A/N: Since I'm working on rewriting this, I figured I'd put all the chapters back up in full. Go ahead and enjoy it, for old time's sake!
Chapter One: Wandering Eyes
It was early. Too early. Kieran knew he had only gone to sleep a few hours ago, so why did he feel Fidele's rough hand touching his face. Was it a dream? The young prince lifted his hand to cover that of Fidele. It felt real. But Kieran supposed the only way to tell for sure was to open his eyes and see if the intimidating form of his massive bodyguard really was looming over him, lit up in eerie shadows from the flames dancing slowly in the fireplace behind him. Exhaling a soft huff of disappointment at having been disturbed from his sleep, Kieran willed his heavy eyelids open. After a second or two of fluttering tiredly, brown eyes fought against the darkness to make out Fidele's familiar face. When the bodyguard lifted his hand from Kieran's cheek, the prince held onto it stubbornly as he turned his face into the pillow beneath his head in clear protest of being woken up at such an hour.
Sleep here, in this bed with me, Kieran would have liked to say to Fidele. That cot is pathetic. There's plenty of room for you here. Next to me. But he never said it. Fidele would never accept such an offer, and Kieran didn't know if he could bear the rejection. It wasn't a matter of feelings. It was a matter of duty. Fealty and servitude. Knowing one's place among others. Perhaps the prince could have ordered it. Did it mean the same thing that way, though? He had considered it many a time, but the thought didn't sit well with him at all, thus Kieran had never actually given such a command to his bodyguard.
"Wake up, your highness." Fidele's voice was low and smooth, gently slipping through the air and into Kieran's ear like a deep, rich stream of silk.
"I give the orders around here," Kieran reminded his bodyguard, the words muffled by his pillow.
"With all due respect, Prince Kieran, your parents' orders take precedence over yours," Fidele reminded the prince, torn between his amusement at the young prince and the urgency of the situation. He curled his fingers around Kieran's wrist and took a step backwards, dragging the prince toward the edge of the bed, away from his pillow and out from under the blanket he had sought refuge underneath. Though Kieran wasn't all that small, Fidele was quite large, making it a fairly easy task for him to manhandle the stubborn prince if the occasion called for it. After a bit of a struggle, Fidele managed to seize Kieran's other wrist, and raised his arms up over his head, forcing the prince to either put his feet on the ground underneath himself, or dangle as though his wrists were shackled in chains hanging from the ceiling.
"I hate you," Kieran pouted up at Fidele.
"You'll be grateful for me one day, Kieran," Fidele replied, releasing his hold on the prince's wrists and lowering his own arms as Kieran let his fall to his sides unceremoniously.
It would have been a perfect moment for a kiss, Kieran decided, as he glowered. He would only have to raise himself up to his tip-toes and close a small distance. They were very close, their chests almost touching, only a tiny breadth away from each other. Barely enough space to slip a thin curtain between them. But that invisible curtain was impassable. Kieran's expression softened and a moment passed during which the two remained caught in each other's gaze. These moments were not rare between the prince and his bodyguard, who spent every second of every day together. In fact, Kieran reckoned that there must have been many hours lost in this manner. And he didn't want those hours back. He wouldn't say that he was content to spend time locked in an intent stare down that left him aching with an overwhelming sexual tension; that was unbelievably frustrating. But he would rather spend his time that way than most other methods of passing the hours.
"Have you finished resisting?" Fidele finally asked, one side of his mouth curled upward in a crooked grin that he just couldn't manage to hide any longer.
Kieran answered that question with one of his own, his lips still pursed in a displeased frown. "Why am I awake so early?" he demanded, taking a step backward so he had the space to fold his arms across his chest in a statement of defiance. His eyes wandered to the window to see there were still stars twinkling in the sky outside. "It's still nighttime."
"Indeed it is," Fidele nodded as his hand found Kieran's shoulder and gave him a gentle push in the proper direction, the direction of his wardrobe. "We need the cover darkness will provide. Now, get dressed. Warmly, because there is a wind that will bite to your bones."
"Or I could just stay inside," Kieran suggested cynically as he browsed disinterestedly through some of his clothes. "I don't want to leave."
