|Gold and Ebony
Author: LunaChic PM
Janus is a prince. Faulkner is a frog. Their love was never meant to be...or something like that. Slash, swearing. Completed and collected into one very long chapter.Rated: Fiction T - English - Romance/Humor - Words: 16,685 - Reviews: 23 - Favs: 63 - Follows: 5 - Updated: 01-15-07 - Published: 01-10-07 - Status: Complete - id: 2301973
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
All done and put together in one big fat document. The usual disclaimer applies.
This is the result of a fic-trading between my co-writer and I. She wanted a Janus/Faulkner fic and since I was on a fairytale kick, this is what turned up.
Gold and Ebony
It was a faint tapping sound.
Prince Janus barely heard it above the din of the feast for his sister's sixteenth birthday. He should have been at the feast but all day he had been suffering from a headache that refused every medicine and cantrips available to him. When it came time for him to enter the hall the headache worsened until it was agony to keep his eyes opened. He stayed as long as propriety demanded and the minute he could escape he did.
He was walking across the darkened entrance to the castle when the knock came. At first he thought it was his imagination but the sound continued, a constant tapping rhythm that was threatening to become annoying quickly. Janus hurried forward until he was standing a foot away from the door. His eyes were drawn upwards several meters till they reached the top.
Janus had a reputation as a warrior, true. But he was the type of warrior that depended on speed and grace because he was too small to rely on strength. The knocking continued however, unmindful of his difficulties. To make things even worse, the headache, which had been fading in the cool darkness of the castle, came back with a vengeance. That, more than anything, prompted Janus to grab the iron rings and heave on the door.
It took several tries but eventually there was a gap the width of a hand. "Oh…hi," the person on the other side said, embarrassment colouring the voice. It was a male's voice barely out of puberty, still slightly girlish in nature.
Janus leaned his head around to stare into the outside. He was expecting to see a courtier or a merchant that had been late in getting to the feast. What he saw was…nothing. Janus blinked, rubbed his eyes tiredly – in case his weariness was having an effect on his sight – and looked again. Still nothing. He frowned. He was sure he heard someone out there and he knew for a fact someone had been knocking on the door before.
"Hey!" the voice called again, "I'm down here."
Janus' eyes dropped until they were staring at the ground. Sitting there, a cautious smile on its face was a frog. It was a graceful thing of elegant limbs and unusual colouring. Very unusual colouring. A pale golden frog with swirling patterns of shades of brown on its back, like the marble tiles that covered the throne room. That was amazing enough but the light-brown eyes the frog was staring at him with were even more remarkable. "What's wrong?"
"Um…you're a talking frog," Janus pointed out as if the frog were an idiot.
Janus could have sworn the frog blushed. "Oh um, about that. Uh, yeah, I can talk. Does that bother you?" That was definitely mortification Janus heard. In a bemused silent, Janus shook his head slowly. "Cool! Do you think you could, y'know, move to the side? It's kinda cold on this side of the door."
Still struggling with the situation, Janus automatically moved to the side allowing the frog to squeeze past the door. He watched as the frog shook the water off its back. "Whew, it's warm," the frog said gleefully, too low for Janus to think the frog was talking to him.
"Look. You can talk apparently. So you think you can tell me what the hell you're doing here?"
"I'm here to see your sister actually."
"Princess Irene Aurora de Sorya? We met at the lake today. She made a promise to help me."
Any other man would have laughed at the thought of such an insignificant creature demanding to see the Princess of Haidein or run away screaming as soon as it began to speak but not Janus. Although true magic did not exist in Haidein, Janus had nonetheless been taught about its magic-rich history. His tutor was a hedge-wizard that had comprehensive knowledge of the time before the Banishing. Before magic became impossible within the borders of Haidein. And Janus listened. He listened to half-truth tales of fairies, witches, wizards and most importantly, talking creatures.
That did not mean he was totally comfortable with the situation however. "She's celebrating her birthday in the Great Hall. And she made no mention of meeting a talking frog."
The frog actually looked upset at that. Janus was not going to think about how he could decipher a frog's expression. "Well, maybe she forgot," the frog muttered. "Do you think you could take me to the Great Hall then?"
Janus shrugged. "Sure. Not like I have anything to do."
Faulkner had the impression if the frog could have raised its eyebrows, it would have. "You don't look too well though. Are you sure you don't want to go to sleep?"
Although there were no protocols on how to deal with talking frogs, Janus thought the manners appropriate for humans was close enough. "Prince Janus de Sorya at your service. May I have the pleasure of knowing your name?"
"Call me Faulkner."
"Oka, Faulkner. I'm Irene's older half-brother," Janus explained. "But seeing as how she's an irritating little brat who does nothing but torment me all day and her mother is a first class bitch, your presence at her birthday will greatly amuse me."
"That's not very…nice."
Janus shrugged. "I'm not a real nice guy." He was amused when Faulkner looked at him warily.
He was so busy stomping out that he nearly ended up stomping on Faulkner. It was an incidental collision with a servant girl that saved Faulkner from becoming frog paper. The frog was sitting in the threshold huddled close to the frame. Not wanting to look like a crazy person or ruin the surprise he scooped up the frog and ducked into an alcove right next to the doorway.
"What were you doing? I thought you wanted to see Irene."
The frog fidgeted side to side on Janus' palm. "I did, I mean I do. But it's so crowded and I'm kinda small and I really don't feel like being squashed y'know."
"So what do you suggest we do?" It became 'we' the moment Janus decided that it would be hilarious to introduce his bitch of a sister to the talking frog she had probably been hoping she left behind at the lake. It helped that the frog seemed to have a thing for his sister. Why else would a frog travel for over six miles just to meet up with a bratty sixteen-year-old?
Faulkner looked reluctant to ask Janus for a favour. "Do you think you could carry me in your hands? Not that I want to make you look bad or like a freak but I really need to see Her Highness and…yeah."
Oh yes, the frog had it bad. Janus wasn't worried about looking bad, he had plenty other problems to be concerned with. His reputation was in tatters anyway thanks to his beloved stepmother and nothing could make it worse. What he was worried about was contracting either a disease or a magic spell from the creature. The Banishing meant there was no way to perform new spells inside the border but it said nothing about old spells or inherent spells that the Fairies set before being booted out. The last time Janus touched something magical, namely an enchanted mirror, he was stuck as a girl for several days afterwards.
But there was a way to circumvent that if he remembered correctly. While he silently thanked the old man who'd been the one to prevent further humiliation of growing up as a girl, he wrapped his hands in silk. The old man, who'd been appointed his tutor after finding a spell that negated the one cast by the mirror, had repeatedly told him silk and iron. Magic was trapped by silk and nullified by iron. Since he was loathed to find and wear an iron glove he settled for the sleeves of his silk shirt. It was all for a good cause that he ripped them off and tied them around his hands. The frog looked at him strangely though. "Hop on," he told Faulkner, holding out his hand.
The frog was heavier than his size implied. "What the hell do you eat?" Janus asked as he tried to find a balance.
"Gold coins!" Faulkner had to raise his voice to be heard over the sudden rise in volume from the hall.
Janus almost dropped the frog in surprise and it wobbled precariously on Janus' hand. "Gold coins?"
"Yeah. Silver's also good but not as filling as gold." Faulkner sounded matter of fact about it.
"I'll be sure to give you a snack in a little bit." Janus was being sarcastic but it would figure that the frog would take it seriously because he said in a cheerful voice as they entered the hall:
"That'd be good. I am a little hungry."
Janus covered up the frog with his other hand, not really needing the attention that Faulkner would bring to him. He wasn't quite ready for the unveiling. It was hard to walk the length of the hallway. A few of the more sober revellers cast speculative glances Janus' way but most saw the pained scowl on Janus' face and chose to turn back to what they were doing than risk the Crown Prince's wrath. However, drunken nobles did not understand the meaning of the concept of 'personal space', and had he not been wearing such thick clothes, Janus was sure he would have felt the results of it the next day. And seen it in the mirror too.
He spied his father lounging on his chair with the Court Magician patiently listening to his rambling. Alexiel de Sorya was a remarkably irreverent man that found many unorthodox solutions to the problems the country faced when he claimed the throne. Janus' grandfather had been a less than honest king that threatened to destroy the reputation the previous de Sorya had worked so hard to build. Janus knew that some nobles betted on how long Alexiel would last before being assassinated or dethroned. Twenty years down the track most of those nobles were dead and Alexiel was left to roost over the new century.
