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  1. Past hour
  2. Brandon is a jerk and a spoilt little rich kid.
  3. chris191070

    Chapter 1

    Awesome start, looking forward to reading about Tyler.
  4. mollyhousemouse

    Distant Truths

    WOW! so many things i am feeling about this but can't really find the words... i'm always amazed at how these collaborations turn out, & i'm always thrilled that You share them. thank You both
  5. ColumbusGuy

    Chapter 28

    Well, I wanted some resolution...got it in spades, and with more complications! One free Construct coming up...and I'd love to see it going after Maynah. Despite events, I don't trust the High King or Ourubon yet, andlook for them to go after Kieran again once Maynah is dealt with. Sigh...another week to go, then who knows what awaits us at the end of that chapter? Dare I say it--the Shadow knows....
  6. Will Hawkins

    Chapter 7

    I would wish that the next time, if ever, I visit a European City, I have a history teacher like Will along as a guide. He, you the author, is doing such a good job of presenting the history of the country, it makes me feel like I am visiting along with Will. But then there would have to be a William I, and a William II. Too much confusion.
  7. Hey Seb, I know this must be difficult for you, but keep it up, and I am sure it will heal some old wounds. i do wonder if maybe your ex bf has discovered GA, and has been reading your letters. Something to think about eh... Have you ever tried to track him down? Regards Q
  8. quokka

    UJ Chapter 11

    I have a few other stories brewing at the moment, so a sequel is a little further down the track sorry
  9. MacGreg

    Distant Truths

    Thanks for reading this one, Parker. Your comments are always appreciated.
  10. I can’t remember why I looked it up just now (must be my ever advancing age or my subconscious desire to distract myself from doing laundry), but, as expected, my own name was on the list of most popular boy’s names in the year of my birth (no hints as to where it falls on the list). It was kind of trendy for a while, but I was shocked to be in a community college class with five others with my name. (There were often several others with my name in my grade, but rare to have another in my classroom as I was growing up.) Since I was at least a decade older than most of the other community college students, it was very, very odd!

    There are actors, musicians, TV characters, and even some politicians (ugh!) who share my name.

    What’s amusing is how few of the names remain popular. Many seem old-fashioned even to me! I’m sure many names were made popular the year I was born by actors, musicians, TV characters, and astronauts! But I was born before the Civil Rights Movement or Hippies, so there were no counter-culture names yet.

    My parents were religious (minister father, remember!). They isolated themselves from most popular culture and did no go to see movies or listen to popular music, but they did watch TV (it was free). My brothers and I had ‘nice,’ traditional biblical names which were popular enough not to seem old-fashioned or religious at the time (so nothing like Jehosefat, Hezekiah, or Zebediah).

  11. Andre Delport

    Chapter 1

    Welcome back Jonathan! Didn't miss it this time - picked it up just 28 minutes after you posted. Great start - I had hoped you were going to do something with Tyler and I was right. Looking forward to more.
  12. Today
  13. WHIPS Walter has ingested Peter's surprising PIZZAS
  14. That's right! I didn't even realize it until you said it, lol!
  15. BabyXander1990

    UJ Chapter 11

    Sequel please. Thanks... It was a great story... Madsen Sailing Adventure! The Love Boat...😀
  16. droughtquake

    The Tale

    Nope. Dictionary.app is preinstalled with the Oxford dictionaries (US & UK versions) and accesses Wikipedia. This time it was all dictionary definitions (except the pointless trivia).
  17. northie

    The Tale

    Thank you so much for giving me the necessary reality check. The story itself seems to be dividing opinion. No bad thing, in some ways.
  18. There. I corrected that for you! ;–)
  19. northie

    The Tale

    And so several more hours of your life are lost to the great god Google ...
  20. northie

    The Tale

    @dughlas I would've liked to see you as a Scots laird. I should've made it clearer I was referring to the current use of 'marches' or 'marcher'. Used in a geographic or heritage context on the Welsh border, it's not heard in Northumberland.
  21. Isn’t that just what Michael did for Heathcliff, tell him he’s falling for Aidan? ;–)
  22. northie


