Alright, so, another story. This one, much like Broken Alchemy, will probably end up as a trilogy. With all the thoughts running through my head, it would be hard to fit it all in just this one series of events. (:

Normally I'd be more diverse in what I write. You know, balance out the past fantasy with some future grunge. But it's been a long while since I've done any hardcore fantasy, so I suppose my imagination wants to take me for a spin.

Anyway read, enjoy, review. Constructive criticism is always welcomed!


When I was a young boy, the city of Merova was known to be the golden city of the north. There even the peasants were fed and the wharf, full of its poor and downtrodden, was easy on the eyes. It was the capitol city and home of the king and his four sons, marvelous banquets for the rich, and festivals shared by all. I was the son of a seamstress and while the profession never really gave her much coin, it was enough that we could pay off our landlord and keep bread on the table. Even, if she saved for a while, the rare luxury of bacon. Bacon was my favorite food, most likely because I never ate it often and so it was imprinted on my brain as something special and delicious.

I lived in the wharf. Pigsties were neighbors with homes, which were in turn neighbors with brightly painted, though often rundown, shops. And wherever people could, they would plant. It kept the wharf somewhat attractive, and the smell of flowers helped to hide away the smell of the sewage that met its end in the ocean, right at the edge of the wharf. My mother and I didn't have a share in the sewage system, of course. That was something for the upper class. But no one complained, because we weren't ignored like the poor in other cities. We actually had guards who patrolled, though not as much as the inner city. These guards wouldn't take advantage of us either. Well, not often. For every two good guards, there would be one bad. And it seemed to us that the bad ones were punished, so we didn't complain about that, either.

The wharf had received cleanings, too, once every two months. Thorough cleanings that helped rid the wharf of the smell of sewage entirely for at least two weeks before it began to return. We, the people of the wharf, were spoiled. We knew it, and we were quite content to rub it in the faces of our country bumpkin cousins. We knew it, and so we did not complain about not being allowed in the inner city. The rich were allowed to come into the wharf whenever they felt like being adventurous, however. They rarely had any qualms about talking down to us, or scrunching up their noses at the smells. We, however, knew better than to talk our crude language to them, or to scrunch up our noses at their impossibly fake perfumes and powdered appearances. We just pretended we couldn't understand what they said, or that we were deaf, and carried on with our work. It was easy, seeing that our work often required much manual labor and equal amounts of attention.

Merova, the complicated fortress city it was, was built like a circle within a circle. On the outward ring and facing to the west was the wharf. It was the largest ring, seeing as the poor and middle class held the largest populations, and our ring contained all gates to sea ports into Merova. At night, the gates leading out to the sea ports would be closed. In contrast, the gates leading into the inner city were always closed, so it was like we held our own private land. The inner ring, well, I could have only speculated about it. But the other children liked to murmur quietly behind bales of hay that it was a city made of glass, and the castle was set into the Merovian Mountains, and that the only way to get up to the castle was from the lifts powered by the waterfalls the castle sits on. I never believed those tales.

However, on the eve on my eighteenth birthday, I got the chance to find out.

Every four years the king held a week-long festival in which the rich and poor were able to mingle freely, openly, and without reserve in both the inner and outer city. During the day it was all traveling performers putting on amusing shows, shops boasting discounts – And which the rich freely paid for the poor on small things - and exotic items, and bakeries giving away free sweets. It was all well and good, but it was during the night that the real parties began, particularly when you're a teenager still reveling in a new kind of heat.

Suddenly, after the sun goes down, the amusing street performers turn into exotic dancers. The respectable men and women chattering amiably during the day turn into coy men and women of the night. It is no longer free pastries being given out, but free wine, and the shops were selling plants that induce pleasant smells and hallucinations when burned instead of the odd trinkets and knickknacks. You didn't even have to buy the plants, really. They were strung up from lanterns hanging all around the inner city, bright and colorful and laugh inducing if you inhaled too much at once, but you didn't really mind because it caused pleasant and warm coils of something in your stomach.