Nicolaos de Chevny had been Alexiel's personal magician since they first met as ten-year-olds and Alexiel refused to let Nicolaos go home to his family in the countryside. And since then they had never been separated. It was one of the more popular romantic rumours of the king and his magician floating around in the kingdom – there were far more explicit ones. Janus had a feeling that was why his stepmother hated Nicolaos so much. Well, that and the fact that Nicolaos refused to fall for her seduction.
Speaking of his stepmother, Janus looked around to find her talking to the captain of her guards. It was perfectly appropriate but Janus was sure he saw her hands down the man's pants at some point during the conversation. Shuddering at the image in his mind, he searched for his younger sister and her twin.
Irene and Ilya were similar only in age. Ilya followed his mother in terms of looks with ebony hair and emerald eyes. Irene was a female version of the golden haired Alexiel. Ilya liked sealing himself away in the library and venturing out only for food, and sleep, sometimes not even for that. Irene was like her mother in terms of being a man devouring whore-bitch – Janus' words. And falling into her habits, she was surrounded by a group of young, and not so young, men all courting her. Janus saw that her current favourite was someone who had once been his friend when he used to be just like Irene. He thought it was perfect.
"Father!" he called as soon as he was in hearing range of Alexiel. "Could you bring Irene here? I've got a present for her."
Alexiel eyed him speculatively. "Will this result in hysteria from either my most beloved daughter or wife?"
"Almost certainly," was the prompt reply from Janus.
"Any chance they might attempt to kill you?"
"I hope so. Retaliation will follow of course."
His father pretended to consider his words, then shrugged. "Sure. Morier – " he gestured to the captain of his guards " – go grab Irene will you? And Eileen if you don't mind."
"Xiel," Nicolaos poked his father in the side, "Are you sure that's a good idea?"
"Sure. They try to kill Janus, Janus tries to kill them. I get rid of three birds with one stone. What part of that is not a good idea?"
Janus found it hard to keep the smirk off his face. He knew he was a bit of a thorn in his father's side. He also knew that when he was forced to interact with Eileen, the thorn grew into a spear. It amused him.
"Is there a reason I had to cut short my most interesting talk with Hayden?" Eileen du Chevny was Nicolaos' distant cousin and an extremely beautiful woman. She knew how much men desired her and was not afraid to exploit it. She had even once tried to seduce Janus. He had not liked her when he first met her and that incident firmly established her as an enemy on Janus' long list.
"I'm sorry that you had to cut short your oh-so-disgusting frottage session with your less than competent guard," Janus snarked in a low voice – it would not do to be so public with his hatred of her. Everyone knew they hated each other but they didn't have to see it. "I've got a present for Irene." The frog squirmed inside his hand squirmed but Janus kept as tight a hold on it that he could without suffocating the creature.
"I'm just dying to find out."
"Oh Gods and Goddesses, I hope you are," Janus muttered, prompting Nicolaos to slowly lower his head into his palms. The magician thought Janus should have been nicer to his stepmother, and Janus thought the magician should grow a backbone and fight to keep Alexiel to himself. It was a conversation they had already had and decided to never have again.
Even before he saw his sister, Janus could practically feel the oily tangles of seduction that rolled off of Irene's body. Behind her was her brother, ever present, ever obedient. The two walked over, Irene somehow managing to tear herself away from her toys. Janus thought she deserved an award for that at the very least. Faulkner was about to be that award. "Irene! Guess what?"
Irene was a silly girl who had no idea what it meant when he was smiling that way. Ilya did though and was smart enough to keep a safe distance away from what was sure to be the site of an explosion. "What?"
"Guess who turned up for your party?"
"Who?" She wasn't even suspicious.
Janus held out his clasped hands and waited for a few dramatic seconds. "Ta daaa!!" He opened them.
"Um…hi, Irene." Faulkner waved nervously with his webbed limb that was the equivalent of a human hand.
"Did you miss him?"
There had been many different reactions to the introduction of Faulkner. Irene screamed and began to cry, wailing something about how totally unfair her life was. Eileen was horrified. Nicolaos and Ilya both had expressions of fascination. Alexiel was both bemused and amused but now had a serious look on his face.
Faulkner was now seated on a low table next to Janus' seat and across from Alexiel. Irene was standing as far away from him as possible and her mother had followed her lead. Ilya, oddly enough, was seated on Januss left side. The captains of the King, Queen, and Crown Prince's guards were standing behind their wards with carefully blanked faces. They knew the slightest twitch of the lips could make them the focus of Eileen's wrath. Nicolaos was staying neutral and lingering by the fireplace. That was a very wise choice. Given that the situation was what it was, he was going to be bombarded on every side.
Eileen started off the bombardment with, "What is that thing!?"
"A talking frog," Nicolaos answered, and Janus' amusement spiked when he heard the sarcasm that was barely there. The honey-haired man was not as nice as everyone assumed, a fact that contributed to his continued presence at Alexiel's side.
"I know that," Eileen snarled. "I want to know what that thing thinks it can do with my daughter."
"Maybe you should've said that then." Janus inclined his head to Faulkner, who had been quite so far. "He can talk you know, you should really be directing the questions to him. Speak up Faulkner." So yes, he was milking the situation for all it was worth. It was rare for him to find anything that truly made him smile here, what with most of the court attempting to make him abdicate his right to the throne. Everyday was a battle to stay one step ahead. Janus shook the thought out of his mind. It was something to be thought of later, when he had time to wonder how he was going to keep surviving. "I think Faulkner might have all the answers we need," he continued without a break in his stride.
"Well, I can't really tell you much," Faulkner interrupted apologetically. "I don't remember anything before the curse."
"Curse? You mean you weren't always a frog?" Alexiel demanded.
"No. I was a human. I'm not sure who I was, or where I'm from…"
"So what do you know about the curse?" Alexiel continued with his interrogation. Reluctantly, Janus had to admit he was rather curious about the situation as well. Amusement only lasted so long.
"And what does that have to do with my daughter?" Eileen burst in from her corner.
Every human in the room stared at the frog. Janus even saw his father's unflappable captain's mouth opened to blurt out a question. Irene got there first. "I did not!"
Faulkner looked embarrassed but kept talking. "Well, you did. You said that if I got the bracelet from the lake, you would uh…look after me."
Janus' father tapped on the arms of his chair. Alexiel was notorious for being a flippant king that took very little seriously but right now, faced with a piece of foreign magic, he was the king that won his kingdom back from a usurper. "What does looking after entail?"
"Uh, she has to feed me, let me sleep in her bed and make sure I don't die. That's the price for my help. That's why I travelled all this way."
It was about time for Eileen to explode again and she did not disappoint. "Feed you? With what? Worms, bugs, and other disgusting things no doubt. And let a thing like you sleep in my daughter's bed? Are you insane?!"
"He eats gold and silver. So you just have to give him a coin a day and he'll be all happy." Janus paused to let his words sink in. "As for the sleeping arrangement…she's had worse things in her bed. Lord Andrelaine for example." His sister's face turned purple with rage. Lord Andrelaine was a sore spot between the two of them. Janus was pretty sure it had something to do with the fact he promised his heart to Irene while attempting to seduce Janus. That little debacle ended in Irene's isolation in her quarters and Janus' exile from the palace.
"How dare you bring hi – "
"Enough!" His father had a surprisingly deep and authoritative voice when he wanted to use it. It was easy to be fooled into thinking Alexiel was an idiotic man when in reality he was a manipulative King that was amoral more often than not. "Nicolaos, what do you think?"
The Court Magician approached the frog and knelt down in front of it. "Well. He is a magical creature. And he is probably telling the truth. I can't tell for sure though."
The silence that followed was contemplative on Alexiel's area of the room. Everyone else followed his lead because no matter how they felt about him, he was their king and had a temper to match his wife's when riled. Eventually, Alexiel looked up. "All right, fine. Since you helped our family, even if indirectly, we have to pay the price. However, I wouldn't feel comfortable with Irene being the one to look after you. Janus will do that."
"What?" was the response of the major players in this farce. Faulkner and Janus sounded equally surprised.
"Hold on a moment here. Why me?" Janus complained.
Alexiel shrugged. "Think of this as practice for being King. End of discussion. Now, everyone out!" And he was back to being the irritatingly casual man that indulged in dramatics when bored. "Except for Nicolaos and Captain Morier." The two indicated stayed in their spot as the occupants of the room cleared out. Irene was waxing poetics about how relieved she was that she would not have to go anywhere near the 'disgusting frog' and her mother was only encouraging her. Ilya followed his sister and mother, though Janus noticed he kept sneaking glances back at the frog. Janus had an inkling that his younger brother found the frog fascinating as a specimen of magic that existed only outside Haidein.
Janus looked at the frog beside him. "I'm supposed to look after you?" he said out loud to himself. "Great."