    @Black Paper Thanks for your interesting interpretation. When I posted it on my blog, there were several other different viewpoints.
  23. A bang at the door woke the boys at six-thirty; the entwined couples stirred. Justin farted catastrophically, quickly swamping the lingering scent of sex in the room. ‘There, I fucking told you,’ Nathan groaned. He threw off the covers and wrinkled his nose in distaste. ‘Shall we shower in pairs?’ He made the question rhetorical by dragging Justin naked out into the corridor and along to the showers. Henry and Ed began kissing, until Henry broke off, dived under the duvet, and spent ten minutes sucking Ed off. When the others came back, Henry scampered away hand-in-hand with his Ed for their turn, and took him in a standing fuck in the stall. Since that was not something he’d previously tried, their differences in height meant Ed had to adopt an odd position so Henry could manage it. They strolled back with towels over shoulders, grinning as they met David coming out of his room in his boxers. They each gave him a kiss, and Henry rubbed his friend’s cock through his pants as they passed. ‘What did I miss last night?’ David groaned. They were all in reception by seven-thirty, demurely dressed in blazers and ties. The breakfast was as basic as the rooms, but they could at least eat as many somewhat dry croissants and rolls as they could stuff down themselves. ‘No fuckin’ Cheerios,’ grumbled Justin, ‘only fuckin’ millet.’ ‘Okay, little ones, listen up. It’s Palm Sunday and in Rothenia it’s the eve of election. We must be in the country by the end of today. If Maritz wins, life will get very interesting. If Bermann wins, we slink back to England, ‘cos there’ll be nothing else we can do. I hope it’s as simple as that, but you never know.’ Henry was at his post when the minibus pulled away. By the time they crossed the German frontier and were following the signs for Münster on the autobahn, he was convinced there were cars following them. He mentioned this to Terry, who laughed and told him he was very clever. He called back to Justin and asked him if Henry was right, Justin guffawed then gave detailed, accurate descriptions of three cars and their drivers. ‘Justin’s a natural, little Henry babe. He’s quick on his feet and very observant. It’s his criminal background. Yeah, they’re all my team. They’re taking it in turns to tail us, swopping five cars back, and five cars forward.’ They pulled off at Göttingen for an early lunch in a modern restaurant near the university. They were allowed no more than an hour before the van was off again. It was a long, tedious journey. Rudi and David shared the iPod David had thought to bring. Apparently Rudi liked heavy metal, which opened up a new aspect of Rudi’s character to Henry, when he was told. Justin dozed, something he could do for long periods – like a squirrel, as Nathan said. Nathan and Ed talked off and on. They had fallen into quite a close friendship, for they had a lot in common. Meanwhile, Terry piled on the miles through Saxony, crossing into the Czech Republic and heading up the valley of the Vltava until the splendour of Prague appeared beneath the Žižkov TV tower. Henry’s skills were tested to the limit as he got them to the rendezvous point next to the National Theatre. ‘You’ll like this place, Henry,’ Terry said. He led them into a large art-deco café overlooking the street and the river. Pointing out a picture of an absinthe drinker from the turn of the previous century, he remarked, ‘Thass famous, that.’ He made them eat heartily, warning them ominously that he could not guarantee when their next meal would be. An English couple stopped off at their table and said hello. The man was charmed to see them, as he was an Old Medwardinian who had recognised their ties and blazers. Terry hissed at Henry to give him a games-teacher’s name. Then he stood and introduced himself as Mr Walker. ‘It must be Easter holidays,’ the stranger commented. ‘Er … yeah,’ Terry mumbled. ‘We’re on our way to Rothenia, we’re the Year 11 tennis team,’ Henry butted in brightly, smiling. ‘We’re playing the high school at Modenehem, the national champions, tomorrow.’ ‘We called it the fifth form when I was at Edward VI,’ the man reminisced with a smile. ‘Are they good, these Rothenians?’ ‘The fuckin’ best, mate,’ blurted Justin into a suddenly frozen group. The couple stared open-mouthed at him. Terry, leaning close to them, whispered, ‘Tourette’s syndrome.’ ‘Ah!’ said the wife and explained it to her husband. He still looked taken aback as he wished them luck and moved on. After they were gone, Terry gave Justin a stinging crack behind the ear. ‘Plonker!’ ‘Ouch!’ *** There was a five-mile queue at the Rothenian frontier. All cars were being checked, not just lorries as was the usual case. It was late afternoon by the time green-uniformed border police banged the side of the van and asked Terry for the group’s passports. There followed a cursory check and a demand to know their destination, after which a Labrador was sent in to sniff around. It showed great interest in Justin, who growled uneasily, ‘Geroff, mutt!’ When the dog lolloped towards another vehicle, they were sent on their way. ‘Get us to Modenehem, Henry. It’ll be about half an hour from the frontier. Christ, I’m knackered.’ Five minutes later, Justin announced, ‘New car following us, Terry.’ Terry went suddenly into a very controlled mode. ‘Giss a description, Justy.’ ‘Black BMW, three blokes wiv cropped hair, three cars back. Our cars are nowhere to be seen.’ ‘Let me know if they move to pass us. Oh, and Rudi?’ ‘Yeah, Terry?’ ‘Keep your head down. Henry, reach inside my jacket under my left armpit and pull out what you find there.’ Henry extracted a pistol, which he held gingerly. ‘Now, being extremely careful, put it in between my legs.’ Henry complied, feeling very nervous. ‘Next, Henry, in my left jacket pocket is my mobile. Take it out and bring up the directory. Got it? Okay, you’ll see the name Antonin. Ring him and when he answers – as I hope to God he will – say the word “Renovatio”.’ ‘That’s all?’ ‘Get to it.’ Henry did. The tones were quickly followed by a male voice saying, ‘Prosim?’ ‘Renovatio,’ Henry replied as instructed, trying not to let his voice shake. After a breathless pause, there came a suppressed exclamation and the line went dead. ‘Lads,’ Terry announced, ‘I’m sorry to say that life may be about to get exciting. They’ve taken out our escort somehow, but we’re not quite as defenceless as they might think. Justy, give me a heads-up when they move to come alongside us, which they will do in about five minutes, I would guess. Then all of you get down on the floor, and don’t you fucking dare look up.’ It was only three minutes later that Justin yelled. Terry shouted, ‘Now, on the floor, boys! I’m hitting the pedal.’ The van surged forward into the traffic, careering round a Hungarian cattle truck and gaining speed up the fast line. Terry kept glancing intently in the wing mirror. ‘Fuck, we’ll never lose ‘em. Henry, keep your head down. Cat’s out of the bag now. I ‘spect they’ll have cars up ahead to block us. So we get off this road damn quick.’ The motorway chase went on for four more minutes. At the intersection before Modenehem, Terry pulled off a savage turn through the traffic on the outer lanes and roared down the ramp, lurching through the involved junction and on to a two-lane country road heading east that was signposted for Medeln. ‘You know where we’re going, Terry?’ shouted Justin from the back. ‘Hope so. Sneak a peek and tell me if they’re still with us.’ Justin knelt up, and as he did the back window burst in with a crack. Justin dived, glass in his hair. ‘Yeah, still wiv us,’ he announced coolly. ‘They seem to be getting fed up wiv us too.’ ‘Bastards,’ hissed Terry, ‘firing at a busload of kids.’ ‘With one very dangerous kid among them,’ responded Rudi. ‘Terry, if they’re gonna catch up with us, it’s me they’ll want. I’d rather they got me than have the blood of my friends on my head too. Pull over.’ ‘Sir, no! You’re not just a man, you’re Rothenia’s future.’ A faint crack reached them as another shot was taken at the bus. It seemed to miss. The road wound about and Terry was able to make the van a difficult target. When they came at last to a straight stretch, however, two quick shots took out a rear tyre. The van fishtailed and Terry had no choice. He swerved on to a farm track, burst a gate into flinders and pulled up. ‘Out, out!’ he yelled throwing open the side door. The lads ran into the woods. ‘Down!’ They huddled behind him. Ed threw himself on top of Henry, hugging him tightly. Terry took a bead on the path. A movement down the track drew a shot from him. ‘Ha!’ he crowed, ‘that’ll slow ‘em down a bit. They want you alive, sir. They’re not firing to kill …’ A volley of shots ripped through the leaves above them. ‘.. or possibly they are.’ ‘Terry,’ said Ed, ‘we should head deeper into the woods and try to hide Rudi.’ ‘No. Our best hope is to stay here. And will you stop bobbing up to see what’s goin’ on, Justy?’ ‘What do you know that we don’t?’ asked Nathan. Terry listened carefully. ‘That!’ he announced. Straining their ears, they heard a sudden thumping in the air, getting louder, deeper and angrier. Soon it was a roaring and the branches and leaves around them thrashed. A big green helicopter moved slowly over the treetops above them. There was a thunder of heavy machine guns that caused the black BMW down the track to explode in flames, the heat and concussion buffeting their faces. Two other helicopters were settling into a field, and troops in battledress were pouring out. The boys stood up, overwhelmed. Terry holstered his gun with a grin on his face. ‘You okay, sir? Lads?’ Henry started breathing again. ‘Fine, Terry. By the way, I just ain’t Matt Damon material, I’ve decided.’ Ed grabbed and hugged his shoulder. He could feel Ed’s heart pounding and his body shaking. A detail of a dozen helmeted soldiers carrying machine guns were coming up the track, led by an officer in a flak jacket and peaked cap. They stopped and the officer stepped forward, his eyes searching the group for Rudi. He snapped to attention, clicked his heels in the Germanic way and saluted crisply. ‘Welcome home to Rothenia, Your Majesty.’ Rudi came forward very coolly and shook the officer’s hand, asking in Rothenian, ‘Your name, soldier?’ ‘Major Antonin of the Presidential Guard, sir.’ He turned back to his men. ‘Present … arms!’ The detail came to rigid attention and slapped their weapons. Beaming, Rudi told the major to put his men at ease. ‘Have you secured the criminals?’ ‘Yes, sir. What would you like done with them?’ With a sidelong glance at Terry, Rudi responded. ‘Keep them in custody for now. I need to get to Modenehem at once. Have you some inconspicuous form of transport available? I’m afraid our van will no longer serve.’ The major smiled and saluted again, with a twinkle in his eye, saying pointedly, ‘As the king commands!’ ‘Not yet the king, major, and depending on the people, maybe not ever. But I thank you and your men in the name of the house of Elphberg. By the way, how the hell did you know where we were and that we were in danger?’ The major succeeded in looking boyish. ‘A company of troops is just coming up now, sir. You and your friends can ride back in one of the trucks. The president put the Guards depot in Modenehem on alert three days ago. Ever since you crossed the frontier, the General Staff has been tracking your van with GPS by means of the signal from Herr O’Brien’s mobile phone. He was given authority to call us out as a last resort.’ Henry, who had been following the Rothenian conversation intently, laughed when the significance of his phone call was explained. Rudi turned to Terry. ‘You might have told me about your fail-safe, you know.’ ‘I hoped it wouldn’t be necessary. After all, the kidnap and assassination of the Elphberg boy in Rothenia would not have helped the CDP much, but their dark allies don’t believe in half measures, it seems. Could I advise you, sir, that we must keep you under cover till at least tomorrow?’ Henry noticed how Rudi suddenly was no longer just another teenage schoolboy, but now had assumed control of events. Terry was no longer telling him what to do, only offering advice very deferentially. Henry looked at Rudi and realised he was not what he had been. Rather, he was a king returned to his kingdom, and he expected to be treated as such. Even experienced, grown men like Major Antonin and Terry were bending to his will. Henry remembered something and tugged urgently at Terry’s arm. ‘What about Jenna?’ Terry slapped his head and took his mobile back from Henry. He rang Jenna’s number and paced up and down till he got a reply. After talking a while he smiled at Henry. ‘Still at the frontier, little Henry babe. It looks like we were spotted by CDP sympathisers in the border police. They let us through, but pulled our escort over. Jenna said they were stopping any car with British or Americans inside. She’s dead frustrated, poor babe. They must have teams looking for Rudi at every major entry point. Luck was with us, though. If there had been a bigger team at this frontier we might have been boxed in and pulled off the road a lot earlier.’ Three army trucks roared up just then and a company of infantry marshalled in the road. Major Antonin escorted Rudi back down the lane. As he reached the troops an order was shouted, and with a crash they presented arms. When the major invited him to do so, Rudi inspected the men and exchanged a few words with them. Some of them forgot discipline to the point of smiling, even though they were an élite unit. It looked very odd indeed to see a boy in English school uniform taking the salute from a line of full-grown men in battledress. At the end of the line, a lieutenant removed his cap and quite unselfconsciously went down on his right knee, took Rudi’s hand and kissed it. Rudi put his hand on the young man’s head and spoke a few words to him. The young officer stood again, beaming with pride. Henry whispered to Ed, ‘He’s just done a big thing. Rudi said the king’s blessing over that man’s head, a pozechnen they call it … the officer must be from a noble family. I think now I see how desperately this country wants its king back. It’s so formal a land and its rituals only work when there’s a king to orchestrate them. Will and Oskar know what they’re doing.’ *** The army truck had them outside the Tarlenheim house in the small cathedral city of Modenehem in fifteen minutes. The major himself rode in the back with them. He stood at the salute as Rudi and the rest jumped down with their bags, then thumped the back of the cab. The truck growled off down the road. ‘Okay guys, I see we’re expected.’ The front door of the big townhouse burst open and Fritz tore across the courtyard to hurl himself at Justin, giving him a huge hug and a kiss on each cheek. Justin laughed and hugged the boy back. Oskar and Will followed the young prince out and stopped in front of Rudi, Oskar bowing from the waist. After letting go of Justin, Fritz knelt before Rudi as the lieutenant had, kissed his hand and received the same blessing. Oskar, tears in his eyes, exclaimed, ‘To think, sir, that an Elphberg would be coming home to his kingdom in my lifetime. Welcome to our house. But get in fast. We don’t want you seen by too many people.’ As the double doors closed behind them, Fritzy grabbed Henry and hugged him. ‘It’s great, Henry. It’s like being in the spy movies. And Oskar … wow, he’s like some revolutionary hero: Oskar the Red! The CDP had people watching us till Oskar talked to the police commandant, who had them picked up. The Christian Democrats may be strong here in Husbrau, but the Tarlenheims count for much more in this city.’ Henry studied Fritzy. The boy had grown since Henry had last seen him, and the two of them were now quite equal in height. He had filled out in the shoulders, too, and had more than just down on his upper lip. The boyish prettiness, while still evident, was fast giving way to the features of a young man. All the signs said this was going to be one handsome prince. ‘And Natasha?’ Fritz looked lofty. ‘I have moved on. I found her a little immature for my taste.’ ‘So that’s two girls who’ve dumped you.’ For the first time since they had known each other, Fritz showed annoyance, and it was directed at Henry. Oops, he said to himself, I’m not good at reading heterosexuals. Fritz gave him a quirky stare. ‘I wish I had a friend who knew about girls … there are too many gays in my life.’ ‘I’m sorry, Fritzy. I’m an idiot. I should know what being a young teen is like.’ In the meantime, the others had moved into one of the reception rooms. Fritzy took Henry’s hand and squeezed it, letting him know he was forgiven, then led him to a room which had been transformed into some sort of command centre. Several channels were playing on muted flatscreen monitors. People wearing headsets were working on computer terminals. A meeting was going on around the table. When Rudi entered, everybody stopped what they were doing and stood. There was a burst of applause and a lot of smiling. He went round being introduced to people, and receiving the short jerky bow which Rothenians gave to kings and princes. There was not much room there for a party of English schoolboys. After they briefly glanced around, Terry took all of them but Rudi out again into the hall. Fritz came with them. ‘Upstairs is less crowded, if you want,’ he informed them, and they followed him up the balustraded stairs. Henry introduced David to him. ‘Nice to meet you, David,’ he said, then added regretfully, ‘Another gay, I suppose.’ David smiled and admitted it. They filed into the upstairs drawing room, with its line of tall windows overlooking the street. Henry glanced down, noticing CDP posters on the street lamps and telephone poles outside the front courtyard. They appeared to be outnumbered, however, by others bearing the Elphberg lion, red on gold, and a crown. Apart from that, Modenehem seemed to be going about its daily business. The angelus was ringing, concluding vespers in the cathedral. A jet airliner was black against the pale evening sky. Terry threw himself on a sofa. ‘That’s me job done, lads. I’ve delivered me royal package, and you’re safe too. Nathan, ring Matt and Andy to tell them the job’s done and everybody’s okay. If you describe what happened at the frontier, though, will you sorta play down the drama? Don’t want them worried, do we?’ Nathan looked incredulous. ‘We were shot at, for God’s sake!’ They sat around, still in their Medwardine School uniforms. ‘What we gonna do now, Terry?’ Justin asked. ‘Don’t be disappointed, Justy. I doubt the action is over yet, but my responsibility for it is, thankfully. I’m juss glad I got you all here in one piece. Now remember, there’s big events goin’ on in this country, boys, and you’ll be glad you did your bit in them. Take in the grandstand view. History’s bein’ made and we wuz part of it for a while.’ *** As night was falling over Modenehem, Henry, Ed and David decided to go out into the cathedral square. The great church’s west front was lit by floodlights, and the square was bright with TV lighting. The world’s media had finally woken up to the significance of the Rothenian elections. German, American and British camera teams were in the square interviewing. A huge TV screen in front of the Radhaus was showing the crowds surging round the capital’s Rodolferplaz. Henry squinted. It seemed to him that the only banners showing in Strelzen were red and gold. No Unity, SDP or Christian Democrat colours could be seen, which was very odd. Although the crowds were less in Modenehem and there were many CDP banners, red and gold still predominated. Henry noticed that even some of the CDP supporters had the Elphberg colours tied to their arms. He nudged Ed. ‘There’s something going on here that no one counted on.’ ‘What are they shouting, Henry?’ ‘They’re calling for “The English Prince”, Ed! I suspect Will, Oskar and Maritz have put a match to a much bigger firework than they expected. I think events have overtaken them. They’re riding the tiger, and it’s gold and red, not gold and black. The people want their king back.’ ‘It’s fun though, isn’t it?’ David could hardly contain his excitement. ‘Seems more of a party than an election event,’ Ed remarked. The hotdog and burger sellers were doing a roaring trade, and the cafés were full. Some groups were singing national songs. The boys were fortunate to find a table outside the big gasthaus, where they sat next to a party of youngsters who were eager to talk. The Rothenians, all of whom spoke good English, told them they were lucky to be in the country that weekend. Henry was intrigued as to why the young people of Rothenia wanted the monarchy restored. ‘He’s so good looking,’ one girl giggled, ‘he makes your Prince William look so ordinary. And he’s a red Elphberg – that was always the best of luck in the old days.’ Her friend threw her a cold look. ‘It’s like this. The Third Republic was cobbled together when the Communists were thrown out. Boring and talentless men with no feel for the people. I suppose Maritz is nice enough, but he’ll never set the world alight. We Rothenians need passion in our leaders – and that applies to German Rothenians and Slavic Rothenians both. We all want our king, and he’ll be a glorious Elphberg, a Rudolf. He’ll be the soul of Rothenia. He’ll bring us back to life.’ David asked, ‘Don’t you think you’re expecting a bit much from a seventeen-year-old boy?’ ‘He is no ordinary boy,’ countered a lad, ‘he’s an Elphberg. They have the devil’s hair and the devil’s luck.’ Henry whispered to Ed that he pretty much agreed. ‘What do you think will happen in the election?’ David enquired. The second girl smiled. ‘Does it matter? The politicians haven’t got any choice this time. They have to bring the monarchy back.’ Henry was getting a little annoyed with all this gushing Rothenian emotion. It didn’t appeal to his English pragmatism. ‘What about the German problem? They don’t believe they get a fair deal from the government. A king in Strelzen may make them feel better, but what can he do about discrimination?’ ‘He’s an Elphberg … have you got any idea how powerful that name is in Rothenia? If the king thinks his people are being badly treated, he will make sure it is put right.’ Henry sighed. ‘A nation of romantics.’ The girl smiled rather nicely. ‘Short and merry lives are what Rothenians pray for, English boy.’ As they strolled back to the Tarlenheim house, Ed commented, ‘They aren’t English, Henry. There’s no point getting annoyed with them. Think of their history: continual wars and occupations. They only have their own sense of identity to console themselves with. They’ve earned the right to live in the past, if that’s what they want.’ Henry suddenly noticed people passing them in increasing numbers, talking excitedly. When they reached the little square in front of the Tarlenheim townhouse, they found it already packed, with more crowding in from all sides. Police were forcing their way through the massed crowd and lining up in front of the house’s tall railings. The street traders had been very alert. Big yellow flags with rampant red lions were being waved above the crowd, along with national tricolours. The cameras were already being set up in raised parts of the square, with reporters talking in front of them. Henry listened to the general buzz of conversation. ‘Guys, they’ve heard he’s here. They want to see Rudi!’ The crowd had hemmed them in and was now pushing them forward, towards the house. Chants began: ‘The English prince!’, but increasingly, ‘We want the king! We want the king!’ All the lights were on in the Tarlenheim house, where figures could be seen moving at the windows. Henry wondered whether Oskar and Will would try to tough it out and deny that Rudi was there. Suddenly the tall window above the front door was opened and a tricolour draped from its edge. The crowd instantly realised what that meant. For the first time in his sheltered life, Henry heard the roar of humanity in full throat. It sent prickles all over him and brought tears unbidden to his eyes. Shouts began of ‘Long lebst den Kung!’ Henry found he was doing it too, as were his friends. At last a tall, redheaded figure in a dark suit appeared in the window. If Henry had thought he’d already heard how loud a crowd could be, he found he was wrong. The cries were redoubled, only to be eventually swamped by the rising wave of the national anthem sung by thousands of voices: a very moving sound. It broke up in cheering and vast applause. Every time it looked as if Rudi was leaving the window, the crowd roared again, their flags waving frantically. After about fifteen minutes of this, someone inside realised that the crowd would stay all night unless they were talked to. A bullhorn had been found for Rudi, and when he raised it a quite uncanny silence fell as every person in the square concentrated on picking up what the youthful voice was saying. Henry made out most of it. ‘People of Rothenia! My people! (A roar broke out at that point.) This is an important night for us. Tomorrow’s vote will dictate the future of our country. We await your verdict, the people’s verdict. But one thing I know for certain: You want a king in Strelzen, and I … I am an Elphberg!’ An even greater roar broke out, echoing back from the house fronts of the square, with renewed shouts, this time ‘Long lebst Kung Rodolf!’ The crowd at last appeared satisfied. Although quite a few seemed inclined to stay the night, thousands more began breaking away and heading home, singing. Candles appeared in hundreds of hands, and those who were determined to keep a vigil for their king settled down in a small sea of flickering flames. The police formed little knots of blue uniforms, as excited as the people. Some lit up cigarettes. As they were picking their way towards the gates, David said, ‘Wasn’t Rudi brilliant? Where did he learn to speak like that? He must have improvised it. He really seemed like a king.’ ‘Genetics,’ Henry concluded. Going up to a police commander who had moved to block their way, he explained that they were English guests of the prince’s, caught up in the crowd. The commander listened and, since they were self-evidently English, went through the railings to ask at the door. After speaking to someone within, he signalled to his officers to let the three boys through. A lot of people stared at them as they passed the police cordon and entered the building. Terry was in the hall looking concerned. ‘No problems, babes?’ ‘Just a lot of excitement … awesome!’ David enthused. ‘You were right, Terry, history’s unrolling before our very eyes. What was going on in here? The crowd took you by surprise, didn’t it?’ ‘Certainly did. But it was a fantastic boost for the Elphberg cause. Have you seen the crowds in Strelzen and Zenden?’ ‘What’s going on there?’ Henry asked. ‘Huge, spontaneous monarchist demonstrations. The Ministry of the Interior estimates half a million on the streets in the capital. President Maritz issued a statement reiterating that, if his coalition survives the election, he will declare the restoration of the monarchy as soon as the result is confirmed.’ ‘Bloody hell!’ the boys gasped. ‘Just as good news is that the CDP have said they will “work towards the restoration of the monarchy and examine all options,” which hasn’t satisfied the crowds. Bermann got booed in his home town when he announced it. He looked taken aback and shifty. It won’t do him any good.’ ‘So what happens next,’ asked Henry. ‘Babes, our work here is done, so me and you are taking the school van and heading south to Strelzen. The army towed it to the engineers’ workshop in the Guards depot and fixed it up as good as new. The Head will never guess it took three bullets.’ ‘What about Rudi? What’s happening with him?’ Henry pursued. ‘He’s planning his own arrival in the capital. He’s not our concern anymore. He’s got lots of advisers to help and direct him. Rudi’s left our commonplace sphere, babes. He will be the King of Rothenia before the end of next week.’ ‘Double bloody hell!’ exclaimed David. ‘Come and have a drink, babes. The kitchen’s empty, even if every other room in this house is like an anthill. If you want something alcoholic, I ain’t going to stop you.’ Given the option, the lads decided to go for cokes. Henry burped and asked, ‘Are Justy and Nate coming with us to Strelzen?’ ‘Oh yeah … Justy and me got some business in the capital.’ Henry looked a question and Terry continued, ‘Iss sort of private, Henry. Maybe I’ll tell you later.’ ‘Don’t mean to be nosy,’ Henry apologised. ‘No, s’okay, I wasn’t annoyed or anything. Now, I ‘spect you’re all ready for bed. We gotta double up. You two couples are together in the servants’ quarters upstairs, and Davey’s with me again, in one of the first-floor guest rooms.’ David looked a little pleased, Henry noticed. Then he noticed something else: Terry had a new expression on his face as he peered through his lashes at their friend. When Henry and Ed were snuggled together in bed, they found it very difficult to sleep. They were in the front of the house, where the murmur of the crowd outside was constant. Henry told Ed how much he loved him, and kissed him deeply as a thank-you for his spontaneous gesture of protection in throwing his body over him when the bullets flew. Ed got a bit shaky as he vowed he would much rather he himself was killed than his little lover should get so much as a stubbed toe. There followed a long silence, ended by a giggle from Henry. ‘What is it, little babe?’ ‘Nothing … just watch Bounder boy at breakfast.’ *** David was definitely preoccupied in the morning. He abstractedly put a spoonful of sugar on his toast. Ed stared at him, then looked a question at Henry. With a sly smile Henry asked, ‘Sleep well, Davey?’ David all but jumped. ‘Er … yeah, fine, no problem.’ ‘Awesome bloke that Terry, isn’t he?’ ‘Yeah … totally awesome. Scary, funny and so, so kind.’ ‘Kind?’ Henry raised an eyebrow. ‘Y’know … I mean he cares about everyone he knows. He’d do anything for a mate. That sort of bloke.’ Henry glanced at Ed, then back to David. ‘Anything you want to tell us?’ David gave an embarrassed laugh. ‘Is it that obvious?’ ‘You’ve fallen for Terry, haven’t you?’ ‘Er … big-time. What a fantastic guy … and the age difference, it’s not that much. He’s just twenty-four!’ Henry grabbed David’s hand. ‘Stuff the age difference, Davey. Go for it.’ ‘But why would a bloke like that care for a kid like me? He could have his pick. And anyway, his boyfriend’s only been dead for a month or two. He’s still grieving. It’s a bit indecent even to think he’d be interested.’ Ed pursed his lips. ‘If you don’t mind my asking, what did you two do last night?’ ‘We lay together on his bed and talked. I told him about my coming out, and he told me about his experience … wow, some experience too! He seems to have shagged half Wiltshire when he was my age. He was kind … we sort of snuggled up. Then when I woke up he was hugging me, spooned up behind me. Fast asleep, mind, although his dick was hard up against my bum.’ ‘Were there clothes involved in this scenario?’ Henry was desperately curious. David went red. ‘I had my boxers on, but he was naked.’ Then he burst out, ‘Wish he’d taken my ass, but he just smiled and gave me a kiss in the morning. Didn’t even rub my hard on like you did. And he said that was the first night’s sleep he’d had since Ramon died.’ David looked almost tearful, until a memory made him grin. ‘The size on his dick … nine inches if it’s a centimetre, and curved upwards. Very muscular. The thought of that in me …. ooh.’ ‘Shut up, David!’ growled Ed. ‘You’re getting Henry excited and me feeling inadequate.’ Terry appeared at that point, looking a lot more cheerful than he had done for a while. He ruffled David’s dark hair and greeted them. ‘Rudi – I suppose I can still call him that – wants to see you before you go. He’s in the command-centre place with Will, having lots of strategy meetings. He just took a call from President Maritz.’ The three Medwardine boys shuffled into the front reception room. Rothenian secret servicemen now manning the door scanned them in an unfriendly way. Terry explained that the president had assigned them to Rudi earlier in the morning. Rudi and Will were alone in the room, watching the wide screen TV mounted on the wall. Will had a notebook open. ‘How’s it looking?’ asked Ed. ‘Not too bad,’ Will responded. ‘Projections are that Husbrau will still go for the CDP big time, but Husbraueners would vote Christian Democrat if they had an ape as candidate – and this time they more or less did. Nationally, however, they look unimpressive. The Unity party’s topping the polls, which makes an interesting dynamic. The Social Democrats are more or less unchanged. If Unity and Maritz get together, the new coalition won’t need the little parties. Bermann’s day is done, if our projections don’t lie. Maritz and Trachtenberg will cut a deal, it’s almost certain. My guess is that, although Unity is the smaller party, Trachtenberg will head the government. The people are tired of Maritz, while Trachtenberg’s brilliantly timed call for the restoration of the Elphbergs made him wildly popular, even with non-Germans.’ ‘Sir,’ said Henry to Rudi, for that form of address seemed appropriate now, ‘what about you?’ Rudi smiled. ‘I think I’ll be a king, Henry. I’m going down to Strelzen. It’s already arranged with the president.’ ‘What about your homework?’ Henry smirked. Rudi gave a barking laugh. ‘I’ll be back at Medwardine for the AS exams, Henry. Mother’s just been on the phone telling me that if I thought I was getting out of A Levels by having myself crowned, I was to think again. No, we’ll be seeing a lot of each other yet.’ Henry was delighted. Before he could stop himself, he did a very Henry thing and hugged Rudi, who hugged him back hard. ‘There,’ he said, ‘my bodyguards are crap. You should be dead by now.’ ‘Will we see you before we go back, Rudi?’ ‘I hope so, lads. You’ve got my mobile number, haven’t you? It still works. Make sure you’re in the Rodolferplaz tomorrow for midday. I imagine it’ll be quite a sight, though I can say no more than that. Oh, and believe it or not, I have an emergency appointment with a tailor, so off you go.’ They loaded up the school minibus round the back of the house, as the square at the front had filled again with people. The police had kept the back lane open, however, so they made their exit without much trouble. Justin and Nathan were having an argument about something when they got on. Nathan was plainly a little cross with Terry too, although he wouldn’t say why. They cheered up when they hit the autoroute to Strelzen, however. Henry and Ed amused themselves by giving David a rundown on their favourite city. Traffic was heavy, and they got stuck in a tailback well before reaching the outer city ring-road. Henry, as ever, was immediately on the case, taking them off the motorway and on to the boulevards down to the Government Quarter and University and under the trees of Bila Palacz. ‘Look lads! Look!’ Along the main roads, workmen were putting up hangings of red and yellow on the lamp posts. Portraits of Rudi were everywhere. Most windows had tricolours or Elphberg flags hanging from them. Strelzen was getting ready to welcome home the man who would be its king.
  24. Yeoldebard