However due to the… adult nature of the night festival, you had to be a certain age in order to be out of your house past curfew to attend. That age was sixteen, but due to its four year lapse, I didn't get to attend on my sixteenth birthday. But that was alright. Right then, on the eve of my eighteenth birthday, I was pulling on the best deerskin pants I have, and the best cotton shirt. Where the pants were stiff, the shirt was open and billowing, so it was alright. It evened out. And then I did one of the most difficult things in my eighteen years of life; I lied to my mother.

She had approached me earlier that evening at our small kitchen table and had said with anxious gray eyes and spider-silk wisps of peppered hair in her face, "Alex, you won't go to the night festival will you?" She was wringing her hands, red and blistered and callused from all the times she's pierced her skin from long hours of sewing with sharp needles. I looked up, carefully, and resisted the urge to chew on my bottom lip as I rehearsed the lie I've been repeating to myself for the past hour, "No, of course not." I even added in a bright smile, but I couldn't stop myself from chewing my bottom lip. Mother still seemed anxious, alternating her slight weight from one foot to the other before she gave a firm, quiet nod to herself and stepped up to give me an awkward hug. It ended quickly. "Good," she smiled carefully, "Good." And then she disappeared up the creaking stairs to, I assume, settle in for the night.

I stood on the bottom level of our home for a long moment, mimicking my mother's alternating foot pattern before I finally sat down on one of the stools I made a few years prior. That was the only thing my mother and I had in common, really. Our hands. While they're callused for different reasons – Mine for working with wood and metal, hers for sewing – they were callused all the same and, for her, a bit more on the masculine side. We both had strong hands. For me, that was fine. They were proportionate to me. For her, they seemed awkward like a pup yet to grow into his paws. But our hands were still the same. Everything else was different.

For her lank peppered hair that was once a lively brown, I had blond hair to my shoulders that was still lively and often pulled back into a haphazard tie. It was annoying, really. No matter how much I tried to keep it back, a few strands still managed to get into my face. Where her face was near gaunt and sallow, mine was distinctly… not. My face was as strong as any eighteen year olds could be with enough softness around the edges that told of my age. Handsome, my cousin Sara would like to tease me. Handsome if it wasn't for my full lips and "naively curious" hazel-gray eyes. She said I could probably pull off the come hither look quite well, if I just learned to mask how dull I was about certain things. And if I gave a smile different from the "boy who loves the world" one. Yes, Sara was a lovely cousin. Back to the point. My mother was petite and short. I was not. I worked too much in manual labor for that to be the case, and I was a bit on the tall side, for a peasant. Lean, like those swimmers who would constantly race each other just off the ports for money. And I was tan like those swimmers, too. My mother was sickly pale.

I looked like my father. My mother looked like my mother.

And tonight I was proving I'm more alike to my father than just appearance. I hoped my mother could forgive me.

I stood up from the stool and gave a nasty cringe as it scraped loudly against the floor. I didn't mean for that, but glancing hastily at the stairs has proven that my mother was not, despite my paranoia, going to come storming down, hasty and pleading to beg me not to go. She would know where I was going. She would. And that made me swallow a heavy breath of air, carefully put the stool back in place, and creep out the front door.

"About time." Marick greeted with a broad grin and a brighter hug as I quietly closed the door behind me. I shot him a look and he shoved off me, frowning. "You know if you keep pouting like that, someone's going to mistaken you for a call boy." I sputtered for a moment, before I regained my senses and shoved him away from my home. And me. "Relax! Like anyone would buy you." Marick rolled his eyes at some joke I couldn't understand, and wrapped an arm around my shoulders, leading me away from my home. And, more accurately, to the inner city. "Isn't it great? You can finally be an adult!" I couldn't prevent myself from smiling at that, stumbling along with him down the poorly cobbled streets. We looked like a pair of drunks, but then, just about everyone else around was actually drunk and hooting with laughter, so I suppose it didn't matter.