"You don't have to," Faulkner offered, "Technically the promise was from your sister so you don't really have to keep it."
Janus snorted. "The de Sorya always keep their promises, why else do you think the people allow us to rule this country?" He sighed. "Come on. I've got to try and explain this to my servants before some idiot accidentally kills you." He picked up the frog in his cloth-covered hand and with a jaunty bow to his father, he marched out of the room.
Leeca was supposed to be his Jester but he was the unfunniest boy alive. He was a fantastic acrobat however, and that saved him from being booted out. Not that Janus would have let him leave. From the moment Janus ended up saving the boy from bullies, he had proclaimed the boy as his and damn anyone else who disagreed. The de Soryas were possessive as well as being loyal and honourable.
"Well that's good. Since he's my bedmate for the next few weeks or so."
The redheaded boy with white make up and glittering stars strategically placed around his face, stared at Janus for a long moment. "Bedmate," he repeated carefully.
As his servant helped him out of his ruined formal clothes and into a comfortable robe for sleeping, Janus set about explaining the night's event. "…Now I'm supposed to look after him because Irene is a bratty bitch that doesn't understand the meaning of the word 'promise'."
"So you're Faulkner right?"
The frog looked uncertainly at the boy in front of him. "Yeah. And you are?"
"Leeca. Janus' jester." He reached out and gently shook Faulker's…hand.
The two studied each other carefully. "Are you a girl?" the frog blurted out, immediately turning a dark orange as he blushed. "Sorry. That didn't come out right. It's just you're very pretty but your voice is…and I'm just gonna shut up now."
Leeca laughed long and hard, joined by Janus and several of the other servants in the room. Even Mysha and Hunter, Janus' bodyguards, stifled a laugh of their own. Faulkner looked lost as he stared at the hysterical people around him. "What'd I say?"
When he got his giggling under control, Leeca reached out and petted Faulkner's head. "It's fine. You're not the first person to ask me that. I am a boy. I blame my mother for my pretty looks. When she was pregnant with me she prayed for a girl as beautiful as her own mother. Unfortunately she got a boy."
"Who is so pretty everyone thinks he's a girl," Mysha added.
"Shut up," Leeca grumbled, "Not like you didn't have that trouble when you were my age."
"Unlike you however, I now look like a man. Is little Leeca upset?"
Janus seated himself on a chair across from where Faulkner was sitting. "Ignore them. They're brothers."
Faulkner blinked. "Okay… "
"Let me introduce you to everyone." Janus pointed out each person as he rattled the names off. "Leeca is my Jester, Mysha and Hunter are my guards, and Keir is my secretary. Norine and Natasha are the sisters that have the honour of cleaning my room."
Faulkner lifted a golden hand to wave. "Hi?"
"A talking frog…now I've seen everything," Hunter said dryly. He reached up to flick a lock of his dirty-blond hair off his face. "Nice to meet you though. Thank your lucky stars that you're not stuck with Irene. She'll probably end up killing you in a week."
"Not that it's a promise things would be a lot better with Janus," Keir muttered under his breath. The young man with spectacles had a serious mien and rarely said little more than what was necessary. He had been the son of Janus' nursemaid and when she died he had been left behind with no support. Janus had immediately latched onto him and declared that Keir was now his secretary and anyone who disagreed could go fuck a tree.
"No," Mysha agreed, "Things might be worse with Janus." Faulkner gazed at the two with what could only be an expression of anxiety. Janus made sure he was smiling evilly when Faulkner glanced at him.
Janus could also deal with the strange looks and very unsubtle remarks Faulkner's presence gained him. There was a point when Janus had once been the boy who made those jokes at other people's expenses but now he settled for being unpopular with everyone.
It actually turned out to be rather boring looking after Faulkner. He didn't require much except for food and was happy to talk to other people, leaving Janus alone and preserving his sanity.
The most interesting thing that happened was when one Duchess Elaniel de Nevira arrived at the palace after spending the spring season at her estates in the north. She was supposed to have arrived two days earlier but a storm made it impossible to cross the river that divided north Haidein from the south. It was still raining the day she arrived at the palace but had settled down from a large storm to a gentle rain with very little wind.
Janus had been hiding in his room, reading a book on a treaty between Haidein and Yirena, their closest neighbour that wasn't divided by large mountain ranges. When he heard the knock on the door of his inner chambers he assumed it was a servant and did not bother to get up. The only ones that entered his room were Norine and Natasha, and they knew enough to barge in if the door was unlocked. Only a few people had access to his inner chambers and although that was a mercifully short list, Janus had no idea who could have been knocking at this hour. Since Mysha and Hunter let them through though, he assumed they would be someone important.
Faulkner looked up from where he was lazing next to the fire. "Shouldn't you answer that?"
The prince brushed it away with a lazy wave of his hand. "They'll know what to do."
Then the door burst open and he regretted not locking the door. There was a dark haired young woman standing in the threshold with a stormy glare on her face to match the rain outside. "I am going to tear your sister's intestines out and stuff them down her damn throat as well as up her arse till they meet in the middle! How dare she accuse me of being a blood-drinking witch! If anyone's the vampire, it's her with her leeching off of other people. In fact, I'm sure she's a succubus."
While the girl had been ranting, Janus had gathered his wits and got into a comfortable position. This was going to be a long day. "Elaniel, what a pleasure to see you. It's so nice to see you're alive. Why're you here so late?"
The girl rolled her eyes. With a disgruntled huff, she threw off her wet cloak and began squeezing the water out of her hair. "We were caught in the rain halfway down the road from Riverdale and after spending four hours under dripping trees I decided that rather than wake up soaking wet and covered in leeches I'm going to spend my night in a warm bed. So I managed to get everyone to realise that my idea was a good idea. And then when I get here who should I encounter but your stepmother. She's so much more worse than your sister. She had the nerves to tell me that I need to act more like a female with a title than a slutty tramp. Me! A slutty tramp!"
"Scary," Janus heard Faulkner mumble too low for Elaniel to hear through her rampage.
Stifling a laugh, Janus said with a straight face, "I'm surprised you didn't go for the throat right then and there."
"Oh, believe me, I was tempted. Nicolaos pulled me back." Due to the inbreeding that naturally occurred among nobles with a superior notion of themselves, Elaniel was very distantly related to the de Chevny. When her parents had died at the age of ten, Nicolaos had been appointed her guardian. She was now seventeen and in charge of her own estates. Elaniel had been an all too serious and bossy girl as a child and the added responsibility only made her scarier in Janus' opinion. "I would've solved the kingdom's problem if he hadn't done that. And what's this I hear about some frog?"
Janus pointed the tip of the book at Faulkner who had been watching the exchange with horrified fascination. "Meet Faulkner."
Pale brown eyes widened comically. "He talks. He's a talking frog. I thought there hadn't been any talking animals for more than a century now….Hold on, he's cursed. Now I get it. That makes so much more sense now." Neither Janus or Faulkner had to contribute anything to the conversation the girl was having with herself. Elaniel's family estates were close to the Fairy Forest and there had been a few intermingling of species. Her mother had been the result of a Solstice celebration between the Ricardi de Nevari and Queen Makushla of the Fairies. The magic was diluted by human blood but it was still enough for Elaniel to sense it when it was around her.
"Yep. Ain't it grand? He's been my pet for oh, a week now. Irene wasn't being a good hostess." Janus left it up to Elaniel's imagination to figure out that statement.
"You get into so much trouble when I'm not around. Not that you're trouble, Faulkner. But you've got to stop cleaning up Irene's messes, Janus." As she was berating Janus, Elaniel approached the frog with an enthralled look in her eyes. Magic was her area of study, something that no one had ever been able to dissuade her from.
"We always keep our promises and I can't let her trash our reputation just because her mother never taught her better. I still can't believe that woman spawned two children."
"Ilya turned out all right," Elaniel noted while she took a seat close to the fire, spreading her skirt to dry them better. After arranging herself, she turned her full attention to Faulkner. "So I'm guessing you don't know who you were, where you're from or any other details of your life before being a frog?"
"Yeah. How'd you know?"
Janus answered for her. "She's part Fairy. She owns a few grimoire that Nicolaos and every other historians and hedge-wizards and witches have been salivating to get his or her hands on."
"I've seen this spell before. It was a real popular curse a few centuries ago. Turn your enemies into frogs that live in swamps and eat flies."
The frog and Janus shared a look. "Actually, that's not what's happening."
"I eat gold or silver coins, preferably gold. And I have this weird compulsion for civilisation."