    Lovers' End

    The elf and the human walked into the inn, trusting the stable boy to see to their wagon. Masia made her way to the innkeeper, spotting a young elf waiting tables in the adjoining tavern. “I see you got another worker,” the human said, nodding at the elf. “I had to. Your friend stole my other slave.” Masia tensed at the term. “Unless my memory fails me, Danuva paid for Elias. I’m sure you’ll be pleased to know he has been treated with the utmost respect. Regardless, I am in need of two rooms,” she said, slapping a silver on the counter. “Then you are out of luck. There is only a single room available for the night,” the man leered. “Fine. I’ll take the one.” Masia replaced the silver with five copper, ignoring the man’s scowl. Taking the key slammed down before her, she crossed the room to where Paelius sat, deep in thought. “Silver for your thoughts.” Paelius smirked, looking at the proffered coin. “I’m not sure silver would be the correct coin for me,” he chuckled. “I figured a copper would be too low for a prince,” Masia teased. “Some prince I am, a beastly exile,” the elf scoffed. “You will always be my prince,” Masia said firmly. “You still wish to be my wife after I admitted to sleeping with Sandolin?” Masia shook her head. “No. I can not be your wife. But Sandolin would make you a good husband.” She heard Paelius suck in a breath and quickly continued. “You and I both know neither of us wanted this marriage. My father pushed it on me, on us. After hearing what happened to you, Riardin convinced my father you would not be a suitable match for me, though until I read him, I didn’t realize he was after you himself. At the time, I had no idea why he would ask my father to call off a match that would better himself.” “Wait… After me himself?” Paelius demanded. Masia shuddered as the images she’d yanked from Riardin’s mind flashed back through hers. “He’s a strong werewolf, the leader of his so-called pack. There’s only three of them, but he’s looking to get more. Who better to pull to his side than the crown prince of the elves?” “He went about it a strange way,” Paelius muttered. The inn door was thrown open in that moment, and Masia glanced over as an elven woman came through the door. The elf made a beeline for them, kneeling in front of Paelius. “My Prince I need your help,” she begged. Paelius took the woman’s hand and helped her to her feet. “I am no prince of the elves,” he said quietly. “But tell me what you need help with, and I will do everything in my power to do it.” Danuva sat in a chair, Elias in front of him. The human was gently combing his fingers through the neko’s hair, both of them enjoying the sensation. Elias lowered his head slightly to the side, his eyes drooping. “You don’t like talking,” Danuva said quietly, twirling a strand of ebony hair around a finger. Elias shrugged, his quiet purr faltering. “I won’t force you to talk; I would never do anything to hurt you. But I hope you know you can tell me anything. You are a free man Elias, beholden only to yourself.” The neko remained silent, Danuva continuing to run his hand through his hair. His eyes continued drooping, and soon he curled up between the human’s feet and began snoring. Danuva smiled as he stood. Bending, he scooped the sleeping neko into his arms and carried him into the bedroom. Setting Elias onto the bed, he drew the covers over the neko, before climbing into bed beside him. Crawling under the covers, Danuva relaxed as he listened to Elias’ breathing. A wolf howled outside, and the man tensed for a moment. He had no protection here; Paelius had taken the silver sword with him. After a few minutes of silence, Danuva slowly relaxed again. Elias suddenly sat up and threw the covers back. “Elias? What’s wrong?” The neko retained his usual silence, padding quietly out of the room. Danuva followed the neko, hearing a light scratching at the front door. The man paused, listening closely. A scratch, followed by a quiet thump, and then two more scratches. He knew that pattern… Elias opened the door before Danuva could move, kneeling in front of a large black wolf. He put his arms around the wolf and held on tightly as the wolf huffed. Danuva crossed the room and his arms, staring at the wolf. The animal looked at Elias inquisitively, and the neko whispered something Danuva couldn’t hear. The wolf shook the neko’s grip and stalked toward Danuva, growling. He neared the human, and his tongue darted out, licking Danuva’s crotch. “What the fuck Quarian?” Danuva sighed, trying to wipe the excess slobber off his pants. He blinked as a gold coin fell out of the wolf’s mouth. The animal rippled and Quarian took its place, bare naked. “I thought I’d scare you a bit,” the werewolf grinned. Danuva scoffed. “Yes, because I don’t recognise my brother.” Stooping, Quarian picked up the coin. “I believe you lost this somewhere,” he smirked. “At your bidding.” Quarian shrugged, turning back to Elias. “Hey kitty,” he smiled, ruffling the neko’s hair. Elias purred loudly, trying to push his head further into the werewolf’s hands. “How do you two know each other?” Danuva asked. “I met him at the Astar river, getting a drink. He’s the first one to not run when he saw my wolf. That was, what, a week ago?” Elias nodded. “We met again the next day, before the moon, and I let him see me shift. I think I scared the crap out of you,” Quarian chuckled. The neko shook his head no vigorously. “We exchanged names, and that was that. The next morning I was captured by the slave traders, and you know the rest. But enough about me. Where’s your werewolf friend?” Paelius held a shirt in his hands, taking sniffs of it. He was on the hunt, the prey a missing girl. This was not the best form to track with, and he knew it. But he didn’t want to run through Astara in his wolf form. Masia trailed him silently, there to offer her support, but far enough back to keep from interrupting his tracking. A breeze whipped the air around the elf, ruining his already tenuous grasp on the smell of the girl. Paelius paused, taking a deep breath while he waited for the scent to return. And return it did, stronger than before, and laced with the sharp scent of fear. Paelius’ head spun, and he turned after the scent. Picking up his pace until he was running, the elf followed the scent, ignoring the people in his path. Wherever the girl was, she was in danger. Sprinting through the gates out of Astara, Paelius turned off the road, running toward the river he could smell a mile away. Masia ran behind him, a hand on the sword at her waist. They reached the river, and Paelius paused again, the scent of fear almost overpowering at this distance. “Head south along the river for a mile, and I’ll head north. Meet me at the city gates if you don’t find anything,” he said to Masia. Nodding curtly, the human turned south, leaving Paelius to his tracking. The elf sniffed the air as he walked, growling as the wind picked up again. A quiet sob broke the air, and the werewolf dropped into a crouch. He stalked toward the noise, spying a human form through the tall grass by the river. Drawing his sword silently, Paelius approached the man. He spotted a young elf under the half-naked man and growled again. The human spun around, tripping over his pants. He paled at the sight of the elf’s sword and tried to run. Paelius slashed at the man’s legs, cutting them open. He made sure the man couldn’t move and knelt next to the elf. “Hey. Your mother is looking for you,” he said quietly, helping the elf up. The young elf cried out at his touch and Paelius backed away. Kicking the fallen human, he rolled the man into the river, watching with satisfaction as the man thrashed around, drowning in the water. “Come on. Let’s take you back to your mother,” he said, turning back to the girl.
  25. Azazelion