I finally turned my smile to him, "I'm still more of an adult than you," and he had the nerve to look insulted. "You wound me. I take you under my wing and you wound me." Marick collapsed against my side and then proceeded to cry and bawl and whine in what he probably thought was a very convincing display of acting skills. Too bad for him. I trudged along against his weight. "Come on, damsel. There's a festival we must attend and people we need to see." That perked him up, and it was back to him dragging me and not the other way around.

The inner city was everything I imagined it to be.

While the grand buildings weren't made of glass, they may as well have been considering the bright way the stone reflected the light from performer torches, plant burning lanterns, and the moon wide in the sky. The ladies and gentlemen who were used to this extravagance of leisurely hanging plants strewn all about and call men and women and fancy dress were lounging against stone benches, drinking wine and admiring, quite openly, anyone attractive who crossed their line of sight. This ranged from performers with their exotic and dangerous dances with only their scant excuses of clothing for protection, to each other, to the serving men and women with wine, all the way to… us. I gulped, noisily, as an aristocrat of the male persuasion with bright eyes and even brighter hair gave me an unabashed smile. Maybe it was a bad idea to bathe that day. Or to wear my best clothes.

Marick spun me by the shoulder; spoke as loudly as he could into my ear against all the noise of the festival. "Come on! Sara and Caleb are in another district." I nodded a quick agreement and let myself be guided away from this district, and the aristocrat who had found me interesting.

The district we ended up in was much the same as the other. Extravagant, plants everywhere, painfully attractive people of the night, and servers weaving carefully past performers, bearing wine for whoever wanted it. The only difference was that the people around here seemed closer to my age and thus rowdier, and that there seemed to be more… whores mingling around. I felt a persistent tug on my sleeve. "Come on, over there." I moved to follow Marick's pale head, carefully pressing my way through a drunk and barely clothed crowd, before I heard a smooth voice speak out, "My, what a pretty thing." The almost bored drawl came from my right, so I turned to my right.

The performer – At least, I hoped he was a performer – was taller than me and had the same lean build as me. Though the way his muscles moved carefully under his skin suggested dancer, and not laborer. And it was a fair bit of skin that I saw. It was gleaming with some heady smelling oil, and what wasn't bared to the world was only vaguely hidden behind a somewhat transparent article of black that ended just short of his thighs. There was a large slit up it, giving a view of his entire right thigh and chest. In contrast, it was his right arm that had the billowing sleeve. His left had none. The embroidery of copper and gold towards the end of the garment was the only thing that gave the outfit complexity. He was barefoot, with cloth anklets riddled with metallic beads. Around his neck was a wide assortment of dangling necklaces of beads and metal in a variety of colors. Resting across his shoulders was a feathered boa in blues and greens. It had one peacock feather. Some parrot feathers underneath it, and mingled within them, a red rose.

His face was an oddly beautiful thing, olive tan like the rest of him, androgynous somewhat, though distinctly male, and complimented by kohl-rimmed hazel eyes with a sharply lazy look. Well, I assume he has two eyes. The one was hidden by wild dark orange hair, probably because he did a poor job of tying back his hair with a piece of black cloth and dangling coins. And it didn't contain his hair, not really. It was all over the place, cascading down the small of his back and tangled in his dangling earrings.

It was only when he moved to take a step forward and I was assaulted with that heady smell that I realized I was staring, but I did not take a step back. He could have smiled in appreciation, but it was hard to tell. It was too caught up in the smell, and the realization that he has a very small birthmark, just beneath the visible eye. "It is rude to stare." I resisted the urge to bite my lip, and instead looked quickly off to the side. A finger, its nail sharp, tipped my head back in the androgynous man's direction. It was then I noted an assortment of bangles sliding down his arm. "What is your name?" His bored drawl made it sound like a statement, not a question, but I answered all the same, "Alexander." He smiled then, and it was as lazy and sharp as his voice.