Elaniel leaned forward, an expression of curiosity. "That's odd. You should be thinking like a frog. That's the way it's supposed to go. Maybe there was something wrong with the way the spell was performed. It is a pretty old spell, so my guess is that someone messed up the instructions somewhere. Whoever cast the spell on you probably got their hands on a defective copy or something."
"So I'm not just a cursed frog, I'm frog who got cursed by a crappy enchanter," Faulkner grumbled, half to himself.
The young woman shrugged. "At least we know you've had to come from outside this country. I mean, there's no way magic can be cast in this land. Probably Yirena."
"Maybe," Faulkner said, switching the focus to Elaniel. It was just another sign of how uncomfortable he was with his situation and amnesia. "So your name's Elaniel?"
The girl looked confused then comprehension flooded her face. "Oh! I forgot to introduce myself. Duchess Elaniel de Nevari, pleasure to meet you." She stood up to bob a hasty curtsey before sitting down again.
"My betrothed," Janus added. Faulkner looked from one to the other, settling on staring at Janus. "A treaty between the Fairies and my family. Every third generation, a de Nevari marries into the de Sorya. Even after the Banishing the treaty is still being honoured."
"Because your family always keep your promises," Faulkner finished.
Janus nodded. "Exactly. See you're learning already and Irene said you couldn't be trained. We've been betrothed since the moment we were born."
"Wow, so you two are going to be married? Isn't that weird?"
"Not really," Elaniel said after sharing a look with Janus. "I mean, yeah. But we're used to each other's ways."
"It'll be a good marriage," Janus added, "A very sound, strategic marriage; the best kind."
"Not the most passionate," Elaniel admitted, "But Janus doesn't do passion."
"I've noticed that," the frog replied, hopping to the side and avoiding the shoe Janus threw at him. "That's not always a bad thing!" he assured, "Just strange that's all."
"Janus is a very strange boy," the girl whispered conspiratorially, safe from Janus wrath by nature of her gender. "But we love him anyway."
"He's very loveable," Faulkner agreed with a solemn face though his lips twitched from hidden mirth.
"I hope you two die a painful death." Although he pretended to be sulking, a small smile curved his lips when the other two burst out laughing at his theatrics.
"It's just gold," Faulkner retorted. A hint of embarrassment was present in his voice.
"It's gold that came out of your butt."
"It's shiny?" the frog offered.
"It's on my pillow. You defecated on my pillow while I was asleep. What if I'd rolled over on top of it during the night or something? Then I'd have golden frog faeces on my face."
From a corner in the room where Keir was lurking, a shifting of clothes was heard. "Might improve your looks," the servant was heard to mutter. It was an interesting relationship they had. Keir made an effort to be offensive to his master and Janus made an effort to give Keir something to be offensive about.
"Psh. You know I'm gorgeous all on my own," Janus switched to flirtatious behaviour, yet another way he annoyed Keir, "Think you can clean this up for me?"
"If I'd been Prince Ilya's servant like I was originally supposed to be, I wouldn't be doing things like this."
"That's because you'd be busy cleaning up the results of explosions instead," Janus reminded him of Ilya's love for alchemy that produced many detonations in his chambers and covered them in colourful dust as well as soot. "Count yourself lucky."
"Inside, I'm jumping for joy," Keir remarked as he began the assigned task.
"Sorry," Faulkner spoke up.
"It's not your fault," the servant mumbled in a softer manner than he ever spoke to his prince. Faulkner had that effect. The people that made an effort to speak to him instead of simply disregarding him as an abnormality eventually found themselves softening up to the frog. Janus was slightly miffed that they all liked Faulkner better than they did him. Elaniel had laughed when he confessed to her and told him that if he was nice and kind and friendly like Faulkner, he too might have friends. Janus gave a brief thought to all the friends he could have and discarded the idea. He would probably end up killing those friends in a murderous rage after one too many people crying on his shoulders or begging him to lighten up.
It all seemed to come naturally to Faulkner however. He was always so damn cheerful and never once expressed any dissatisfaction with his current situation. Elaniel spent a majority of her time trying to find ways to counter the spell but had yet to succeed. When she apologised to Faulkner, the frog shrugged and said that perhaps things were better of this way since at least he got good food and shelter because of the curse.
"What plans have we got today?" Faulkner asked as they left Janus' room.
"My father has summoned us to his quarters. He has something to discuss with us, well me actually."
"I'm thinking it had something to do with that prank we played on Lady Raelisia." The woman in question had the nerve to make very derogatory remarks about Elaniel's Fairy heritage. Though the girl had handled the matter gracefully, once back in her rooms she had indulged in a bit of crying. Her parents had died because of fanatics that thought the de Nevari's connection to the Fairies might as well be a connection to Nazrael, the God of Evil. In retaliation, Janus and Faulkner planned an elaborate trap that resulted in Lady Raelisia getting caught in bed with her much younger paramour by her doting husband. If things came to fruition, Lady Raelisia du Kyne would soon go back to being Raelisia Naira, the daughter of a simple merchant.
No one hurt Janus' friend and betrothed without suffering the consequences.
"Janus! I'm so happy to see you!"
"Father," the prince replied dryly, "What herbs have you been smoking?"
"Nothing yet. I've been having a chat with Nicolaos concerning your friend, Faulkner."
Janus knew there was a reason why he was told to leave Faulkner outside. "Uh huh. And what're the chances I'm not gonna like this?"
"You're so paranoid Janus," his father chided and Janus had a feeling if the man could reach, Alexiel would've pinched his cheeks in a manner suited for children under the age of ten. "We know the spell had to be performed in Yirena due to geographical and magical reasons. We know it's a powerful spell that requires a lot of energy and ingredients."
"So, the Yirena Court Magician should have a better idea of what's going on. Our magical knowledge is severely outdated, something we need to fix by the way, and we need fresh eyes."
"And…" Janus swivelled his hand, a gesture for his father to continue.
"And so, we've invited the Yirena Court to take a look at Faulkner."
After a few seconds of consideration, Janus frowned. "Wait. You've invited an entire court to look at a frog."
"It's an abnormality and obviously signs of a powerful mage using a forbidden spell. I think King Quella should know about what's happening in his kingdom." Although Alexiel's face was as innocent as his voice, Janus did not trust him. The prince was sure there had to be another explanation for this. "They'll be arriving in a week or so."
"I'll be sure to be prepared for it." Silence was a virtue and Janus would practice that to the letter. Alexiel might be a flaky man, but everything he did was for the good of the kingdom. And Janus was enough of a de Sorya to realise that the kingdom came first before his own personal wishes.
"Oh, and Janus? You get to play host."
"I don't like you."
"You're an idiot," Elaniel groaned. The jester was seated cross-legged on the floor leaning against the bed, on which was Elaniel, lying on her stomach with her head being supported by her folded arms. "King Quella is the fifty-seventh monarch of Yirena. He is known for being a harsh but fair leader who has been working with King Alexiel to restore magic to Haidein by acting as a mediator between King Alexiel and Queen Makushla of the Fairies. He's famous for defending the Falcon Pass when the Jaevians attempted to expand their territories."
"Well I'm sorry if I can't read history books like you can."
"You can't read at all," Elaniel shot back.
"Not my fault."
"You kept skipping classes to play with the village kids."
"Yeah well, why would I need to read if I've got you and Janus for that," Leeca stuck his tongue out in an immature action that earned him a sharp poke in the side from Elaniel.
"Anyway!" Janus called attention to where he was sitting on the rug. "Quella and other people coming. My father wants me to organise everything for the welcoming feast."
"Another lesson?" Leeca questioned wryly. Alexiel had a nasty habit of handing down almost impossible tasks to Janus and expecting them to be accomplished in a professional manner. He called it training, Janus called it throwing-into-the-deep-end-and-hoping-he-would-drown.
"Another lesson," Janus agreed just as wryly. "I'm going to need help."
Elaniel held up a hand. "I can help out with the catering. I've done that way too many times back home. My mother's relatives really like to party. Every time I go back there's an excuse for one. And I can enlist Syl." Being a quarter-Fairy was enough to allow Elaniel to visit the Summerland and still allow her to reside in her home in Haidein, which was close enough to the borders that the Banishing was practically non-existent. Janus had heard enough about the raucousness and frequency of Fairy parties to know Elaniel was not boasting. Syl was her older cousin whose family had been in charge of the de Nevari estate since the first King of Haidein. She was almost as bossy and a much better organiser than Elaniel. Janus felt more reassured at the thought of having her supervisor, not that he would ever tell Elaniel that.
"That's one worry out of my mind. Music?"
"That's me and Malhin," Leeca sighed. He explained to Faulkner who was sitting close to Janus. "I'm a composer and singer, not too bad if I say so myself. Malhin's my mentor, he's Captain Morier's youngest brother."
