In Snow

by Ember

Summary: All Realin wanted was to get him home. Grab the prince by his own damn hair and DRAG him home. And dragons, ravens and war aside, it would have made things almost simple if that had been all he'd done. M/M

Warnings: Strong M/M slash (that you have to wait forever for. ), torture (not related to the slash) :P, some pretty strong emo.

A/N: Pretty much none.

Note-ily: All characters here are mine. The dragon Arroth was inspired by Rohn from Savage Skies, but the personality is mine and that's all the matters. 3

Chapter One

It looked like snow.

The clouds above the castle were twisting unnervingly; they always were, a vortex of wizardcraft, a desperate ploy to keep the worst of the storms from right above the dark towers of the castle, and to dispell the snow that otherwise would have piled up on the roof. But over the mountains and cliffs were flat gray plains of clouds, a dark blanket for the sky, and the threat of snow was tangible in the air, on the wind, in the swirls of gray.

It was more obvious, however, in the dragons.

Huge and sleek and slender, dark blue and silver and a little white thrown in on some for good measure, they spread huge webbed wings and shot through the air in complex little dances that, as far as Realin knew, had no special significance beyond the thrill of flight. Their crests were flat against their spines, the inner eyelids in their eyes pulled shut against the wind, their legs tucked tight against their bodies, enjoying the cool air racing through their tiny scales, loving the way it snapped through the leather of their wings. The dance would speed up when the snow fell and continue all night, individual dragons landing and resting and then taking to the skies again as their metabolisms dictated, but the creatures as a whole never really resting, never breaking the pattern.

You could always tell when a snowfall was coming by the way the ice dragons suddenly grew restless, flapping their massive pinions and shifting from claw to claw, watching the sky. Arroth was dancing even as Realin watched, his pure white head standing out even before the gray mountains, the black lines running over his eyes marking him even more. The warrior sighed and shifted on the rocks, his neck cramping from staring upward for too long, watching the dragon that the ignorant called 'his.'

"Dragons never belong," a very wise veteran had told him once, watching his grizzled partner swallow chunks of caribou from a trough. "They aren't pets. They're people, they're just foreign people who don't speak our language, but they understand it and let me tell you, if they don't like you, they'll let you know. If they don't like you, you won't ride. If they don't agree with you, you won't ride. If you don't ask nicely you won't even touch their backs and sure as hell not with a saddle in your hand. Riding a dragon is a privalege, and it's granted by the dragon, not by the person in charge."

"Like a cat," he'd supplied.

The man had laughed. "Exactly like a cat. Except, well, of course a little smarter." He'd grinned and had been missing four teeth. "My wife wouldn't agree with me on that. She thinks cats are about eight or nine times as smart as people."

Arroth did not belong to Realin. But nor had he ever refused to carry him, and he'd let himself be groomed and fed and every once in a while, talked to, and somehow between body language and a few choice snarls or snaps, he'd gotten his opinion known, as well.

Arroth hated Keasy.

"Realin!" Just on cue, as if she'd been waiting for his thoughts to drift to her, the narrow-waisted woman waddled out in pointed shoes and a scarlet robe that stood out like blood on the rocks. Her hair, reddish-brown like his, hung in short ringlets down to her earlobes, while his was cropped into subtle waves that reached his jawline. A thin, long braid ran down the length of his back, grown since he'd completed his training to signify his ascention into adulthood. "What are you doing out here? Watching for Arroth?"

Keasy, Realin suspected, thought the dragon found her very acceptable, because he was distantly polite in her presence and always remembered to be careful of his claws and keep the points against the dirt. Realin always tried to emulate him, but there was some aura about his cousin, the esteemed heir to the Lucinyr Clan, that made his innard wince away. She wore a corset at all hours; sometimes, he could swear she wore one to bed. Her hair was always well-kept, she wore jewels at all times, she never even relaxed her appearance at home, at the breakfast table.

The moment, at seven years old, he realized she had a crush on him, he knew his parents would press the engagement. The Lucinyr Clan was one of the country's only pure clans, and a marriage within the family would guarentee that the child wouldn't be of mixed blood. And Keasy was the heir; she had to marry, had to marry within the family, and had to marry the son of the luckiest parents in the Clan, whose status in social status, court pecking order, everything that didn't matter would immediately rise.

