Soft footsteps emerged from the dark stairway leading up to the tower, bringing the young Prince Ameya out of his thoughts. He turned from the window to receive his visitor, but his lips were still set into a pensive frown.
"Master?" came the soft voice from the doorway, followed immediately by a familiar blonde head. "Did you want to see me?"
The prince smiled. "Yes, Shiva. Please come in."
Shiva's anxious expression relaxed into a smile as he entered the room, and once again the prince was reminded forcibly how young the boy was. With a pang he remembered the time less than a year ago when they had first met. Shiva had said he was fifteen. Was he sixteen yet?
"Master?" Shiva prodded, looking concerned. "Forgive me, but you seem a bit distant this afternoon."
The prince gave him a tired smile. "I'm sorry, Shiva. As you know things have been complicated lately." He gestured to a chair. "Please, sit down. I'm afraid this is rather important."
Shiva visibly paled, but his expression remained calm. "Your final wish."
Ameya nodded. "I'm sorry, Shiva."
Shiva bowed his head for a moment, the long beaded strands next to his face jingling. After a moment he took a deep breath and looked up. "Okay, Master. What will you wish?"
"As you know, our land has been ravaged by disease. Not one family in the kingdom hasn't lost a loved one. The healers are baffled and there is no cure in sight. I wish-"
Shiva pressed his hand lightly against the prince's lips. "Wait- Forgive me master, but once the wish is complete I'll… be gone." He faltered lowering his hand. "I want to say goodbye."
The prince's worried expression softened. "Shiva," he said quietly. "Do you love me?"
"Yes, Master," Shiva said just as softly.
Fondly, Prince Ameya looked down at the boy. "You have somewhat of a reputation for falling in love with your masters, Shiva."
"I know," Shiva agreed, still looking down. The prince touched Shiva's face, tilting it upward.
"Look at me," he said, and when the boy complied, the prince bent over and brushed his lips over Shiva's in a soft, chaste kiss. "You are going to see so much in your life. You will travel across time and to lands you can't even dream of. And someday you will meet the person worthy of your love."
As he pulled away, Shiva raised his eyes to meet Ameya's. "Master," he said, and this time the prince couldn't mistake the shine in the boy's blue-green eyes or the quiver in his voice.
"Don't make this harder for me," Ameya whispered. "Shiva. I wish for the cure that will heal this land."
"Very well," Shiva said softly, taking a step back. "Your wish is my command." He bowed his head, making a complicated hand gesture and the room began to fill with a shimmery smoke that dissipated almost as soon as it appeared.
Suddenly the prince heard a knock at the door. "Come in," he called, turning his attention toward the newcomer. Niraj the messenger boy poked his head in. "Your Highness, I have a message from the healers," he said. "It seems they found a cure for the disease plaguing our land. They can start treating people in the capital as early as tomorrow."
Ameya's tense expression relaxed into a relieved smile. "That is good news, Niraj. Go alert the rest of the palace."
Niraj bowed, ducking out of the room. The prince looked over to where Shiva had been standing only a few moments before. All that remained was a small glass bottle, a few tendrils of shimmery smoke still curling around the mouth.
"Thank you, Shiva," Prince Ameya whispered, closing his eyes.