"When I get the throne I was thinking of making Leeca both Bard and Jester," Janus confessed, "Would save me the trouble of having to put up with more people than I really need to."
"You're such an anti-social prick," Leeca returned. "But that'd be kinda cool."
Elaniel cleared her throat delicately. "So food and music for the festivities are taken care of. The entertainment?"
"Nicolaos is helping me with that. He's got connections." Before he was the Court Magician, Nicolaos de Chevny was the son of a circus dancer who had the fortunes to marry a nobleman. She had kept up her connections with her old colleagues and could be counted on to organise the entertainment for any events.
"Zion." He was the middle brother of Morier and Malhin who had estranged himself from the entire family the moment he turned seventeen. He had preferred the life of the priesthood but having failed abysmally at the holy side of it all had turned to administration. He proved to be so good at bullying people into order that Alexiel immediately chose him to be his Chatelaine when he claimed the throne.
Leeca chewed his nails as he thought it over. "Should be fine then. We've got a week to organise right?"
"Hey!" Elaniel brightened up, "You know what I just remember? When King Quella's son disappeared."
"That's a very random thing to remember," Leeca told her.
"Shush. There's a point to this. This prince never got presented to this Court so we don't know what he looks like or his name even. He disappeared like...eleven years ago from now. Strangest thing. Apparently he was playing in the garden and poof just gone. Happened when there was some attempted coup at the palace. They came to Summerland to ask for the Queen's help but she was too busy trying to keep the shields up and dealing with the Nevronins to help out. By the time they got around to it, the trail was too cold."
Janus was sure that was classified details. He only knew because he was snooping around, which begged the question of how Elaniel found out. "How do you know all that? And what's the purpose of all this?"
She shrugged. "I eavesdropped on my parents. The point is...you know what would be really funny? If Faulkner turned out to be that kid. Seriously. That would be the best way this visit could go."
"Me? A prince? Yeah right," Faulkner scoffed.
"Hey, never say never. There is no such thing as coincidences with magic. You could be."
Janus thought he might be starting to understand his father.
Although…being damned was looking very good right now.
"What do you mean we don't have enough rooms?"
The poor servant cringed away from Janus angry scowl, which made things marginally better. At least he could still scare people even if he could not scare them into doing what he wanted them to do. "We've cleared every room we could. But they're not going to fit."
"Have you tried the west wing?"
"The east wing?"
"The south wing?"
Here the servant hesitated. "Er...well, you see."
"It's closed, I know. Because of the residual magic. You forgot that our guests are in fact living in a land of magic. Just because we've lost our resistance doesn't mean they have. Clear and ready the south room."
"What about us?"
Janus felt his eyes narrow. "Maybe it's about time we develop our resistance again. If anything goes wrong, transformations and the like, we can ask the Yirenan mages to fix things. Move!"
Five hours later, after rooms had been made, food had been prepared, and making a few of the servants cry, Janus was still snarling. There had been a big discussion with the entire family about whether Faulkner should or should not be present but in the end it was decided that he would likely be squashed if he were to hop around with Janus. So the prince left him behind.
"I think I could do with a little killing," Janus announced as soon as he stepped into his suite. "Preferably an annoying person with an inability to think beyond what's going to be good for him. If he or she happened to be an anti-magic fanatic, that would be even better."
Faulkner hopped over from his post on the window seat. "Bad day then?"
"You have no idea. People are idiots." Janus collapsed on his bed and curled in on himself.
A snicker came from Faulkner. "I think I've heard you say that before. Why're you back here though? Isn't it nearly time for the Court to arrive?"
Janus shrugged, a little uncomfortable with what he was about to reveal. "I just wanted to…see how you were. It seems kind of cruel to just lock you away."
"Elaniel would say that cruelty is your trademark. Not that I agree."
"Oh, I completely agree with her. I can be cruel. But they usually deserve it."
"So you don't think I would deserve cruelty from you?" From anyone else it would have seemed like Faulkner was flirting with him. Janus briefly entertained the thought of what Faulkner was like as a human then disregarded it. If things turned out the way he thought it would, then that would make little difference in the future.
"I think you're one of those people that bring out the best in others. Everyone that knows you, likes you. Even the servants, who've barely had any chances to talk to you like I have."
"Aww, thanks. But if I'm so nice, why'd I end up like this?"
"You were in the wrong place at the wrong time? Sometimes that's all it takes."
"Or maybe I deserved it."
Janus seriously considered that option, compared and cross-referenced it with all the knowledge of Faulkner and the curse he had at his disposal. Then he came to a conclusion. He had always been like that, logical to an extreme. "I doubt it. Elaniel is sure that the spell in no way alters personality or is used to alter personality. That's not its task. So the personality you have now is one that you've always had."
He was relieved to see Faulkner grin. "So you think I've always been a good kid?"
"Of course. I can't imagine you as being anything else. And I'll do whatever I can to help you become that good kid again."
"Well then, let me return the compliment by saying I can't imagine you as being anything other than kind either."
Janus narrowed his eyes. "Now you're being a liar. I'm always a cruel, cold-hearted youth who has little to do but torment other people."
The frog tilted his head and gives him a look. "C'mon! Anyone that knows you, likes you."
"But no one knows me," Janus pointed out and Faulkner rolled his eyes to show exactly what he thought of that idea.
"Exaaaactly," he draws out as if stretching the word would give it more meaning. "Not many people know you. But Elaniel does, your guards do, Leeca does, Keir does. And they all like you."
"I notice that you said nothing about yourself in there."
This time the silence was on Faulkner's end. "I don't know you very well. But the parts of you that I do know, I like. I mean, you looked after me when your sister wouldn't. You pretend to be so horrible but when Elaniel got hurt, you defended her."
"I avenged her," Janus was quick to correct.
"Same thing. Well, not really. But you know what I meant. You're loyal, you're kind to anyone that are defenceless, you're honest – brutally so sometimes but that's not always a bad thing – and you would never lie or betray anyone. What more could anyone ask for in a friend?"
"Am I your friend?" It was a strange concept. Janus had never considered that anyone might classify him as a friend. To Leeca, Mysha, Hunter, and Keir, he was their master. He repaid their loyalty with his and that was all it was. Elaniel was his betrothed and ally in a court where people were less than accepting of his heritage. Alexiel was his father and the only one in the family that could be considered his ally. That was it. Servants and allies. They were all the people in the court he trusted and none of them were classified as friends nor would he ever ask them to consider him their friend.
"Of course," was Faulkner's quick answer. "Why wouldn't I be?"
Janus kept a tight lid on the many reasons why anyone wouldn't or shouldn't be friends with him. Faulkner had yet to find out that the people that became friends with him invariably grew out of it. "Oh I don't know. I thought you might've been too busy drooling over Elaniel," Janus teased, leading the discussion away into less serious matters. Like the way Faulkner kept staring at his betrothed. Elaniel was an attractive teen who would undoubtedly grow into a beautiful woman. She had grace, she had intelligence, and she had a good heart. More than a few young men had fallen for her and fallen hard. Faulkner was close to becoming one of those young men. Janus very carefully did not question why he was upset whenever that thought occurred to him.
The dull orange tone of Faulkner's cheek was all the clues Janus needed. "I wasn't drooling," Faulkner protested weakly. "Seriously. She's nice but…"
"Feels like she's way out of your league?" Faulkner nodded rapidly. Janus smirked. "I taught her that. She used to have problems with idiots that wouldn't take no for an answer. So I told her to make her self better than them, leave them behind in the dust, let them know that they would never be good enough for her. Better than a kick in the balls."
"A kick in the balls?" Faulkner repeated with half-horror, half-amusement. "That's one way to put it."
"I've a way with words."
"Yeah, well, I hope that way with words is going to help you win your dad over." When Janus looked at him with incomprehension, the frog nodded at the hourglass on the window. "You're late."
"I was unfortunately detained by unavoidable duties," the prince lied smoothly. The ceremony had already started when he slipped into the hall. He had not wanted to cause a commotion by shoving people aside to get to his father's side, so he slid along the wall until he came to a dark corner where he could watch the proceedings. He was very impressed when Alexiel managed to make his absence sound like nothing more than a little problem. Even more impressive was the way King Quella only smirked and replied in a low voice. Whatever he said caused Janus' father to flush a pale pink and snarl back something. The two men were old friends; one of the reasons Quella was not upset with Janus' absence, a fact which Janus was thankful for. The prince turned to the other king in the room. "Salutations, Your Majesty."
Quella waved his words away. "Call me Uncle Quella. You can hardly call your Godfather 'majesty'."