When he was twelve, his mother gave him the ring and told him he would know when the time was right. He had known was it was for.

And, two weeks ago and a solid decade after getting it, he'd finally shown the ring to Keasy. It had taken a lot of bolstering on the part of his courage. He hadn't thought he would be able to do it, knew Arroth thought he could give it up, knew he wouldn't ever, ever love her. She was too superficial, too shallow, she didn't know anything about flight or joy or battle or death or the cold that the castle's fires and the vortex dispelling the snow kept her so very sheltered from.

"Waiting for it to snow," he told her, answering her first question.

She made a face. "Snow. Is it true that it melts away the second you touch it?"

She lived in Beroth; people worldwide knew that this city meant snow; a fragment of the royal family lived here, guarded by the Lucilyn clan who ran the northern quadrant of the kingdom. She helped keep Jaccie and Jaami, the twin siblings to the crown heir (who lived in Rale, in the center of the kingdom; Realin had only seen him once, while riding Arroth down to the western quadrant to prepare for war), and yet had never seen the snow. Well, she'd seen it, but never been in it, had never felt it against her skin, against her face.

He tried to think up words to describe it, but, upon reflection, decided against trying. "Yeah. It melts."

"It can't be worth much, can it, then? It's a shame, I heard it's very sparkly if it doesn't melt and if one could transport it I'm sure the Iizu Clan in the southern quadrant would pay gold for it."

One can't pay gold for snow, but Realin wasn't sure he could articulate that, either. "No," he told her, looking away from her powdered face and once more finding Arroth in the flying serpents above them. "It's not very valuble."

She pouted. "There's so much of it, always. You can see it in the middle of winter, it's everywhere. Except here."

"Except here." He couldn't keep the sadness out of his voice. She gave him a very queer look and turned to walk away, glancing at the dragons as she left as if wondering what, exactly, they were celebrating.

"What's that?" Her voice was a little strange and, thusly compelled, Realin followed her gaze up to the sky. A large bird with broad wings was gliding in, its brown-and-white plumage blending in and out of the mountain backdrop. "I've never seen a bird like that before."

"It's an osprey." She wouldn't have ever seen one; she'd lived here her whole life and never showed an inclination to leave. "It must be from Rale." They trained them, there, familiars to the wizards of the second element, water, or the first, air; they could carry messages for a long way, but it would be too cold for a bird like that to last long. It would land in the aviary and be cared for.

Realin, fascinated at what message would compel a wizard to send such a bird to Beroth, rose from the rocks and trotted for the dome-shaped tower that the bird dropped towards.

Kirilyr Dreth v'Keene the fifth had woken up late, and, upon reflection on a later date, decided that this had been perhaps the worst mistake of his life.

Usually, waking up late wasn't quite so bad; his nursemaids always got furious at him, especially Helia, who had cared for him since he was three and who hated tardiness, laziness, and almost every other character flaw to the point where this intolerance became a character flaw itself- although no one, barring nobody, ever had the courage to tell Helia that. But flipping blonde hair bleached almost white in the sun and flashing his most charming smile at the women almost always placated them to some degree- a ploy that had never worked when he was younger and that, now finding himself at advantage, a ploy he found himself employing more than he should have been able to get away with.

Today, however, he shouldn't have woken up late, and when he opened his eyes to the noon sun, he smiled to himself with glee that the extra hour had slipped past. His nurses would be appalled, as would, most likely, Sir Jackyl d'Viel, who had waited half a day in assembly to talk to Kirilyr's father to ask for an hours time to introduce his daughter, Lady Cayro, infamous throughout Rale as a conceited twit but important enough politically, apparently, for Kirilyr Dreth v'Keene the fourth to have agreed.

Or perhaps he just thought that the crown prince of the Dragon country should have a heightened sense of responsiblity. In which case, Kirilyr the fourth would be as upset as the nurses, and he hardly ever paid attention to the goings-on of his son and heir.