Growing impatient with the fact that Kieran had no regard for the urgency of the situation, Fidele stepped forward and began to take the liberty of helping him get dressed. "I know you don't. And I would never defy your orders but for your safety," he began, forcing a shirt over the prince's head with a bit more force than he intended. Kieran's dark head popped out looking slightly disheveled. He reached up to push a few of the black strands from his eyes and glared up at Fidele. "Forgive me. But this is urgent, Kieran. It's not safe for you here anymore."
At those words, the prince rolled his eyes and turned away from his bodyguard to head for the fireplace. Civil unrest. It was so…inconvenient. Kieran had thought all of this rebellion was finished since the uprising had been crushed last spring, but apparently he was wrong. He found it all really quite stupid; if people would just listen to each other, then everything could be easily settled. Unfortunately, things never could be easy, could they? No, things always had to be as difficult as possible, it seemed. Pursing his lips in a thoughtful pout, Kieran wrapped his arms around himself and stared into the swaying flames that wrapped him in a delightful blanket of warmth when he stood so close to them. "I hate the world, Fidele. I really do," he said flatly.
Another moment with such romantic potential. How perfect would it have been if Fidele would have taken Kieran into his arms, kissed him with a protective tenderness, and assured the prince that he would fix the world singlehandedly if he had to, just to see that beautiful smile of his? Too perfect. Instead, Fidele placed his hand on the prince's shoulder and pulled until they stood face to face. "We'll come back as soon as it's over. I promise," he told the prince. He didn't want to take Kieran away from his sanctuary, but he had no choice. An intruder had been caught inside the castle that night, an assassin sent to do away with the prince. Through sealed doors they had slipped in, silent and invisible like a black wind in the darkness. Somewhere inside the castle was a traitor, and the only way to ensure the prince's safety was to take him away.
"It won't ever be over," Kieran murmured. Nonetheless, he surrendered and cooperated with his bodyguard in preparation for their journey back home to the capital city, where the castle walls were taller and thicker, and the guards far more numerous. Kieran didn't really think it was any safer there. More people meant greater odds that one of them was a spy or a conspirator. The real reason they were going home was for peace of mind. To Kieran, as long as he had Fidele at his side, he was safe no matter the location.
Safe from rebels, anyway. There probably wasn't anything that could keep him safe from the vicious attack of the frozen air against his skin. The sudden sting of the icy weather caused Kieran to inhale sharply upon stepping outside of the castle behind Fidele. His face took the worst of the bite as the rest of his body was wrapped tightly in a fur cloak, but he could still feel the chill seeping through the seams of his layers. Pulling the wrap tighter around himself didn't seem to help much. When he exhaled, his breath gleamed silver in the light of the moon.
"Crossing the mountains during autumn is definitely the best way to keep me from dying," Kieran remarked cynically, glancing up at Fidele from the corner of his eye as he came to a halt next to where his bodyguard had stopped. He leaned into Fidele slightly, in hopes of stealing some of the massive man's body heat for himself.
"Kieran, please," Fidele requested softly, sounding a bit weary. It had been known to happen on occasion. When Fidele was stressed, he could only take so much of the prince's attitude. But what could it be that had Kieran's bodyguard so tense? The prince looked downward at Fidele's hand. This would have been the perfect moment to entwine their fingers to remind Fidele that, even though he was technically the one who was supposed to be doing the caretaking, Kieran could offer him some support in return. Rather than slipping his hand into Fidele's though, Kieran buried his fingers in the fur lining of his cloak and set his eyes ahead. He didn't say anything, because he didn't have anything agreeable to say. He kept his mouth shut in order to spare Fidele some grief and waited silently to be told what to do.
The silence between them only lasted a short time, interrupted by the approach of a small unit of armed guards on horseback. One of the men dismounted and bowed respectfully before the prince. "Your highness," the guard addressed Kieran, "This way please." He gestured to one of two rider-less mounts among the group, situated in the center of the formation.
Kieran looked to Fidele expectantly, waiting for the bodyguard to proceed ahead of him before stepping forward. Fidele made no such move, though. "Go on," he urged Kieran. "I have something to discuss with the captain, but I will join you momentarily."