The corner of Janus mouth lifted in a minute smile. "I've upset my father enough with tardiness. I don't want to compound his anger with rudeness. He can be quite scary when he puts his mind to it."
There was an answering smile on Quella's lips. "I'm sure. Perhaps you'd like to inform us of why Shental and I have been invited. Apparently it's your tale to tell." Behind him, his dark-haired Court Magician fixed a calculating stare on Janus. Shental unnerved Janus, a lot. Part of it was because the man could keep up with Janus intellectually and part of it was because he was just that creepy.
Janus settled into a seat that was as far away from Alexiel as possible. There was no need to tempt fate. "About three weeks ago, we encountered a bit of magic that migrated over from your kingdom."
"And you know this how?" Quella asked, not condescendingly or defensively, but simply because he wanted the whole story. Janus could respect that about him.
"No magic can be performed in this land. And Faulkner claims he was a human before this so he had to have been changed in your country." Janus could have dismissed the slight widening of Quella and Shental's eyes as simple curiosity but he could not dismiss the way the twin guards behind the king choked on pure air. "What's wrong?"
Alexiel squirmed slightly in his seat, causing Janus' eyes to land on him. "Ahem. About that. I haven't told you the whole truth."
"I figured," Janus answer dryly. "Anyone care to enlighten me as to why my Godfather is looking like I just told him I was born a female and was about to seduce his Court Magician?"
There were similar strangled laughs from Nicolaos and Alexiel. Shental only lifted an elegant eyebrow. "I love it how you put it so eloquently," Alexiel said through his chuckles that sounded a little nervous.
Meanwhile Quella had regained his composure and was glaring at Janus' father with some heat. "Alexiel, I think there're a few things you haven't been telling me. Like the fact that apparently my son, whom everyone has been assuming was dead is suddenly alive!!" Quella came as close to yelling as Janus had ever heard him.
Alexiel waved his hands in front of his chest, leaning back in his chair. "Hold on! I just wanted to make sure of it. It might just be a coincidence."
"Oi!" Janus called out, startling the two men into silence. "Before we start an argument that could ultimately end in a war, we could exchange information." The two stared at him as if they couldn't believe what was coming out of his mouth. "In – for – ma – tion" Janus stressed, "You know that thing that makes decisions become good decisions? Yeah, that one."
Although it took a long moment for either man to relax, they finally did. Quella's surprised gaze turned into indulgent fondness. "When did you grow up to be so pragmatic?"
"When you were busy playing king," Janus cheekily replied. "Now, the whole story if you please."
Quella settled again and gestured to Shental. The mage stepped forward, an intense look on his face. "Here is what we know of the entire affair. King Quella had a child called Faulkner about seventeen years ago."
Even though he had suspicions along the same vein, it was still surprising to hear it. Janus pondered over the words he could say in reply and decided on, "Oh…I thought that might be it."
"Seven years ago, during an attempt by Morgoth Morlass, King Quella's half-brother, to seize control of the kingdom, Prince Faulkner became a casualty and disappeared. We never found out what happened although we suspected that Morgoth used magic on him. It was surmised that he might be dead. But since we never recovered his body, we can't be too sure."
"So, Faulkner might in fact be Prince Faulkner," Janus summarised.
Shental shrugged. "We won't know for sure until we release the spell."
Janus sighed and heaved himself out of the chair. "I'm going to assume that this is the point where I go get Faulkner." He did not wait around for an answer.
"You ever heard of Yirena?"
A brief respite from bouncing then the motion was back. "Aside from what I've heard when people talk about the visit? Nope!" Janus was not surprised. When people talked to Faulkner it was rarely about other kingdoms, there was enough going on in this kingdom to satisfy gossip.
"It's our neighbouring country. They've still got magic so they're the experts at this sort of thing."
"That tells me why they're here, that doesn't tell me who they are." Faulkner could be a stubborn bastard Janus had found out during their time together. When he latched onto a topic he refused to let go until he got all the facts.
"King Quella, his mage Shental, and his two guards. That's who you'll be seeing today."
"Yeah. King. Why?"
Faulkner laughed shortly. "I'm just a frog. Why would a king want to meet me?"
Janus briefly considered telling Faulkner the truth. The percentage of the truth being a lie was still too high however, and he opted to leave it alone. Faulkner would find out soon enough if it was true. "Well, Elaniel did say you were an anomaly."
When they entered the room, Janus could not fail to realise that everyone was focused on the frog he held in his hands. Saying nothing, he walked over to Quella and presented Faulkner. "Quella, meet Faulkner. Faulkner, meet Quella. Quella happens to be my godfather," he informed Faulkner.
The king nodded his head regally, although his eyes were a bit too bright and his lips a little too tense. "Hey!" Faulkner said cheerfully, apparently having decided that he would not let the difference in station bother him. "Nice to meet you."
"Likewise. You know why you're here?"
Faulkner tilted his head. "Yes?"
"Janus didn't tell you anything?" Quella asked with a pointed stare at his godson who smiled innocently.
The frog laughed, bouncing a little in Janus' palm. "If there's one thing I know about Janus, he doesn't answer questions that you can answer yourself."
"Yes. He's socially-impaired like that," Alexiel remarked from his seat. With a small smile on his face he was watching the frog and the king interact.
Janus scoffed. "I'm not socially-impaired. I just happen to think brains exist for a reason. Anyway, Faulkner, you're here so we can figure out how to get the spell off you."
The frog blinked. "Really?" Janus nodded. "Cool!" The word was said in a manner only slightly more excited than the one before but Faulkner's agitated bouncing betrayed his excitement.
"Cool is all you can say?" Janus taunted as he set Faulkner down on a tall table. It would be easier for Shental to examine Faulkner when the frog was close to their level.
"Bite me," Faulkner returned. Shental approached the table joined by Nicolaos. Even though magic was out of the question, the two mage's knowledge of magic was comprehensive enough. Janus knew that it would be logic and intelligence, not a few flicks of the wand, which would help Faulkner.
They circled Faulkner slowly, like vultures waiting for their prey to die, discussing magic theories in a low tone. They occasionally asked questions that were answered in an equally low voice by Faulkner. The rest of the room remained quiet as they worked. The guards were silent because they had nothing to add to the situation but the royals were silent because they were already analysing the possible results and the consequences of those results.
After what felt like hours, the two mages turned as one to present their findings. "I think we may know how to break the spell," Nicolaos claimed.
Shental took up the discussion in his calm voice. Nothing ever seemed to faze the man. "This type of spell is usually classified as a punishment spell. Meant to make your enemy's life miserable."
"However, there's a marchen clause added to it," Nicolaos added.
"…A what clause?" Alexiel asked. Janus was also confused. As well read up as he was, the word 'marchen' was one he had never encountered before.
"Marchen. It's also known as the 'happily ever after' clause."
"The kissing spell?" Janus verified. It was an old Fairy spell used to soften harsher spells. Historically it was used by many white witches and wizards to allow leeway for anyone who had the misfortune to have been cursed. The premise of the spell was using an unselfish kiss to break whatever other spell it had been junctioned to. "That makes things easier, right? We just need to find a princess. Isn't it lucky that we have one right here in the castle?"
"Not so fast," Nicolaos interrupted. "When the marchen clause was added to the frog curse, it specified the person from whom the kiss must come from."
"Don't keep us in suspense," Alexiel prompted. Quella had been surprisingly quiet through out the exchange but Janus thought it might have been due to the shock of discovering that his son was alive.
"The kiss has to come from the person who has been fulfilling the conditions of the spell. Someone who feeds him, let him sleep with him or her, and generally has been looking after the cursed person's health. So in this case, from what I know, this person would be Janus."
It felt like someone was choking the air out of him. Janus' mind immediately recognised what Shental was saying and shut down. It didn't help that everyone had turned to stare at him as soon as the words were said. "You've got to be fucking with me."
"I would never joke about something like this," Shental replied with an edge of annoyance about him.
"I didn't just hear you suggest that I kiss Faulkner," Janus pressed forward.
Nicolaos sighed. "You did. And it might not have been what you wanted to hear but it's the truth."
"There has to be another way."
"There isn't," Shental refuted.
"Shental," Quella interrupted and gained the attention of everyone in the room. "Are you sure?"
"Yes." There was absolute faith in those words. Nicolaos looked just as determined.
The king rubbed his temple tiredly. "Okay then. All right." He turned to Janus, who stood poised to walk out. "Janus."
He knew what the next words were going to be. Quella had never asked for anything of him before and he knew that it would be more than rude to refuse now. He wasn't even sure why he was so against it, all he knew was that this was not the way things were supposed to end. "No."
