Chapter Two

He awoke with a headache. A constant, persistent, all-consuming throbbing in his head. It hurt to move, it hurt to think, it to breathe. And the bright rays of sunlight streaming through the cracks of his curtains were accomplishing very little in the way of aid. They were just making it worse. The light was too bright for his eyes, too hot on his skin.

With a pathetic, pained groan, Leiv rolled over in his bed, turning his head away from the light, burrowing into his blankets as he pulled them up and over his head. Upon the horns of Korbrek, he swore he would never drink again. The punishment was too high a price. He was sore, he was achy, thanks to the light he was now blind—though before that his vision had been blurry at best—he still felt vaguely nauseas…

No. No more indulgences. Ever.

Closing his eyes, wincing when even that small movement seemed to hurt, Leiv prayed for some kind of relief. What he got was further aggravation when his door swung open and banged against the wall. When his attendant, Brady, chose to pound his way across the room and slam the breakfast tray he carried upon the bedside table.

Leiv buried his head further into his pillow, clapping his hands tightly around his ears. Vengeance of the mighty Sheldron, if only the torture would end.

Brady continued to stomp about the room, yanking the curtains opening, throwing the windows open, and he might as well have been tossing the bits of clutter to their proper places. That was certainly how it sounded to Leiv.

Tired, angry, more than a little ill, and very obviously not going to be offered a much needed chance to rest, Leiv pushed the covers away and forced himself to sit up. Or try to at least. As the simple act of leveraging his position was proving to put his stomach into a bit of turmoil. He put a hand up to shield his face when the light proved still too much for his weary eyes. "Enough." Leiv winced at his own shouting, not actually certain he even had shouted, given the way Brady carried on as though he had heard nothing.

Taking a couple deep, steadying breaths to calm his stomach, Leiv made a second attempt at sitting up. He mostly managed, except that the arm he was using to support himself gave out, and there was little he could do to keep himself from falling to one side—inevitably the side closest to the table upon which his breakfast tray sat.

The silver tray clattered to the floor with in a spectacular cacophony of sounds: the delicate porcelain of the tea set, the metallic tinkling of the utensils, the splash of liquid, the plop of jams and butters, squish of fresh fruits and bread. All so loud. And the movement so sudden and unexpected, it sent his stomach to rolling, and before he could stop himself—or at least pull himself into a more dignified position—Leiv released the contents of stomach all over his freshly spilled breakfast.

Truth be told, he could not recall actually having eaten that much the night before.

"Oh, Prince Leiv!" Brady's voice pushed its way through the dizzying haze, and Leiv felt the press of cool, hand against his face. "Forgive me, Sire, I thought you asleep."

Leiv struggled to release what he knew was a pathetic groan. He slumped even father over, which only seemed to upset Brady further for some unimaginable reason. "I just need to lie… down." He shut his eyes, wishing like hell Brady would stop poking him and prodding him and just leave him alone to sleep.

"Yes, but, Sire, you cannot sleep in this bed. It's filthy." Leiv only half-heard him, the rest of his attention focused on the horrid pounding that Brady's frantic voice was causing in his ears. Really, if the brat would just leave him be to sleep, there would not be a problem.

An arm wrapped around his waist, loose and unsteady, attempting to lift him upright, support his weight as he was guided to a sitting position. The attempt mostly worked. Until his support suddenly gave out, the arm holding him up slipped, and Leiv fell back. His head knocked against one of the bedposts as he dropped amongst the pillows, jarring him and sending all new pains sluicing through his body.

His stomach twisted and knotted, and he thought he might actually lose whatever little bit remained in his stomach again, but he managed to keep it back. Though only barely.

Taking deep, calming breaths, he turned his head, burying it into the pillow to block out the light, which was still burning his eyes and making him feel a lot sicker. He was also hoping if he burrowed far enough into it, he might manage to block out Brady's insistent voice. Oh Ventstreil, let him die peacefully, that he might suffer no more.

A second attempt was made to lift him, but Leiv resisted that time, forcing what little strength he had into pushing the hands away. Filthy or not, he was staying. Moving required that he move, and so far that had not been working out so well for him. He could just sleep on the not filthy side.

Content with his decision, he closed his eyes, breathing slowly, shallowly. He was only dimly aware of footsteps retreating from the room. Quiet at last, he let his drowsiness over-take him. All his energy had been rather neatly exerted only moments before, and being awake was simply to big a chore. Sleep was nice.