And so, dressing himself in deep red breeches and jacket over a black shirt that showed off the pality of his skin, and pulling his hair away from his face with sapphire-dragonfly clips that Kirilyr hated more than Helia, his father and Lady Cayro d'Viel combined, the crown prince got himself ready for an audience with a would-be princess. He paused for a second of self-pity, wishing for the seven-thousandth time that he could just hack his hair to the quick and be done with it- but no, only children had short hair, and as the crown prince he had to keep up with fashions or his Lady Mother- who, like his father, completely ignored him until he did something wrong- would attack him with vicious words and barbed wit until he went and dumped his personal money on a wizard to grow out his locks again. The same went for his pale skin, which burned and blistered in the off occasions that he actually felt the sun on it, because only low-class menial workers had tanned skin and therefore he was kept sheltered from anything so much as resembling golden rays.

"Most people would give up their right leg and left arm to be in your position," Helia had barked at him when he'd confided his unhappiness in her.

"Most people have never been in my position, to compare to their lives," he'd muttered back, but hadn't brought it up again.

After inspecting his appearance in the mirror- Helia had observed once that he was the prettiest prince that Dragon had seen since his great-grandfather, then dryly remarked that the handsome face and bright blue eyes were more than wasted on an arrogant, ungrateful fool such as he- Kirilyr left his room, trusting the maids to care for his bed and discarded night-clothes and closing the door securely behind him. Had he come out an hour earlier, he would have seen a cloaked traveler outside his door and might have thought twice before emerging, but as it was their paths did not cross.

The Throne Room was downstairs and a corrider to the left of Kirilyr's room, and the crown prince took it quickly, trying to think of excuses for his late rising that had him brushing against being late for meeting the Lady Cayro. The huge oak doors, carved into the liquid shapes of dragons curling around each other- the thin, elegant ice dragons, the flamboyant fire dragons, the thick-boned earth dragons, the feathered air dragons- were adorned with a single brass knocker, which Kirilyr lifted and let fall before immediately kneeling, one arm bent at his side and one swept around his form. This ridiculous posture was what greeted the footman, and in fact greeted the footman twenty-odd times daily.

"Greetings, Lord Kirilyr the fifth," he said, no emotion in his voice betraying whether or not he knew the prince was late. "Your father will be with you shortly."

Quiet voices within were arguing in tense tones, one his father and the other only slightly familiar. With a sinking sense of dread, Kirilyr stretched his ears to try and capture every word, and identified the voice after a moment of consideration as Sir Jackyl d'Viel.

God dammit. Father will disinherit me if I'm lucky.

The footman walked to the front of the room, bowed low with his robe held in one hand and flaring behind his back, and reported in a loud stage-whisper to the king, "Lord Kirilyr Dreth v'Keene the fifth arrives to seek council with you, my lord."

The king's voice was cold. "You're late, my son. Don't just sit there, rise; rise, dammit." Kirilyr rose. "And while you're here, appologize to Sir Jackyl."

"My sincerest appologies," Kirilyr said in a voice that didn't seem altogether too appologetic. "I'm afraid I overslept. I hope I didn't cause your lovely daughter too much distress?" Because then she might get gray hairs and then, heavens fall, you'll not be able to worm your way up the ladder off her good looks.

"She is... not too distressed," the lord replied.

"Good. I'm sure your reassurances that my son will indeed meet her today, if an hour's time later, will help her overcome this mistake. Bring her my condolences." Despite his daughter's reputation, Sir Jackyl was not a fool and he knew a dismissal when he heard one; he bowed low, at least as low as the footman had, and backed out of the room. Despite everything, Kirilyr wasn't a fool either and he knew a dismissal as well; regardless, he tried making one up where there was nothing and bowed as well.

"So eager to leave my company, my son?" He had known that wasn't going to work.

"Of course not, Father." And so he stood, increasingly uncomfortable every second, while the king inspected his dress, his hair, his posture, his eyes. Finally, even the footman looked uncomfortable and there was an element to the hawk-like King Kirilyr, his hooked nose and the heavy violet bags under his pale eyes, that caused a floodgate the snap inside of his son.