"Please." Quella never said please. A king never begged a prince. A man never pleaded for the help of a boy. All those never's and all Janus could think of was 'a de Sorya never breaks a promise'. He had told Faulkner he would do whatever it took to restore him. Although not phrased as such, it was a promise in its own right.
"Fine," he sighed. "Just…fine."
He strode forward, not wasting time now that he had decided his course of action. He grabbed Faulkner by the body, brought the frog up to his face, sent a quick prayer, squeezed his eyes shut, kissed Faulkner, and the next moment felt a heavy weight on his body and a hard surface at his back. "Ow," he said succinctly.
The boy on top of Janus – the very naked boy on top of Janus – groaned. He lifted his eyelids to reveal warm brown orbs that stared down at Janus disconcertedly. He was not classically beautiful but he had a youthful charm about him. "Hi." The boy, whom Janus could only assume to be Faulkner, smiled nervously. "Nice to meet you?"
"So, any reason why you're avoiding Faulkner?"
Unfortunately, Elaniel didn't seem to understand his reasoning and would not stop hounding him about it. "I'm not avoiding him," Janus replied carefully. He brought the book of ballads up to his face to provide some sort of shield between Elaniel and him. Not the kind of book he normally read but since this entire library was devoted to romance poetries, he settled for the one that ended with the two would be lovers dying. It appeased the darkness in his heart.
"You're right. You're not giving yourself a chance to actually avoid him since you make sure that you hide in the deepest, darkest corners of the palace. If you can't see him you can't call it avoiding, can you?"
Apparently Elaniel did understand but refused to accept the reasoning, which was worse in Janus' opinion. "Is there a point to this?"
The girl rolled her eyes and daintily leaned her hips against the edge of a dust table. Her pale blue dress would get dirty but Elaniel had priorities and dresses rated far below friends. Sometimes Janus wished he had never helped Elaniel grow up into such a determined young woman. Had he known the crying young girl he rescued would be such a thorn in his side all these years later on, he might have left her to her misery. "There is actually. You're avoiding Faulkner. That's making a lot of people wonder."
"And by people you mean…?"
"Faulkner mainly. Alexiel's busy trying to placate those silly fools on the council who doesn't like the presence of those evil, evil bastards known as Yirenans. Quella and his court are overjoyed with the thought of having their prince back. And everyone else is in a tizzy over the feast that we're having to celebrate Faulkner's rebirth."
"And we're worried about you."
"Leeca who doesn't have a prince to cheer up, Hunter and Mysha who doesn't have a prince to guard, Keir who doesn't have a prince to nag, me who doesn't have a betrothed to annoy, and Faulkner who doesn't have a friend to make all of this seem less overwhelming."
"He's got his family."
"He hasn't seen his family for seven years. The only ones he can truly remember that're here are King Quella and Shental. Everyone else is a stranger to him but they all want to be his closest friend."
Janus turned another page in his book. "What do you expect me to do about it?"
"Be his friend. Have you actually looked at him lately? He's looking more frazzled than Keir. He hides it very well though."
"He needs to learn to relax."
Elaniel had nothing to say to that bland statement so they sat in silence for a long while. Janus never once looked up from his book and eventually Elaniel gave up waiting. She slipped off the table and dusted her dress. "I don't know why you're avoiding Faulkner but – "
"He called me his friend."
The girl froze. "What?"
The youth put down his book, taking off the reading glasses and balancing them on the tip of his index finger. "He called me his friend. He knows nothing about me and claims that he was my friend and vice versa."
"Why does that bother you?"
Janus had always found it difficult to talk about his emotions. In other areas of conversation he was verbose and witty but the words would not come out when the topic was about Janus de Sorya. He tried though because if anyone could help him, it would be Elaniel with her 'woman's intuition' as she called them. "People don't become friends with me for no reason. They're always something else first. My servant, my guards, my betrothed. Faulkner had no reason to be my friend."
"He was dependent on you to survive," Elaniel pointed out.
"Not really. He knew he wasn't staying here for long, and in fact for all he knew he might not ever see me again."
"You're applying your logic to Faulkner. Faulkner operates on a different level than you. He's just an all round friendly guy."
"I still don't get it."
"What? The fact that he seems to be unaware of the pitfalls of a court?" Janus nodded. Elaniel rolled her eyes up to the ceiling as she tried to find the words that might make sense to Janus. "He hasn't lived at court for a long time and he hasn't lived at our court. Statistically speaking, Haidein has more betrayal, backstabbing, and general evil than Yirena."
"He wouldn't survive for a week here as he is. It'd be stupid for him to – " Janus bit off his words.
And as if someone had finally turned the page for her, Elaniel knew what was going on. "You want him to stay." Janus smiled sardonically but made no other indication of his answer. "That's why you're avoiding him."
The smile revealed nothing but what Janus wished to reveal and Elaniel had no idea if she was supposed to keep talking. Then Janus said, in a dismissive voice: "I'll come to dinner tonight," and she knew that the conversation was over.
"You escaped from the clutches of whatever evil had you prisoner," Alexiel remarked. "I congratulate you."
"Well, this is the last night that our esteemed guests will be gracing us with their presence. It would be remiss of me to disappear on my godfather and godbrother." Janus added an impish smile for effect. "They might not even remember what I look like."
"Oh, I truly doubt that," Quella said as they were served the first course, "You're a very memorable person."
"You say the nicest things." Janus ignored the way Faulkner was looking at him and focused on being the person he was supposed to be. "So what's for dinner?"
"If you'd been present earlier then perhaps you would know." Alexiel teased gently.
"And how are we today, father? I'm good too." Janus rolled his eyes. "So impolite."
A kick under the table made him choke on his next words. He directed a glare, hidden underneath a sweet smile, at Elaniel. "Hello Elaniel, my most beloved betrothed."
"I'm your only betrothed."
"And all the more a pity," Janus ended with a smile, not reacting to yet another kick to his ankle. "How are you?"
"I'm fine but it looks like Faulkner wants to talk to you." She leaned in closer and said, in a low hiss, "You're not avoiding him, remember?"
It was on the tip of his tongue to say something scathing but he reined his temper in. And he turned to Faulkner because he was not delusional enough to think that he would escape this dinner without having to talk to him. "Hi?" Faulkner offered, uneasily grinning as he tried to figure out what Janus was doing.
Janus let a smirk cross his lips. "Your highness."
"Long time no see." It was said jokingly but Faulkner could not keep the hurt from out of his face.
Janus was determined to continue as if normal and kept smirking. "Something like that. And how're you liking your new title?"
"It's…fine." There was a quick glance to Quella and Janus knew that Faulkner said this because he was afraid of hurting Quella's feelings. The truth was that Faulkner was probably feeling discomfited. An emotion that he recognised as guilty – it took several minutes to classify it – came over him and he deliberately brushed his hand across Faulkner's when he reached for a basket of breadsticks.
"The girls are scaring you aren't they?" Janus asked with an engaging glint in his eyes, "Just tell them you're taken."
Faulkner seemed to relax at that and a grin that lacked only a little of the usual cheeriness flitted across his face. "By who?" he asked back jokingly.
"Janus of course," Elaniel piped up from Janus' other side. The short conversation had not been private and Elaniel's contribution to it caused simultaneous choking from anyone within earshot. Given that it was a small but hollow room, this meant everyone inside.
The teen in question swallowed the fit of laughter that threatened to take over. "Pardon?"
"The marchen law. The happily ever after law. In the old days anyone whose kiss broke the spell was required to marry the spelled person." Elaniel recited as if remembering from a textbook.
"Thank all the deities that this isn't the old days."
"Hey!" Faulkner protested, "What's wrong with marrying me?!"
There were several raised eyebrows at the vehement complaint. Seconds later Faulker appeared to have realised what he had just implied with his ill-chosen words. "Uh…I'm not…it's…never mind."
Janus elbowed Elaniel who was giggling into her napkin so hard her face was turning a dark shade of red. "Anyways. So this is your last night here, Godfather." He ignored Faulkner on his other side, who was also maintaining an unhealthy shade of magenta.
Although he too looked like he was about to burst out laughing, Quella managed to reply politely. "Yes. I'm not sure when we can come back again. We're having a few troubles with our northern neighbours. They seem to think they can just take over our country."
"Is that why Ulsain isn't here?" Ulsain was Quella's younger half-brother and his advisor. Although a little too timid for Janus liking, he was organised and efficient.
"Mmm," Quella agreed, taking a sip of his wine, "Along with Yuri." Yuri was a general in the Yirenan army, one of few women to have achieved such a status. "What about Haidein though? Anything happening with your island neighbour?"