With a bit of reluctance and a soft sigh of displeasure at Fidele leaving his side even temporarily, Kieran followed the guard's pointing finger and approached the two horses. He paused in front of the pair, examining them to see which looked stronger. There was one that was slightly bigger than the other, and its coat was glossier. Kieran lifted his hand to pet the animal's soft muzzle. They really were remarkable beasts, he mused, taking a moment to ponder horses' usefulness to mankind. He decided, as he absently stroked the velvety skin of the horse's nose, that he would like to have a horse of his own. When he returned home, he would find himself a special one.
"Your majesty," he heard the guard saying to him, "Do you need assistance mounting?"
Only if that assistance was coming from Fidele. Kieran's eyes left the face of the guard to watch Fidele over the man's shoulder. He seemed busy talking with the captain still, paying no attention to the prince. "I will wait," he told the guard, and then went back to admiring the horse without further acknowledgment of anyone around him. It came as no surprise to the guards that their prince was seemingly cold and distant. They should consider themselves lucky to have even seen the reclusive prince in the flesh. He preferred to spend his time isolated with his books, rather than in the public eye. Among peasants there were rumors that the prince, whose birth they had so joyously celebrated nearly eighteen years ago, had been hidden away by the king after having turned out to be deformed or perhaps intellectually unfit to rule. A weak link in the chain of powerful tyranny. A perfect opportunity for rebellion against the royal family.
Kieran didn't concern himself much with the politics of the kingdom. And if it was possible, Fidele would like to keep it that way. The prince was happy; there was no need to destroy that happiness with worrisome words about assassination attempts and rebellions. As far as Kieran knew, peasants were rising up due to the evil in their own hearts. Perhaps it was foolish of Fidele to shield Kieran from the truth. But, at the present moment, there seemed very little future to be prepared for. The rebels were growing in number and power. Fidele did not expect that the royal family would stay in power long enough for Kieran to inherit the throne. His main concern was keeping the prince safe. Even if there came a day when Kieran was no longer a prince, Fidele would be there by his side to ensure his safety. After all these years, taking care of the boy had transcended beyond simply fulfilling his duty.
While the prince was occupied a few dozen yards away with thinking about what kind of horse he might like, Fidele was standing with the captain of the guard staring into the face of the man caught sneaking about the castle last night with the intention of murdering the prince. His heart burned with hatred as he glared at the scoundrel, a man close to his own height but not built quite as strong, who seemed to have a bit of a smirk on his face. Apparently this villain didn't realize he was in no position to smile, seeing as how his hands were shackled.
"This one's quite a troublemaker, my lord," the captain said to Fidele. "I'm not even sure it's worth keeping him alive. I hope I get to be present at his execution."
"He's lucky he might be of some use to us, otherwise I would have already ripped out his throat with my own hand," Fidele replied darkly. "I want him on a horse with a line tied to my saddle. See to it."
The captain nodded and saluted respectfully before dashing off to order another horse to be fetched. Fidele spent another moment staring down the criminal before seizing the man's arm roughly and dragging him along as he marched to Kieran's side.
"Easy there, big fella," the assassin protested as he tried to shrug off Fidele's grip on his shoulder. "Unless you wanna rip out my arm before going for my throat."
Fidele jerked the man forward with even greater severity. "Don't make the mistake of thinking I value your limbs, scoundrel. You can live without them, and I will gladly tear them off if you cause any trouble. In fact, I might just do so for my own entertainment should I find myself bored."
"Seems kinda harsh," the criminal said.
"Harsh?" Fidele asked in slight disbelief. "You should consider yourself lucky that you are still alive. Attacking a member of the royal family is the most serious act of treason."
"Well maybe if the king would pay attention to us, we wouldn't have to take such desperate measures."
"If that was your intention, then you were successful. The king will certainly pay attention to you while you are on trial," Fidele replied uninterestedly as they neared the prince. All but ignoring the attempted assassin, although still keeping a viciously tight hold on the man's arm, Fidele placed his hand on Kieran's shoulder. The prince lifted his hand to place it over the top of Fidele's as he turned from the horses to face his bodyguard.
