"It's not ridiculous."
Caius mumbled defensively, "It's just unusual. Ziell is the Immortal of Prophecy as well as Peace and Winter. As his great grandchild of sorts, some of that Domain lingers in my person. I—oh, Darcy, listen."
He watched the delicate pianist's disbelieving gaze carefully, shifting a little against his pillows with a tilt of his head. She curled her fingers around his wrist and he held her tearful eyes with his serious ones, "I wish I could say it was some foolish folktale us Gawynes tell each other to perpetuate our warped sense of superiority, but I only have one story to tell as proof. As far as I know, all of us of a similar generation—grandchildren—have the same premonitions, though my father has never shared whether the same is true for himself."
The northern noble moved her hand from his wrist to the uninjured side of his chest, her palm where his heart was beating steadily under the fabric of his shirt and his own too-warm hand over hers, "I had a younger brother, Robert. He was born an arc after Ivy and a few arcs before my younger siblings, though of all of us, he was always the most ill—always, it seemed. Gawyne is a harsh place, and Umbridge one of the harshest. Despite all my parents had at their disposal as Baron and Baronness, there was little to be done other than shelter him. Once he was an old enough boy, well, Robert would have none of it—he wanted outside and in the woods with the rest of us and he wouldn't take no for an answer. When he was old enough to understand, however, he knew—as I know—the day of his natural end. He told me first, sometime after Ivy had disappeared, perhaps because death had finally become a topic of conversation in the warm walls of Warren's End. Cowering from the wrath of my older brother Hunter and seeking to comfort each other, he was bold to speak of the too-soon date he knew."
The young Gawyne looked away for a moment, wishing very much that the so-called gift he'd been left as a descendant of an Immortal could just be a stupid superstition. Closing his eyes, if only to hide a few tears and not look at Darcyanna's doubting, expectant face, he continued quietly,
"The cold cycle of his day came, and honestly all of us passed an illness around in late Vhalar. But I knew. And he knew. And he didn't get better. Robert got worse. Finally, he told our father and that was that. He passed away in late Vhalar on the date he knew. He wasn't wrong. No one did that to him—how can I say that's just a family tradition?"
Caius' eyes fluttered open again and he released her hand to rub a palm across his face, digging the heel of it against his eyes and wipe his cheeks, the weight of the real secret he'd kept finally weighing him down, crushing his chest as he inhaled a ragged breath,
"I'm sorry. I should have told you sooner, Darcy. I didn't want to—I don't—I don't want this to be any more true than it was for Robert. For any of my cousins, for that matter."
He paused, afraid to return his hand to hers, afraid of the anger she'd feel once he spoke the truth. He hadn't really lied, he just had kept this from her because the northern noble knew she wouldn't believe him anyway. Because he didn't want to believe it himself.
And yet, he'd made promises in defiance of it all.
"By the Fates or not, I won't be an old man. I won't even be twenty four—"
He set his jaw then, body tensing, determined to maintain eye contact with the blonde Venora although by the sudden racing of his heart against her hand, he was terrified to answer truthfully.
He could have lied—given her any date at all, arcs from now, decades, centuries. What would it have mattered? He'd lied enough already, so what was one more? By Warren, how he wanted to, but he couldn't. Not again. Not anymore. He'd almost died yester-trial by the bloodied hands of Pythera Venora in front of Darcyanna's own eyes. A fistful of extra trials were a blessing, as far as he was concerned—these breaths a gift even if they didn't feel like it under her tearful, terrified gaze.
For fuck's sake—he couldn't. He shouldn't. He had to.
She deserved to know everything. He'd told her the depths of his feelings, his real feelings. He'd told her his heart's desires in that carriage, his blood everywhere.
Now, now he had to betray every word.
Everything inside him writhed in pain, stabbed by a thousand daggers of truth, burned by the fires of his own self-doubt. His breath hitched and he fought the urge to get up and walk away, wrestling with his own tongue as the numbers he felt were true in his very soul clawed at the back of his throat to be set free.
He sighed, his words quiet as he laid the rest of his secrets out in the open between them, the last one he had to give, though he kept the break and the bit and the trill to himself,
"—Zi'da the 91st, Darcy. This arc."