    Avaa’s boot tapped against my own, and when I raised my head to look at her, she gestured towards a group of individuals who were stepping off of a horse-drawn wagon and being herded inside a large, depressing-looking building. Then there was a boy who managed to catch my eye, stepping off the wagon and onto the mud-caked streets below, his black boots dug into the wet darkened brown dirt below. His fingers clasped together, shackles digging into his wrists, leaving flushed red indents against his pale skin, eyes puffy and red, bloodshot to the point to where it seemed as though it hurt him to blink, neck glistening with sweat. His blonde hair was disheveled, clinging desperately to his forehead and neck, an uneven mess that barely brushed against his shoulders, lips quivering and breathing ragged, uneven as his shoulders rose and fell with each pained breath. Briefly, he lifted his gaze, pale grey eyes shifting upwards, meeting my own violet ones, holding his stare before abruptly, averting his gaze from mine, taking in a deep breath and strengthening his resolve, returning his attention to the path ahead. It was as though he couldn't, no he didn’t want to connect his grey eyes with my own, their pale grey resembling darkened storm clouds, like a stone. His white shirt was torn, ripped and in poor quality, barely hanging on to his thin form along with his pants, riddled with holes and scuff marks. Avaa elbowed me, drawing my attention away from the boy as she leaned over, “That kid, is the one we’re here for if you’d like me to. I can handle the transaction and purchase, while you go and discuss terms with him, as well as gather his belongings and make any notes should it be necessary.” I dug at my bottom lip, tugging at it between my teeth for a brief moment before shrugging, “Alright, take a guard or two and handle that side of the business, I’ll go and meet with the boy and see what his deal is. Once we’re done we’ll meet up at camp and set out for home.” With that, we both nodded and headed towards the large building, moving past some less-than-happy looking guards before parting ways. She went to speak with the Lord of the land, while I proceeded into the lower reaches of the building, following behind one of the guards who was assigned to escort me. The air was thick, oppressive, humid and heavy, but it made sense given where we were; a prison or at the very least some building that looked like a prison. The walls were crumbling, breaking apart from the rest of the building and with the way the sun beamed into the building from the small windows and gaps in stone walls, it was hot to say the least, uncomfortably so. There was a large holding cell of sorts, large metal bars and walls of heavy stone blocking the exit with a heavy metal door being the only entrance into the room. This entire place seemed to be in poor quality and barely looked to be in working order. I recognized this type of the place, the dreary, hopeless attitude, the feeling that every person you saw had simply given up, resigned themselves to a life of servitude and submission. Here, in this type of place they put you in a box. Everything you are, everything you've ever done or could do, everything you wish you could be, all the love, drive and dreams you carry in your heart, all the things that connect you to others, all of it. They put that in a box too, in order to isolate you, to keep you contained and obedient, if you have no dreams, no mind of your own then you’re less likely to rebel or cause trouble for them or, at least that’s the mentality used to justify the way the people in these “Boxes” are treated. The large, metal door dragged across the stone floor as it opened, the sound of it scraping across the ground echoed throughout the halls and managed to catch the attention of some if not all of the prisoners. The ceiling is white, mismatched with the dull ivory walls. It's warm, not unbearably so, but getting there, the heat and blinding sunlight that seeped in through cracks in the walls seemed to be the only ways to tell the time in here. There are two cots, both with simple black metal frames, far too thin mattresses, scratchy sheets and dull gray blankets, and blocky pillows that looked like they provided no comfort. One of them stood up, and took a small step forward, opening their mouth as if to give some sort of greeting or welcoming before their expression shifted and their words fell silent. My escort took a step beside me, and his eyes flicked around the room, before landing on the blonde haired boy from earlier as he spoke, voice raspy and thick. "Olivier," The boy looked up, pale eyes meeting with mine as he raised a brow, "Today's your lucky day, get your shit together, this kid here bought you from us. So, say hello to your new Master, he saved you from your execution so, be grateful for once." He huffed and turned around, a clear scowl painted across his face. Olivier stood up, idly shuffling around, fidgeting with the hem of his tattered shirt, as he opened his mouth to speak, voice soft, shaky and quiet even amongst the soft mumbles of his peers. "I don't really have anything to take with me. I actually wanted to leave my things here for everyone else, if that's okay with you?" I gave a small shrug, running my fingers through my hair and raising a brow, "If you want to leave your things here then go ahead, you can say your goodbyes and talk with your friends here if you want to, I'll wait over here for you until you're done." I leaned against the door-frame and watched as he waved to the other people in his cell, giving them a small, quick nod before turning towards me, hands folded in front of himself. I took that as a sign that he was ready to go, as I slowly turned around and walked up the steps towards the entrance, he stopped at the bottom of the stairs, my escort standing near him, hand firmly placed on his shoulder. "I'll be taking him for a little bit, we have to run through some final tests and ensure that he's a viable purchase, we wouldn't want to sell you any damaged goods." The boy-Olivier flinched, body tense and rigid beside him as the guard stared at me, a smug smile spread across those lips. "He'll be following me. As the transaction has already been made, he belongs to me as of now, meaning you have no hold over him nor is he required to obey your orders or follow any directions you give." I crossed my arms, and leaned against a nearby wall, watching as the guard tightened his grip on Olivier's shoulders. "I'd prefer not to do this, but if you continue to push your luck, things will not end well for you, I can assure you of that. Need I elaborate further, or will you release my servant before things turn violent." Avaa had managed to creep behind me at some point, hand grasping the hilt of her spear as two of my men, stood behind her. Hands at the ready clasped around the hilt of their blades, stance firm. The man who escorted me scoffed, gritting his teeth and begrudgingly pushing Olivier away, turning around and disappearing down the darkened path. I rolled my eyes, heaving a loud sigh and moving down the stairs, putting a hand behind Olivier's back and guiding him up the stairs. Avaa lead the way, standing tall in front of me, whilst two men remained at the rear, Olivier steadily walking behind me, keeping pace as we maneuvered our way out of the prison and towards the camp. I looked towards him, eyes downcast and expression stern, face seemingly fixed in a constant scowl, I leaned towards him, and his body tensed in response. "Don't think that way." "Think what way?" He asked, body bracing as though expecting an attack, "I didn't say anything." "Didn't need to." I extended one arm and poked a finger against his chest. "You've got the look of a guy that's lost all hope. You're thinking, That's it for me, I'm done. This is the end of the very short road that was my life." Olivier brought his gaze upwards, staring at the sky. "I wasn't thinking that but now that you mention it..." He trailed off, leaving the implication clear. I shook my head and dropped my arm. "You're not in that prison anymore, Olivier so just think of the world of possibilities out there. If you want something then just ask, I'm not going to hurt you or anything. Besides, you'll be stuck with me for a while now so you might as well try and get used to me." We are going to make you understand. One must take full responsibility for their actions, Prince. Involuntarily my hand flew upwards to my left eye. It wasn't bleeding, it didn't feel damaged or sensitive. So why did I feel like it should be, like something is off or missing? "What're you doing?" Olivier asks, head tilted in interested but voice flat, monotone and, emotionless. "Get something in your eye while we were in that place?" He laughs at his quip, but I'm too... what am I? Dazed? Confused? I shook my head, bringing my hand back down as we neared the horses. "Nothing. It's nothing to worry about, besides you're the one who looks like they just went through Hell, right?" "Eh, I guess I do look like crap, don't I?" He huffed, the corners of his lips tugging upwards in a vague fashion resembling somewhat of a smile. "Yeah you do, we'll have to get you some new clothes and give you an actual bath when we get home." His eyes widened at my words, seemingly surprised for a moment before he returned to his previous blank state. "In the meantime, you'll be riding with my men and I. I'm assuming that you know how to ride a horse, and if you don't then just hop on the back of Avaa's. He nodded and mounted one of the horses, taking a moment to adjust and get his bearings before grabbing the reins and turning his head towards me. "What about you?" I rolled my eyes, nipping at my bottom lip and, gesturing towards the litter before begrudgingly climbing inside, this time it was