Julia bowed with the rest of those in the reception hall, though she didn't see the point. Chesterfield wasn't a king, not really. He was just a short, fat man with a hooked nose whom Goth allowed to keep the title so he'd shut up about "the lost days of the monarchy," or whatever nonsense.
"Is it me, or has the Penguin gotten fatter?" Bruce whispered in Julia's ear.
"Sh-shhh!" Julia whispered through her snickering. A sharp look from her father ended the children's giggles immediately.
"Welcome to Raven's Keep," Bruce's father said. "It's an honor to have you here, King Chesterfield."
"Very good!" The king clapped his pudgy hands. "It's delightful! Yes, very delightful! You remember my son, don't you?" He gestured to the tall, muscular boy beside him. Prince Oswald was a couple of years older than Julia, and couldn't have looked more unlike his father. If Julia was into that sort of thing, she might have even been attracted to his chiseled jaw, small nose, and deep brown eyes. But Oswald was like a brother to her; they'd known each other since they had been little more than babes.
"It's a pleasure to see you again," Oswald said pleasantly, shaking hands with Julia's parents as well as Thomas and Martha. He turned to Harvus, Amelia, Bruce, and Julia. "Hi! I haven't seen the four of you in forever! Where's Selena and John?"
Julia pointed to the corner of the hall where John was sitting by himself in a window, looking out into the night. "He still misses his father a great deal," Julia said sadly.
Oswald's face fell. "Maybe I should talk to him. He might listen to me..."
"It's certainly worth a try," Bruce said.
As Oswald drifted over to John, Julia caught part of the conversation Chesterfield was having with her and Bruce's parents. " — is Joseph, leader of the Demons," Thomas said.
"It's an honor to meet you," Joseph told Chesterfield, bowing respectfully. Julia did not like Joseph at all, especially after what he made her mother do. Julia's mother was a good, sweet woman; she had never seen her behave so viciously. For Joseph to use Aunt Hippolyta to drive Julia's mother to such an act was despicable. Julia wished she had one of her father's crossbows, so she could get rid of the Demon leader once and for all.
The Penguin returned the bow, then waddled up to the Demon, taking his hand. "Great pleasure! Great pleasure! I certainly hope we can create a treaty that will benefit both of our societies!"
Joseph smiled; it gave Julia chills. "I'm certain we will, Your Majesty."
"Duke Brian and Duchess Maria of the Kyle Lowlands, and their daughter, Selena!"
Julia, Bruce, Amelia, and Harvus turned to see the Kyles enter; Brian and Maria looked as radiant as ever in their respective matching dark blue suit and gown. Then Julia saw Selena, and all else was forgotten. "Selena!" Julia cried, running to her friend.
"Julia!" Selena shrieked happily, and the two shared a long embrace. "Did you finish The Panther's Embrace?"
"Not yet. Father and Mother increased my combat training and intellectual studies to seven hours a day, five days a week. It doesn't leave much time for leisure reading."
Selena rolled her eyes. "My parents are doing the same to me. I guess they think another war is coming."
"The last one was bad enough," Julia said sadly, her eyes finding John. He was still staring out the window, Oswald talking to him softly.
"Who's that?" Amelia asked, pointing.
The children turned to follow Amelia's finger, and saw a short Demon whose face was hidden under a large hood. Julia hadn't even notice the little Demon before, but it seemed to be a child. Julia led the others over to the small Demon. "Hello," she said pleasantly. If it was a child, she couldn't hold him or her responsible for the actions of the adults.
The little Demon jumped, hood falling back. Julia stifled a gasp; it was a boy, but he looked like he was starving. His sickly pale cheeks were sharp, his eyes dark and sunken. The boy looked terrified. "I…I'm not supposed to talk to anyone," he whispered.
"It's okay," Julia said. "I'm Julia of Worth. These are my friends: Bruce, Selena, Amelia, and Harvus."
The boy's eyes darted repeatedly to Joseph, who was still laughing with Amelia's mother. "I really can't talk," the boy said almost frantically.
"At least tell us your name," Harvus pressed kindly.
"I…don't have a name," he said in a high raspy voice, almost as if he was about to lose it.
Julia frowned. "How can you not have a name?"
The boy recoiled. "My father didn't give me one. Please, just let me go." He scrambled away, stringy emerald hair billowing in his wake.