck called Gwyn a half-breed witch? The half-breed... or the witch?"
Silence. The young master was considering the matter. It was an interesting question that would delve deep into the little prince's current psychology and worldview. An answer of half-breed would indicate some level of discomfort at being essentially caught between two worlds, one Orakian, the other Layan. An answer of witch would suggest discomfort with the powers inherited from his mother.
"Half-breed," Adan answered after a pause.
"Why did it upset you?"
The young master was clearly still discomfited by the incident: he was fidgeting under his mother's stare. Judging from previous child discipline events, the little prince would speak soon.
"I hate it," Adan said finally. "I hate how they act like her ruby makes her just Layan. I hate how they pretend I'm just Orakian and Gwyn isn't. I hate how they make her cry over her powers and act like I'm their friend because I'm just like them. I hate them."
Wren had a technical definition for hate. It was an enduring, intense emotion that expressed hostility towards something, with an implication of the desire to destroy the offending existence. Years of observation indicated that most children did not understand hatred and misused the word. It was clear, however, that the young master did understand the term and was using it correctly. This realization prompted his rudimentary empathetic programming. Wren felt... displeased.
Silence. The Queen bore a thoughtful expression; the little prince projected anger and hatred. Mieu appeared sad; the little princess seemed concerned. Wren ran an algorithm to attempt to calculate a solution, but his empathetic programming was insufficient to adequately use his internal archive of Palman psychology.
"I think I know of a way they can stop pretending, Adan," the mistress said at last.
Adan looked at his mother warily. "How?"
"I can give you a ruby to wear exactly like Gwyn's."
The little prince stared at his mother, obviously startled. It was an unexpected solution. After due analysis, Wren decided it might be the best approach. If the little princess was being considered pure Layan by her peers due to her ruby, then a similar ruby worn by the young master would make it difficult for those same peers to deny Adan's and Gwyn's mixed heritage.
"Is that really alright?" Adan asked.
"Yes, it is. You're both descendants of Orakio and niblings of Laya. You have just as much right to wear the ruby and to Laya's bow as Gwyn does to Orakio's black sword. You're both Orakian and Layan, so you should celebrate both sides of your identity. What do you think?"
The young master thought it over. "May I please have a ruby to wear?"
"Can we get matching rubies?" Gwyn asked, apparently cheered at the prospect of sharing something with her brother.
The Queen smiled. "I have a matching pair. I'll have the goldsmith set them immediately so you can wear them when our important visitor arrives. But first, my dirty child, Mieu has to clean you up and get you dressed up for the reception. Now, off to the bath, both of you."
Wren gently set the little princess down, and she quickly went to her brother. Grabbing her twin's hand, she was soon pulling him with her toward their bathroom with a happy grin on her face. Mieu smiled before she followed. Adan paused at the door and turned to look at his mother. "Um, thank you. And mom?"
"Is niblings a real word for nephews and nieces?"
Her expression amused, the Queen nodded. "Yes, it is."
"Could you not use it, please? It sounds really dumb."
"I'll think about it. Now shoo!"
Nodding, Adan entered the bathroom before Mieu shut the door. The Queen turned. "Come, Wren."
Wren nodded. "Yes, mistress."
The Queen left the royal twins' chamber and Wren followed. When they arrived at the Queen's chamber, she quickly went to her jewelry box and inspected it before she drew out a pair of earrings set with particularly large red gemstones. "These are the earrings old King Rhys gave me at my wedding. These rubies were carved from a single large gem, so it fits my children perfectly. Take them to the goldsmith and tell him to have them ready immediately. Nothing fancy, just simple like mine. I don't want to hear any of his excuses about art."
The android extended his right hand to receive the jewels. His metal-sheathed fingers gently closed around them. "Yes, mistress. I will personally supervise his efforts."
His mistress smiled at him. "I'm glad you're with us, Wren. My children will always be safe with you."
Wren felt something akin to pleasure. While there were many things he could not do or feel, it always satisfied him when his masters confirmed his successful fulfillment of his prime directive. "Yes, mistress. I will continue to meet your expectations."