"We are almost ready to head out," Fidele explained.
Kieran's brown eyes flicker momentarily in the direction of the prisoner with a small glint of curiosity, but he did not pursue to matter just yet. He simply nodded and circled to the side of the smaller and less glossy horse, where he waited patiently with his hand in the air for Fidele to hold while he mounted. Obediently, his bodyguard took his hand to offer support for the prince as he placed his foot in the stirrup and then swung his other leg over.
"Yeah, you better hold on to that, otherwise I might snatch that fine ass right out from under your nose, big fella."
Kieran's head quickly snapped in the direction that the drawling voice had come from, his black ponytail swishing through the air as he did so. Though he was shocked, his expression remained blank as he stared at the man who had his hands chained. The prince had never heard something so perfectly brazen. He had never been in direct contact with a peasant before. In fact, he'd hardly even seen any except from afar. Kieran was surprised and slightly confused by the appearance of the prisoner. The man had the strangest platinum hair the prince had ever seen, and styled in a manner equally foreign. He wasn't plain and colorless as Kieran had always thought of serfs. There was an interesting quality about the prisoner that was almost splendid. If it wasn't for the fact that he was obviously some kind of criminal, the prince might have ventured to call the man handsome. But at the moment, Kieran was far more wary than attracted. Those green eyes were piercing and arrogant, staring up at the prince fearlessly. He did not avert his gaze when Kieran looked at him like a good slave was supposed to do. He just met the prince's stare, his lip curled in a smirk that Kieran found most disconcerting.
"Yeah, I'm talking about you, Sweetness," the criminal nodded to Kieran. "Once I get—"
Before the prisoner could finish that thought, the back of Fidele's large hand met his face, dealing a blow so heavy that he was knocked from his feet. "How dare you address the prince in such a manner?" Fidele raged, reaching down to pick up the prisoner by the collar of his shirt. "How dare you address the prince at all? You are to silence yourself immediately, and remain so in the presence of his majesty!"
"Alright, alright. I get it. No complimenting the prince," the would-be assassin surrendered, still partially in shock from the colossal hit he'd just taken.
Seemingly satisfied with that response, Fidele released his grip on the man's collar and turned to Kieran. "My apologies, your highness. I will see to it that this vermin is duly punished, and I shall keep him under control for the remainder of our journey."
Again, a spark of curiosity flared up in Kieran about the identity of this man, and why he was important enough to be taken to the capital city, but again the prince ignored his own questions and simply nodded his approval to Fidele. He didn't have any interest in such things, and set his eyes forward, distracting himself with dreading how miserable this three-week journey over the mountains was going to be. It wasn't such a bad trip during the spring or summer, but the weather had begun to bite as the season turned to autumn. There were so many things that could go wrong. The snows could come early this season. He lifted his eyes to look at the purple sky above, studying the positions of the stars. He had read about predicting the weather this way. In fact, Kieran had read about a few different forecasting methods. How was he supposed to know which one was right? Wind blowing to the east, so perhaps the day's weather would be fair. He could only hope.
While Kieran was busy trying to guess what horrible misfortune would befall their party, Fidele was knotting a rope to the saddle of his mount that would lead the prisoner's horse. With a violent jerk, he pulled the knot tight and then turned to the criminal, his hatred for the man quite evident in his stormy eyes. And just in case the glare wasn't enough to tip the criminal off, the rough shove he was given in the direction of the horse that would be his made it quite clear that Fidele was seriously contemplating killing him.
"So I guess the prince over there is a touchy subject for you," the assassin smirked over his shoulder as he reached up to grasp the saddle horn between his chained hands.
"Why are you still speaking?" Fidele demanded. "I ordered you to be silent."
"You said I couldn't talk around the prince," the prisoner corrected Fidele.
"I will gag you if I must," Fidele threatened as he mounted his horse.
With a sigh, the prisoner fell silent in defeat. The caravan finally began to move out just as the sky above the tree line began to lighten from deep lavender to a soft shade of bluish purple. He supposed these guys had intended to get moving before the sun rose so they could leave the castle under cover of darkness, but obviously that had failed. But the more incompetent these guards turned out to be, the better for the prisoner. He certainly didn't plan on being taken to the king's court to be tried and executed. No, the way he figured, he would break free in two days' time, at the very latest. He wouldn't push his escape plan just yet; he would wait for the soldiers to let down their guards a bit after growing tired before making his move. He'd done this plenty of times before. He knew what he was doing.