Through the haze of sleep and the thrum of his headache, Leiv thought he heard the murmur of voices. Maybe it was all just a trick of his illness. After all, Brady had left him so he could get some rest, right? He was perfectly warm and content on his not filthy side of the bed.

But no… there the voices went again.

One sounded distressed, more than a little upset. The other was kind of rumbly, tinged with concern, but not overly so… An arm slipped under his shoulders, and Leiv tried to push away from it. He was fine where he was, and he did not want to move anymore. However, he was somewhat hindered both by sleep and the fact that the arm was simply stronger.

"Come along, Prince Leiv. We'll move you somewhere more comfortable." It was the rumbly voice. Deep and soothing and not at all painful to his ears. Maybe it was just because the voice was speaking so softly.

Leiv's world slowly shifted and turned, and he was vaguely aware that he was no longer in his bed, and he might have put up more of a protest, except he found he liked his new location a lot better. The rumbly voice was right—this was more comfortable. It was a lot warmer, too. The pillow was a bit firmer, but it was soft, and it smelled nice. Like beeswax and fresh honey and any other things he could not consciously think up at that moment.

With a contented sigh, Leiv settled more comfortably in his new bed, burrowing his into his sweet-smelling pillow.

--/--

"Brady," Wes spoke softly, carefully. His voice still held some authority, however, as Brady immediately ceased his agitated shuffling. "Have another bed prepared for the prince. Send, too, for Master Prior."

"Aye, sire. I will have him put in the grey room, across the hall." Brady delivered a hasty bow and departed

Wes smiled down at the prince, now curled comfortably in his arms. One of his hands lifted the slightest bit to rest with the palm flat against Wes' chest. Then he sighed, seeming content at last, nuzzling his face against Wes' shoulder as he settled and stilled. Asleep.

He almost looked peaceful. But the dark rings around his eyes, sweat-damp hair clinging to the sides of his face, the obvious pallor to his normally vibrant features gave him away. So did the mess Prince Leiv had managed to make all over his breakfast. The prince was well and truly sick.

Still, though, Wes could not help but smile. This made the second before the span of a full day could pass, that he found himself holding Prince Leiv. Both times merely by chance, although it also seemed to chance he had actively been seeking the prince.

The first time on a matter of business he thought might be of some importance to Prince Leiv. This time Wes had been on his way to check how the prince was fairing. The prince had fainted dead into Wes' arms the previous night. Part of him felt an obligation to look in on him; the other part—the bigger part—had simply wanted to.

Prince Leiv was normally very active and engaging. He would spend no fewer than three hours each morning in the yard, practicing his sword, inviting any who wished to challenge him. Often, when he was finished with that, he would sit upon the wall, far out of harms way and watch the dragoons in their routine. In the evenings he would sit down with them and listen to their conversations, ask questions, learn.

But he had not been out to practice that morning. Nor did absence from the wall go unnoticed by Wes' fellow dragoons. To say that he was concerned would have been understating the point drastically.

Of course, Wes would be lying if he did not admit that he had also simply missed seeing the prince. Even if it was only for just a few moments, Prince Leiv did always appear to watch and observe. That he had not that morning…

There was a light knock against the door, and a small blond head appeared in the doorway. "Excuse me… Mister Dragoon, sir. The prince's new room is ready."

"Thank you, Laura." Wes smiled as the girl gasped, cheeks tinting the slightest shade of pink. He winked as passed her going out the door and stepped across the hall into the room Brady had mentioned earlier.

To call it 'the grey room' was performing a severe injustice to the décor, Wes, thought. Silver rather seemed more appropriate. The walls were painted in a pale, pale shade that was clearly grey. However, the fabric of the chairs—a striped pattern of light and dark steel shades—the curtains, the bedding, the tiles of the floor, the rugs, even the ties pulling the curtains back from the windows shimmered with a distinctive gloss that rivaled that of the candelabra. Silver to match Prince Leiv's eyes…

Shaking his head at himself, Wes looked back toward the door, "Laura," he continued to speak quietly, but she had been hovering by the door, and was quick to bob a curtsy when he called her name. "Would you please draw the curtains closed." She nodded eagerly, bright blond curls bouncy, and rushed to carry out his request. Brady would likely fuss about it, but the prince had seemed to make it quite clear through his behavior that he found the light disturbing. Wes imagined Brady's efficiency sometimes got ahead of him; he meant well, he just did not always think.

Wes strode on to the bed as the curtains swished and the light in the room dimmed. The coverings had already been pulled away, excess pillows piled neatly against one wall. Ready and waiting for the prince.