"Listen, Father, I'm sorry-"

"Go and meet with d'Viel's daughter," Kirilyr said tiredly, his gaze flicking off the prince and not returning to look at him as he spoke. "She will meet you in the courtyard in an hour's time. And for once, act like you are my son."


The boy was new; Kirilyr had never seen him before, but servents were always coming and going in the palace so he didn't pay it much thought. He let light hands carefully undo his jacket buttons and helped the body slide the heavy fabric off his shoulders, waiting while the servent folded up the cloth to keep it from getting wrinkled.

"Did you enjoy the company of the Lady d'Viel?" the boy asked, voice hushed.

Father, if you think you can worm your way into my thoughts so easily. He studied the boy's face and made a mental note that this one belonged to his father. Most of the servents that cared for him had other loyalties, were spies or friends or even offspring of someone who wanted to know the inner workings of the crown prince, for one reason or another. It was detrimental, his mother had told him once, a while ago when she still sometimes came around to see her son, that he figure out who worked for who because there were many people who wouldn't like what their men reported and would decide that this was not what they wanted on the throne.

You must show people what they want to see. That is most important for a king.

"Did your old boss teach you to speak?" he asked the boy after he was pretty sure he'd memorized his face. A large, stubby nose, small eyes, round face, dark hair. He looked old, for a dresser, twenty-odd or something of the like.

Realizing he'd made a horrible mistake, the dresser stared fixatedly on the ground and mumbled some sort of an appology. "Anyway," Kirilyr continued, now principally speaking to his father through the servent, now that the sticky subject of the medium had been transversed, "if you must know, she's way too overly romantic. But she's of reasonable intelligence and I believe I shall marry her."

"That is wonderful news!" The boy slipped the prince's shirt off and knelt to remove his breeches, his fingers even lighter now as they pulled the ties. The comically serious expression he bore embarrassed Kirilyr to look at. Belatedly, he remembered he wasn't supposed to talk and coughed. "My appologies, my Lord."

"You're forgiven." Kirilyr reached up to balance his hands on his head, feeling the cool air from the open window against his skin and relishing the feeling. As heir, he was allowed moments of actual nudity for only a few minutes at a time; the longest period he'd ever been in this most vulnerable position was when he was four and took a two-hour bath as part of his communion. "I believe I'll bathe tomorrow morning; I'm going to have to go propose to the Lady d'Viel anyway so I may as well be clean. Just bring me my nightclothes."

The boy said nothing of the servants who had kept Kirilyr's bath warm for the past hour; he just lowered his head and did what he was told without a word. He's gotten good at it. Being a servant.

The nightshirt was a new one. "What is that?" he asked, reaching out to run a finger down the hem. The fabric felt like silk.

"It is a gift. From Lady Cayro d'Viel." A gift from her father, then, in the name of the Lady. Kirilyr considered it, then decided he may as well and let the boy slide it over his torso. It was very heavy. Very heavy and very hot. He wanted it off, would have preferred the cotton nightshirt he'd planned to wear earlier in the day, but his mouth didn't open. A jolt of fear traveled through him, and fuck the shirt was hot.

He was dimly aware of the servant putting his breeches on, and then became aware that they weren't his nightclothes, but the old pair he'd just taken off. "My Lord?" The servant didn't look at him, kept working; tying the ties of his breeches, grabbing his boots off the floor. "Can you hear me, my Lord? Because that would be very inconvenient." Kirilyr could hear him, every word, but his mouth wouldn't open, his mind wouldn't work. He felt dizzy. "Very inconvenient. Okay, my Lord, you will feel a slight falling sensation..."

His body was wracked with heat, on the verge of pain, on the verge of burning alive. He wanted to tear off his clothes and jump in a river- not that he'd ever actually touched a river, but he'd heard that they were often cold- he wanted to scream for help. But he couldn't. He was completely panicked, eyes so wide he felt like they might fall out. He felt himself falling, felt his eyes close fast and hard, and the last thing he thought, the last thing that occurred to him, was what an odd gift a night shirt was for someone's intended.