For the rest of dinner the focus was on light-hearted trading of news and gossip. Janus found it incredibly amusing the image of his father and godfather acting like school children with their talks of what their colleagues were doing and gossips of court politics. It was after desert that Elaniel, Janus and Faulkner excused themselves from the table. The two kings barely paid them any attention except to wish them good night. A few guards detached themselves from the room to follow the three of them. Elaniel was the first to split off, going to her room with a guard at her side. Though she wished both of them good night, a pointed stare was directed at Janus. The prince nodded minutely. He knew what that look meant. Talk to him now. Elaniel never bothered with threats anymore, not since he started to call her on them.
"Maitan, Assiah, we can handle it from here." The two guards looked at each other. "I'll escort Faulkner back to his room."
"But – " Assiah began.
Janus rolled his eyes. "I can look after myself. Beside, 'tis not the season for assassins. Shoo!" The last was said with an extra edge to his words. Reluctantly, the guards fell back. Faulkner was staring at him with a vague expression of worry. Janus turned his head away and sped up, forcing Faulkner to keep up with him. He kept his pace quick enough that they did not have time for small chitchat.
Janus leaned against the doorway, folding his arms, a picture of casual arrogance. "What makes you think I wanted to talk."
Faulkner gave him a long look. "I've been your shadow for over three weeks. I'm not dumb. Beside, you aren't leaving."
"True," Janus admitted, consenting to walking inside. With a conceit that was entirely the property of Janus de Sorya, he sat down on a chair in front of the fire, stretching his legs and crossing them at the ankles. As Faulkner took the other chair, he laced his hands across his stomach. He made a point of looking into the fire and only into the fire.
Faulkner sat down with one leg drawn up and his arms resting on top of the bent knee. "So, what's up."
There was no other graceful way to do this so Janus opted for the tried and true method of being blunt. "I like you."
"I like you too," Faulkner answered with a bemused smile.
It was just like Faulkner to misunderstand. "I don't think you know what I mean. I like you. I really like you."
"…Oh." From the corner of his eyes Janus saw Faulkner chewing on his lower lip, a nervous gesture that he had even as a frog. He finally realised what Janus meant then. "…Um…why?"
"I don't know. I think maybe your idealistic naivety attracts the cynical part of me."
"But…I haven't even been human very long. So you…"
Janus could not help the noise of disgust that escaped him. "No! I like your personality, Lady knows why since most of the time it annoys the fuck out of me, but I do. And I suppose that you are somewhat pleasing on the eyes."
"Shush. You're never going to hear me speak like this ever again so be quiet." Faulkner made a zipping motion over his lips. "When you were a frog I liked you as a friend. It could have been more but…you were a frog . When you changed, turned out to be a not so bad looking guy, that probably provided the push."
"I'm sure it helped that I was naked when you first saw me as a human," Faulkner muttered.
That comment caused a smile to appear. "It did actually. I like my lovers well proportioned."
"…I didn't need to know that. Although...thanks, I guess."
"So, I realised this out about two days ago while I was cleaning up the last bit of gold dropping on my pillow in fact."
Faulkner was so focused on the discussion that he didn't even blush at the mention of gold faeces. "Is that why you've been avoiding me?"
Again, that word. "I'm not avoiding. Just because the books I happen to be reading at this time are all stored in a tiny libraries all in dark corners of the palace, doesn't mean I'm avoiding you."
"Hey, that's the truth. So there you have it. I like you as more than a friend. But don't worry. By the time I see you again, I'll be over it."
"What if I don't want you to be over it?" Faulkner blurted out.
This was a situation that Janus hadn't prepared for. "What?"
"I might like you as more than a friend?"
"I see. And when did you come to this conclusion?"
"Er…just right now actually." Faulkner spied the cynical smile that threatened to split Janus' lips and immediately contested the though he knew had to be fostering in his friend's mind. "Don't even think about saying that it's some proximity effect or anything. It's not."
"Suuuure," Janus threw Faulkner's sceptical word from before back at him.
"I'm not saying I love you or anything. But I do like you."
It took a moment to process this. No one had ever confessed to liking him before. Lusting after him sure – he was an attractive bastard after all – but liking him? Friendship was as far as most people got before realising that any more than that would be a stupid idea. "So."
"I like you, you like me," Janus shortened their entire conversation to one sentence.
"Yep." Under the red light of the fire it was hard to tell if Faulkner was blushing but Janus would bet money on it. "Where do we go from here?"
"O – wait! What?" Faulkner looked so confused that Janus had to laugh a little.
The Haidein prince stretched his arms out in front of him. "We go nowhere with this. We'll deal with our individual crushes and get over it. We're both heirs to our respective countries. A relationship would be impossible to maintain. The distance, the expectation of heirs from us, the political implications and other similar problems would make even a casual relationship a foolish dream."
"Hold on! Are you saying there's no chance of anything?"
"Yes. Kingdom first before individual wishes. Beside, you've missed out on seven years of your education, you're going to be spending a lot of time playing catch up. You won't be back in this country for a long while yet."
"So you're saying…that's it?" Janus kept himself from comforting the young man who sounded so lost. He knew part of the attachment came from the fact he saved Faulkner's life and was instrumental in returning him to his true form, however he was smart enough to know that there was no chance of a relationship built on such reasons surviving.
Janus got up elegantly and walked over to his friend. He looked at Faulkner with the most confident expression he could summon. "That's it." While Faulkner struggled to find something to say, he leaned down and kissed the other prince hard. Enough to bruise their lips. He pulled back, brushed the tips of his hand across Faulkner's cheek. "I would've liked it to be more though."
He turned and left. Later on, when he had time to analyse the blur of a conversation, he would admit to himself that he had run away.
They said nothing because everything that had to be said was already voiced and anything else would just be a waste of breath. "We're still friends though," Faulkner had whispered just before they parted.
"Of course," Janus confirmed. If nothing else, they would be friends.
Later, Elaniel came by to stand beside him as they watched the procession leave. "You all right?" She did not ask what had happened last night because she was as politically savvy as Janus and knew how things would turn out.
"I will be."
It was hard for Faulkner to get used to the way people deferred to him. Seven years spent as a frog who merited little more than the occasional swatting from a lot of people made it hard for him to accept the bowing and scraping courtiers indulged in his presence. Luckily, in a private council no one ever did that. Most probably because all of them were older than him and could silence him with a well placed barb that taught him more than an hour in the classroom.
The inner council consisted of his father, his uncle Ulsain, Shental, Yuri, Sinet, Tesal and Qin. Faulkner had started sitting in on the meetings since a year ago when it was deemed that he knew enough about the country to grasp some of the concepts of their discussion.
The latest topic was the new ambassador from Haidein. Relations between Yirena and Haidein had only improved after the frog debacle and through Alexiel's hard work they were getting closer to creating a formal alliance with the Fairies. To that end a permanent ambassador to both Yirena and Summerland had been trained and sent forth. The ambassador, whom no one knew the name of, was arriving that day. Faulkner secretly hoped that it was someone whom he had been friends with as a frog. Other ambassadors sent in the past two years were uncomfortable with Faulkner and spent as little time talking with him as possible. The official letter exchanges between Yirena and Haidein was the only way he could find out anything about his old friends. None of the news contained anything about Janus or Elaniel. From all he knew, they could have gotten married and already had many children.
As they were in the middle of approximating how the first talk with the new ambassador would go, a knock came on the door. Faulkner winced as the sound echoed in the large hall. His father gestured for the guards to open the door. A soldier from the other side slipped through the crack as soon as enough room was available. "The Haidein ambassador, sire."
Quella shared a startled look with his half-brother. "He's not supposed to be here for another week," Ulsain voiced the thought on everyone's mind.
"Oh for Nazrael's sake, just let me in will you?" an annoyed voice came from behind the door, piercing the stunned silence. As the council watched with much confusion a dark haired young man with sharp golden eyes pushed forward and stopped a few feet away from the round table. He bowed exaggeratedly. "Ambassador Janus de Sorya at your service."
"Your Highness!" Qin was quick to react. He leapt to his feet and the others that ranked below Janus quickly followed his actions. They all bowed with the respect reserved for a Crown Prince.
The young man waved away their actions. "Abdicated. So now I'm just a simple prince. Ilya was a lot better with people than me anyway." He did not sound at all bitter about this.
"What are you – ?" Faulkner began, startled into speaking.
The smile Janus sent him was both impish and seductive. "You remember what I said?" Faulkner nodded dazedly. "Apparently I didn't get over it. Am I too late?"
Although he knew his father and uncle, as well as every other person in the room, was giving them strange looks, Faulkner could not stop the wide grin from spreading across his face.
"No. No you're not."