Except the prince did not seem quite as willing. Upon settling Prince Leiv upon the crisp, fresh sheets, Wes found he was not quite able to pull away. Largely due to the hand that clutched as his tunic, although the head nestled against his shoulder, pinning his own arm to the pillow might also have been a factor.

"He doesn't seem to want to let you go, does he, Mister Dragoon Sir?" Laura stood upon the other side of the bed, hands clasped demurely before her.

"It would appear that way…" Wes slowly slid his arm from beneath the prince's head, carefully guiding it to rest against the soft pillow. The prince frowned in his sleep, moaning quietly and shifting the slightest bit towards Wes.

Laura's hand flew to cover her mouth as light, tinkling giggles escaped. "I think he likes sleeping with you more, sir."

Wes only smiled, grateful for the darkness in the room as it hid the sudden heat that flooded to his face. He was a dragoon for Bellentir's sake! The innocent observations of a little girl should not leave him blushing like one…

"He's only sick and seeking comfort. He'd cling to the tail of a dragon, should one happen close enough to his reach."

"But he pushed Mister Brady away…"

He was saved from having to think up an appropriate response to that observation by a boisterous, though severely quieted laugh. Wes hung his head. "Careful there, Sweetie. He might start thinking it isn't all one-sided." Not really saved, more just prevented from having to answer for himself.

"Colt." Wes glared at the man grinning at him from the doorway. People always mistook him for a charmer. Something about the way his dark hair framed his face and made him looking almost boyish. Of course, those people never saw him when he was not being charming, either. "Smith." As it also followed for the man standing just behind Colt.

Smith raised an amused eyebrow, one corner of his mouth quirking up the slightest. "You missed rotation." He brushed a stray, rust-colored strand of hair back from his face, frowning when it immediately fell back into place. Some days he might wish for his brother's build or brute strength, but Wes would ever be glad he was not the one cursed with their mother's fussy, untamable hair. "And Bren said you never came in to inspect the armory."

"I had other duties to attend to." He really wished they would stop looking at him like that.

Colt snickered. "So we see. Although I can't recall precisely now where on a dragoon's list of duties that falls: tending ailing princes." He gave Wes another of his teasing grins, green eyes flashing with mischief, as he stepped further into the room, glancing around as he did so. "This isn't Prince Leiv's room…"

"No, Sir. His Highness, the Prince… he took sick again. Except Mister Brady couldn't carry him, and I think maybe Mister Brady even hurt him, but then Mister Wesson came, and brought him in here." Laura beamed, curls bouncing and scattering, as she finished her explanation and swept Colt a somewhat faulty bow. It was rather cute, actually, a girl barely ten summers bowing so respectfully if not awkwardly before a man easily four times her size.

Not that Colt was paying any attention; he had found something else to latch on to. "Really?" He gave Wes a speculative, teasing look. "Really, Wes? Once wasn't enough?"

Wes just sighed, dropping his head and pinching the bridge of his nose with his hand—his free hand, as apparently the prince had managed to grab onto the other one. Whatever was in reach, he had told Laura… He was probably fortunate Laura was still in the room. "Did you need something?"

"Oh no, we're fine now." Colt took another look around the room. "Grey… you put him in the grey room." He raised his eyebrows at Wes. "Any particular reason why you chose the grey room?"

"Brady made the decision." A fact he was very glad for now, though all the same, he wished now the decision had been for the green room. One less thing for Colt to latch onto.

"It just worked out well for you." Or Smith for that matter.

He gave his brother an exasperated glare. "You know, he is actually very sick. You could show some concern about that." And leave him the hell alone, because honestly… none of this was his fault. He certainly had not planned any of this. Not ever in his wild dreams. It was all just… accident and circumstance.

Smith shrugged, giving way to a quiet burst of chuckles. "Why? You're showing enough of that for the three of us."

"Yeah, we're just here to make sure you stay grounded."

"I'm not that pathetic." Though maybe he could not have helped a few moments at least of wishful thinking…

Colt glanced at Smith, who only shook his head back. "I don't know, you were doing a rather good job of looking it from the doorway."

"You know, you can both leave now."

"How about you all leave?"

They all three turned at the sound of the new, stern, and completely unamused voice that had spoken. The healer, Master Prior glared angrily as his gaze passed from one occupant to the other. "The girl is fine, but I see no reason for one, never mind three, dragoons to be lumbering around Prince Leiv's rooms. Especially while he is ill." His eyes landed finally and resolutely on Wes. "Though your presence and assistance has certainly been appreciated these past few days, I think it would be best now if you left the prince to get his rest."