So, just who was he? His name was Terence Drust, and he was the son of one of the more prominent players in the rebellion. His father had appointed him with a special task. That task was not, as Fidele had suspected, to kill the prince. Terence was supposed to take the prince as a captive, a prize with which to barter. Ironic how he was the one who ended up captured. It had been an off night for Terence. He should have known better than to go on with the mission even though he knew he wasn't at the top of his game. However, Terence had made that grave mistake and there wasn't any point in troubling over things that couldn't be changed. The thing to focus on was the situation at hand. Which was pretty boring, by the way. Of course Terence kept a sharp eye out for any opportunity that might present itself, but at the very beginning of their journey, every last guard was taking great care and standing perfectly vigilant.
In his boredom, it was only natural that Terence's eyes drifted. And it was only natural that they settled on the dark-haired prince riding next to that huge bodyguard of his. So that was Prince Kieran. Terence wouldn't mind having that royal slice as his captive. It had actually been kind of a surprise to learn that that kid was the prince. Like the rest of the kingdom, Terence had just assumed the prince had been kept hidden away because of some horrible deformity or intellectual impairment or something. It was painfully obvious that that wasn't the case, though. Very odd indeed. Terence would have to ponder that thought. He had plenty of time to do so, seeing as how he wasn't allowed to talk. There were a few times when he almost spoke up, but then he remembered that uptight bodyguard and the weight behind his blows. Could Terence really blame the guy, though? Not at all. Terence would backhand a few guys to get a piece of that prince. That was, if the prince wasn't his enemy, of course. There would be absolutely no consorting with the enemy. Ah fuck, who was Terence kidding? He would tap that the first chance he got.
All morning Terence observed the prince and his bodyguard, trying to decide whether or not they were fucking. They had to be. How could they not be? When the party stopped to break the horses shortly after midday, Terence watched intently as the bodyguard jumped from the back of his horse and hurried around to take the prince's hand as the lithe youth dismounted lightly. The tender protectiveness of the bodyguard's grasp wasn't normal. If he wasn't already sleeping with the prince, it was perfectly evident that the bodyguard wanted to be. Terence felt his lips twitch upward in a small smirk as the hulking man approached him after exchanging a few short words with the prince.
"Get down," Fidele commanded. "And try not to cause any trouble, for whatever grief you inflict upon anyone in this party, I will make sure to inflict upon you tenfold. Use your head and realize that you are far outnumbered and therefore powerless."
"Relax, big fella," Terence smirked, "I'm not going anywhere. This spot right here has too good of a view, if ya know what I mean."
Perhaps eventually the prisoner would come to realize that Fidele would waste no time dealing out punishment, nor would he spare any mercy in doing so. The words had scarcely left Terence's lips before he found himself on the frost-hardened ground, yanked right out of his saddle by the angry bodyguard. "Any eyes caught wandering will be gouged, you rat," Fidele spat down at the criminal.
A groan at the pain of the impact escaped Terence, but as he sat up, there was still the ghost of a grin playing on his lips. "You sure are touchy about that. Can't say I blame you, though. I wouldn't want to share that either," he said.
It seemed as though the bodyguard had no reply to such a remark; the only response Terence received from the man was a warning glare before he stormed away to speak with the captain of the guards. Wincing sharply, the rebel got to his feet, which was far more difficult than he imagined it would be since his hands were shackled together. He knew getting up and down from his saddle would be tough, but he didn't imagine something as simple as standing up would be so hard. Maybe part of that was due to the beating he had taken from that overprotective bodyguard. His jaw still hurt from being backhanded earlier, and now the rest of his body hurt from taking a four-foot fall from the back of his horse. Terence probably needed to start filtering the things that he allowed to come out of his mouth; he wasn't so sure that getting a rise out of that bodyguard was worth all the pain that came with it.