thankfully attached to the horses, allowing for faster transportation. The curtains closed and obscured my few as I cross my legs, folding my hands in front of myself and steadying my breathing. If anything; meditation would hopefully make this boring trip at least feel shorter, I heard the trotting of horses and slowly started moving at a steady pace. “Steady there,” Avaa spoke, voice muffled through the curtains, “We haven’t even hit the forests yet. It’s a long journey from here, little one.” The sound of wings flapping started and then quickly faded into obscurity as they faded, a messenger Raven was most likely being sent. Or more accurately, my messenger raven. It wasn't really so much as a messenger raven or a normal one considering I was the one who trained it, but still, apparently, it was mutually decided that it'd be best to bring her along, as a proof of legitimacy for any letters we sent. “Sorry," Olivier spoke, he was staying close to the litter, trotting along beside it. “I haven’t been out of that cell for a while, not to mention out of the city.” “As far as foreign countries go, Draconia is quite lovely,” Avaa says. “You could have done worse. I’ve heard horror stories about the blistering heat of Egypt.” “You’re quite knowledgeable, Ms. Avaa,” Olivier says, tone accented with a hint of suspicion. “Have you traveled far?” “Only to Draconia and Venice,” Avaa says, “But I keep in contact with many of the other Royal Protectors. We’re always trading training tips and material recommendations. Egypt breeds the best hunting hawks, but Rome has the smartest crows. I heard the northern parts of Vuscia are trying to train eagles as scouts.” “Eagles!” Olivier exclaimed, his high-pitched yell managing to further interrupt my vague attempt at mediation, not that I minded, it was rather nice to hear him sound excited. “It’s quite unheard of,” Avaa said, her voice dropped lower as she neared the litter. “As is this contract.” Olivier and Avaa pulled further from the rest of the riders, nearing closer towards me, as I poked my head out from between the curtains. “You think there’s something amiss as well?” I whispered towards the two. “There must be,” Avaa says, “The Byzantines are a proud and war-mongering people, the current ruling family more than any other. There’s no way a flimsy treaty would appease their King enough to hand over you, or any of their slaves for that matter, regardless of price.” Olivier looked downward, staring at the mane of his horse. “I trust Father,” I said, rubbing at the bridge of my nose, “but I wonder what kind of naïve idea he got in his head that we could make the Byzantine Empire respect us with politics. They understand only one thing—war. That’s why our countries will never ally. Father believes in war, as does the Byzantine, an alliance or peace would indicate weakness.” “Maybe the Crown Prince will be different,” Olivier suggests, “Maybe he’ll be able to patch things up between the nations.” “Unlikely,” Avaa says, glancing at Olivier. “He’s been trying to get his Father to listen and broker a peace, but Xerxes just won’t have it. Besides, in his dynasty, no matter what child is born into that family, the ideals of the family line will be stomped into them, by force if necessary. In all honesty, we’re surprised the Prince still has the will to openly oppose his Father.” “It takes practice, but you just have to know which buttons to push, if people think of the King as arrogant or impulsive then their less inclined to support his warmongering ways, and they’ll blame the behaviour on young age.” I ran my thumb across my bottom lip, “But that does raise the question. If he can’t force his ideas, then why buy you, Olivier?” “I haven’t the faintest idea,” He says, mumbling mostly to himself. “But whatever they have up their sleeve, it can’t be good, now can it?” “Not in the slightest, my recommendation would be to steer clear of the Kings guards, and hang by us until you’re done with orientation. Now Quiet down, we’ll discuss at nightfall or once we reach the palace.” Avaa moved up, leading our group as I nodded and retreated back behind the curtains. I managed to convince, Oliver to stick close to me throughout our journey. He had a way of warding off the others of our party. Perhaps it’s the hat that one of my men gave him, wide-brimmed and studded with two raven feathers, that hid his eyes and his intentions. Perhaps it’s the calmness of his voice or the flatness of his expression. Or perhaps it’s because he kept in closer company with the animals rather than the people of the group. In any case, during the night when we camped out beneath the shade of trees and when the fire crackled and provided a warm orange glow, over the camp, I often found Avaa watching over him until he fell asleep. He’s quiet and not entirely friendly but he didn’t seem to have any issues speaking with either of us, it was mostly just the rest of our travelling party that he didn’t speak to. “What should I expect, in the palace?” Olivier asks Avaa the morning before our arrival at the capital. “Sensory overload,” She swiftly answers. “Extravagance. Violence. Intimacy. We Draconians love to touch, feel, taste, smell, and experience as much as we can while they’re alive and wealthy. Our people will clean you up nicely and get you fat if you’re not careful to work out. Make sure to arrange for a time to self-train if you’re into that.” “What can you tell me about the one who I’ll be serving?” He moved his horse upwards, in front of my own. “Well, my opinion is biased and he’ll most likely act differently with you that he would with me, so I’ll only tell you this. You’ll be serving the Crown Prince, so be sure to look presentable. Never look him directly in the eye for too long otherwise it may be considered a challenge of authority, don’t talk back, don’t question him or object to his actions, do not threaten or belittle him, don’t disobey his orders and try not to poison him. Our Prince has never harmed ant servant, and I wouldn’t like for you to be the first but, then again, all the servants we have serve everyone in the palace, whereas you’ll be serving the Crown Prince directly, and only him. So a bit of advice would be that he doesn’t like to be touched.” And then, we arrived at the Capital. Avaa wasn’t wrong. Even the merchant markets and city shops were decked out with colors and banners, the royal crest and great, draping fabrics. The citizens wore brightly patterned clothing and adorn themselves with jewelry. The men wore earrings that pulled on their earlobes, the women wore furs, and even the children had rings with fat stones clasped to them around their fingers. Olivier clung to the reins of his horse and managed a weak smile and even weaker wave to the people who surround their envoy, cheering on the newcomer and gifts that came along with him. At least the smell of spiced meats in the market promise good food for him if nothing else. So Olivier smiles. He waves. He even blows a kiss to a group of girls who turn away, giggling. The palace is the equivalent to fat diamond on the crown of the capital city. It is white and blinding when the sun is high in the sky, and we all had to squint just to look at it. All the frames of the doors and windows are covered in gold leaf. The windows were tall enough and wide enough to allow an army through. And the palace gardens were immaculate. We were waved through the gates (impossibly massive, gilded bronze) and into a courtyard shaded by those massive drapes, casting an orange-red glow over the courtyard. The ground beneath us is speckled marble, and all around the envoy, men and women in heavy eyeliner and delicate silks whisper to each other standing beside columns and curled together in hammocks. And amongst the pale stone--green bushes, palm trees, and a leopard chained to a stake, blinking lazily at the new arrivals. Olivier looked as though he was going to faint, cheeks flushed, a dark shade of red. “Steady,” Avaa murmurs, placing a hand on the small of his back. “This is where you need to be most alert, his Majesty could appear at any moment.” The whispers go quiet, and a man in golden armor and a flowing purple cloak latched at her shoulder approaches us, flanked by four other men in full armor, swords at their sides. Neither of them spoke. “Greetings, travelers,” he says. “I am Zander, captain of Crown Prince Dragnoia Azazel’s personal guard. As servants to his Royal Highness, you will answer to me instead of the King’s Royal Guard. Please do not hesitate to let me know if we can somehow provide you with greater comfort during your time here. After all, you are our honored guests.” Whispers and murmurs travelled and made their way throughout the party, “Here in Draconia, we pride ourselves in our hospitality,” he says. “You are a part of our family now, and will be treated with the same dignity we treat every Draconian with.” He waved forward some of the gathered men and women in silks. “Come,” He says. “We will have you cleaned, clothed, fed, and shown to your chambers, all of you. Our people will take care of your horses and your wagons.” He then took a step forward, nearing the litter and brushing away the curtains, holding out a gloved hand, “Your Royal Highness.” I gingerly took his hand and stepped out the litter, onto solid ground. The mumbles and whispers stopped, as Olivier leaned to the side, eyebrows raised. “Wait a second, you’re a Prince?” Avaa let out a soft giggle, barely stifling it as she dismounted her house.“The Crown Prince to be more specific, son of His Imperial Majesty, Xerxes, and the future ruler of both Draconia and Hell.” Avaa lightly hit his back, “And the one you’ll be serving. Good Luck.” Olivier just looked at me, a blank, confusing stare written all over his face.
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