"Of course, sir. Forgive me," Wes inclined in a short, half-bow, gently extricated his hand from the prince's grasp—who gave a shaky sigh and reached out as though to grab it again—and stepped away from the bed. He gave a meaningful look as he passed the other two, both of whom rolled their eyes before sketching rather hasty bows of their own. Honestly, he was the youngest, should not they be reminding him of his manners?

From the hallway, he could hear Brady shuffling about in the other room, calling out orders and demands to whatever poor servants he had dragged with him to clean Prince Leiv's room. Personally, Wes rather thought the prince should stay in the grey room. It… suited him more. Never mind matching his coloring, the design was simpler, devoid of the flashing decorations. More fitting to the prince's personality.

Shaking his head at himself, Wes turned down the hall, heading for the wing that accessed a set of stairs that would take him directly to the barracks. It was a room by Shirok's grace, and it certainly was not his room.

He barely noticed as the other two fell into step on either side of him. Or at least pretended not to noticed. Until Colt landed a fist into his arm in what was probably intended a friendly attempt at garnering his attention. Sometimes, Colt forgot his own strength, though because that was going to leave a healthy bruise. If not make wielding his weapons more difficult.

"You're not going to stay and fight for the right to stay by your prince?" It sounded innocent enough, but given the speaker, Wes was inclined to doubt it really was.

Fighting against the flush he could feel creeping up his neck, Wes passed another glare at Colt. For all the good it did. The man was completely immune. "Master Prior was correct—we were in the way." He turned away, staring straight ahead as they descended the stairs, entering a darker, less ornate hallway. "And he is not my prince."

"ah… He's pouting, Colt." Brotherly love be damned, he was going to make Smith pay for that later on the field.

"Silly. All the clinging going on, I'd say Prince Leiv is very clearly someone's."

"Oh for the love of…" Wes dropped his head in his hands and prayed for patience. "He was asleep. Can you wrap you little mind around that? He probably would have clung to you were our positions switched."

"He's pouting again." On the other hand, why wait until they reached the training fields to pound his brother into a bloody pulp?

"Korbrek grant me patience…"

"Invoking that old geezer will do you no good." Colt gave a disgusted snort, throwing one large arm heavily over Wes' shoulder and throwing him off step. "If you want my advice—"

"I don't."

Colt continued talking right over Wes, unperturbed either by his glare or the elbow digging into his side. "You should just turn right back around, barge back into that room, and demand your right to stay by your prince's side until he gets better." He winked as he pulled his arm away.

Smith shrugged in a way that implied his agreement. "Master Prior's just in a foul mood because you moved the prince without authorization."

It was difficult to tell sometimes, if they were actually on his side, or if they just liked teasing him. "I don't have a right—" Wes stopped when he felt a gentle tugging on his tunic. He turned. And looked down. Laura stared back up at him— Great Galvestri, how did her neck not break from looking up—eyes wide and a little anxious and sounding more than a little out of breath.

"Excuse me, Mister Dragoon Sir…"

Wes dropped down to one knee before her. "Yes, Laura?"

"I think you need to come back." She chewed on her bottom lip, clasping her friends in front of her as though waiting for a response. Or for him to stand up and go back.

"What's wrong, Laura?" Because she looked distressed, but she also just looked expectant.

Laura took a deep breath. "Mister Prior said all his Highness the Prince needed was some rest and quiet so he left, and then Mister Brady came in and said he would watch over him, but the Prince doesn't like Mister Brady, and now he won't stay still, and Mister Brady wanted me to fetch Mister Prior again, but the Prince wasn't very still for him either, but he wasn't like that when you were there so I got you instead." She closed her mouth with a snap and resumed biting her lip.

Behind him, Colt erupted into a fit of laughter, roaring loud enough to rattle the foundations. Or at least it seemed that way. Smith just gave him a couple hearty claps on the back and thrust something against his chest. Wes glanced down to take whatever it was before his brother dropped it in his amusement. A book and his glasses case. "Why do you have…?"

Smith winked at him as he stood up, smile practically splitting his face. And that was obviously the only answer he would get on how or why his brother had even thought to bring either along with him. "You'll need something to pass the time." He glanced at Laura. "Makes sure he takes good care of our prince, Laura."

"Oh," Laura ducked a quick bow, cheeks flushed the tiniest bit, "yes, Sir!" When she straightened up she turned expectant eyes to Wes. He nodded and indicated she should lead the way. Laura smiled, nodded again, and bounced away. Wes followed along behind her, Colt's echoing laughter chasing after him.

Blessed Aydrelle, all he had done was catch a falling prince.