And then he turned away, back towards a stage I hadn't noticed before, I noted with some relief. I was entirely forgotten. "Alex!" For once I was grateful that Marick's voice was unusually loud, and his pale blond hair obnoxiously obvious. I spotted him out immediately, and trotted to meet up with him. "Where were you?" I shrugged my shoulders, not really wanting to look back to the performer, and suggested that we meet up with Caleb and Sara. He snorted, nose scrunched up in a way that didn't suit him. Well, probably no better than it would suit me, at least. "We were looking for you, twit. Wondered if someone took advantage of you with those plant-burners." He pointed up to the burning lanterns strung from the buildings for emphasis, and turned to lead the way back to our friends.

I didn't let anything else distract me because, to be honest, I was uncomfortable under the performer's attention. And the aristocrat's. So when we reached our friends, tucked away on some bench near a large fountain and, in Caleb's case, frolicking in the fountain with some other people our age, I gratefully sat on the ground and leaned my back against the bench. "Where were you?" Sara – Same Sara as my cousin – had her face screwed up in that familiar way when she couldn't understand something. I turned, and nearly sputtered when I ended up kissing her knee. Well, she was sitting on the bench, after all… "He was with some performer. Probably looking for a way to lose his virginity." Marick waggled his eyebrows from his sprawl on the bench in what he probably thought was a very suggestive manner. I snorted, and so did Sara. Caleb came frolicking back with a wine glass in his hand, looking devilishly bright. "Really?" He seemed far too happy to ask that. "I want to watch!"

"Yes, because your face is what anyone would want to see in the bed." Sometimes I genuinely did love Sara's sarcasm. But then Sara turned on me, brown eyes suspicious as she asked, "Is it true?" I sputtered, shocked. Naturally, Marick took my few moments of floundering to answer for me. "Of course! We all know that's the only way he's going to lose it." Caleb frowned in overdone sympathy and offered me his wine glass. I glared, and waved over one of the wandering servers for my own. It took the man a few moments to get through the crowd, and so I gave him a very grateful smile and thank you when he finally got to me.

"But is it true?" I sipped the wine, wary, and took the moment to not address Sara's question. Hopefully I wasn't squirming a terrible amount. "No, it's not true. No matter what Marick says." I added that in too hastily, I knew, and Sara's turning to Marick just confirmed it. She repeated her question to him, and he just propped himself up, messed with his thin cotton shirt, and gave a knowing shrug. Caleb howled with laughter, his awkward face lit up with pleasant surprised, and Sara turned scandalized eyes on me.

Me, who never disliked the idea of the festival more. I hastily finished the bitter wine, and looked off to a shop still open across the street. Hoping to distract my friends from my embarrassment, I rose to my feet, set the wine glass on the lip of the fountain, and turned to them with anxiously beseeching eyes which was pathetic, I knew. "Right. So. Let's do something." I didn't wait for Marick's groans of protest, Sara's snort of amusement, or Caleb's cry of, "Look! He's blushing!" No, no, I didn't wait, I was already working my way through a less dense part of the crowd.

Only to nearly get rundown by a horse.

The horse was white, it was massive, and on its back was a very shocked looking crowned prince. I quickly stumbled back into the waiting arms of my friends, and watched him watch me knowing in my gut that he was waiting for an apology, something, anything but I'm silent, and why am I silent? And it was very distressing that I couldn't find the answer so my mouth was opening and closing, opening and closing, and he was still watching me with these ridiculously pale blue eyes and- "Are you alright, sir?" And he spoke first. And he was dismounting his horse. And I probably would've stumbled back more if someone's hand – Sara's, I mutely think – didn't hold me in place and force me into a small bow. My voice came out gruffer than I meant it to. "I am sorry, my lord."

I chanced letting my eyes look up, and the prince looked as politely disgusted, displeased, as he possibly could have. He was handsome, I knew. He was what women fantasized about when they believed their husbands were away, and I could understand why. Older than me by four years, he was the classic rogue handsome with straight chestnut hair pulled back in a velvet clasp because court word required it, a sharply exotic face from his mother's side, full lips, pale blue almond shaped eyes and a small scar just in the right corner of his mouth that left people to their imaginations. Tan and gracefully built, too, from swordplay in the sun.

He was as tall as me, dressed in the finest dark leather coin could by and, currently, he seemed like he was deciding what to do with me. Whether my current inability to speak and act properly had to do with almost getting rundown by horse or if I was just naturally stupid, most likely. Finally he turned to address my friends with a lilting and barely there smirk, and said in a quiet voice, "Enjoy the festival." And then he carefully took his patient mare by the reigns and led her to a tavern where he briefly spoke to an elderly man sitting outside. The elderly man nodded, accepted something from the prince's hand, and took the mare's reigns to lead her behind the tavern. The prince turned and left, disappearing into the crowd that didn't even seem to notice he was there.

"That was the crowned prince, Seregil!" And that was a screech and a shove from Sara. I would've turned to scowl at her, but I was still recovering from the fact that I just made a loony ass out of myself in front of royalty. Fortunately, Sara's giddy exclamations were cut short by an observant Caleb, who waltzed over and plucked something up off the ground. "What's this?" And in an attempt to answer his own question, he opened the small leather bag and dumped its contents out.

Coin. Lots of coin. A year's worth of hard manual labor, and a small bonus.

Caleb and Sara both stared with wide eyes and, to be honest, I probably did too. It was Marick who stepped up, crouched down, and critically eyed the coins now in a pile on the ground. "We should keep it," he said, and the affect was instantaneous. Caleb looked excitedly back and forth between Marick and Sara, asking quite hopefully, "Can we?" Marick was nodding vigorously. It was Sara who moved forward and crouched to begin putting the coins back into their leather pouch. "Of course not. They belong to the prince." She said this in a very matter of fact manner, and it was enough that both Marick and Caleb fell to silence for several moments as Sara continued to put the coins away. I was still frozen to the spot. But then Marick sprung to his feet, Caleb danced back, and Sara got knocked over in the process with an angry scowl on her face. "The prince hardly needs it!" Marick, shouting. "Yes, but it is hardly ours to take! Let alone from one of the people who make this place safe!" Sara, rising both to the bait and to her feet. Caleb was back on his knees, trying to shove the coins into the pouch as quickly as possible.

"Tell him, Alex!" I looked up, startled, to find two expectant pairs of eyes staring at me and unsure which person called my name. But I know what I'm going to agree with, so I turn to face Marick with a shrug and an explanation of, "I'm sorry, Marick, but the penalty for stealing from royalty isn't worth the coin." The scowl on his face said he knew it too, but wasn't happy about it. That was fine. It was all fine. I wasn't nervous, just stiff. That's all. Caleb finished gathering up the coins, stood up, and wiped at the dirt that collected on his breeches. "Right then," he paused, looked at all of us expectantly, "Who's going to take the coins back to the crown prince?"

Sara spoke up before Marick even got the chance to open his mouth. "We all will. He's less likely to think we've stolen from him, that way." But Marick was shaking his head and giving a careful shrug of his shoulders. That was a good thing about him. Once he has accepted that he would not get his way, he would quickly move on. His voice was quiet, and he was watching the drunkards passing with too keen eyes. "No, he's more likely to believe all of us are trying to get a reward." He nodded his head to me, "Alex goes. He acted like a blundering fool in front of the prince. He wouldn't believe that he had the gall to steal from him." Which was true. I wouldn't. But it didn't stop me from tensing up, or my face from going carefully blank.

But I accepted the pouch all the same, hid it within my open shirt, and disappeared into the crowd.

The crowned prince shouldn't be so hard to find.

And so went my first meeting with the prince.


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