But maybe it was worth the attention Terence seemed to be getting. After getting his feet steady underneath him once again, Terence raised his eyes to find that the prince's gaze was upon him from a short distance away. Any remnants of Fidele's warning suddenly fled the rebel's mind and he casually sauntered in the prince's direction, a cocky grin decorating his face.
"Do not take a single step closer," Kieran ordered almost immediately after realizing the criminal's sights were set firmly upon him.
Terence slowly came to a halt, the snort that escaped him making it clear that he didn't intend to stay in the spot he stood. "Or what, your highness?" he challenged the prince.
Kieran was taken aback at the way this man blatantly contested his commands. No one had ever dared to defy him. The insolence of this peasant angered him, and it also frightened him. "Or I will call out to Fidele and you will be struck down long before you can even begin to carry out whatever foul scheme your filthy mind can conjure," the prince snapped sharply in reply without a moment's hesitation.
Deciding that he would put this threat to the test, Terence lifted one foot and took a slow step forward. Before his foot had even hit the ground, a cry for assistance from his bodyguard erupted from the prince's lips. Luckily, Terence seemed to have learned and retreated a good distance from the prince the moment he saw Fidele barreling toward him. He put his hands up in surrender, but the bodyguard apparently wasn't in the mood to negotiate and took a heavy swing at Terence. The rebel managed to duck under the blow meant for his face and retreated even farther from the prince. This evasion only seemed to anger Fidele even more, and he lunged forward quickly enough to seize the front of Terence's cloak.
"I warned you not to let your eyes wander, scum," Fidele growled.
Somehow this didn't seem fair to Terence. The prince was the one with the wandering eye. The prince was the one who was looking at Terence first, so why was Terence the one getting his eyes gouged out? He squirmed and pulled against Fidele's iron grip, but the beast of a man wasn't going to be letting go anytime soon. Without the help of his hands, there wasn't a lot Terence could do. He had to try, though. He wasn't just going to sit back and let this guy cut out his eye. Besides, he'd been in a lot tighter situations than this. Or had he? He'd never really come across anyone as gigantic as this bodyguard. Usually Terence was bigger than the people he faced…
Despite the nagging in the back of his mind that attacking Fidele was probably a bad idea, Terence took a shot at it. He lifted his leg to deliver a powerful kick to his captor's torso. The blow connected, and the big man swayed a bit at the impact, but other than that, it didn't seem to have much of an effect on him. Not to mention, he now had Terence's leg trapped between his arm and body. In an attempt to make his situation better, Terence had only managed in making it about ten times worse. Fantastic. One strong shove and Terence found himself lying on his back with the breath knocked from his chest and a throbbing pain in the back of his head. His skull had to be cracked, he just knew it.
"I see Brenevin wasn't lying when he said you were a troublemaker," Terence heard the deep voice of the bodyguard say, and then the man's face appeared over him. There was a massive weight on Terence's chest, which he quickly realized was Fidele's knee.
"Wait, wait, wait," Terence groaned, lifting his hands to try and wave off whatever punishment was coming his way. "Let's just talk about this before you go being hasty. I promise I won't even look at his royal majesticness anymore. Just don't cut out my eye. I kinda need it."
What a ridiculous statement. For two reasons. First of all, that idiot was in absolutely no position to negotiate anything. And, secondly, Fidele was quite sure that this criminal wasn't going to need his eye, because he would be executed in a very short time. A soft, deep chuckle escaped him as he looked down at the pathetic worm and reached to his belt for the knife he would use to carve out that lecherous eyeball. "You disobeyed a direct order from his highness. I cannot allow such defiance to go unpunished. You will be made an example of," he told the prisoner.
"Fidele, still your hand."
The prince's order rang out through the silent air just as Fidele's knife had begun to come down over Terence's left eye. His voice was not particularly loud or excited, but somehow it echoed with unquestionable authority, demanding the utmost attentiveness. Both the bodyguard and the criminal, along with everyone else present, turned to stare at the prince with varying expressions of shock and confusion across their faces.
"It can wait. I assume he is being taken to the capital to be put on trial. In addition to whatever charges he has already incurred, he will receive punishment for any future crimes he will undoubtedly commit by the hand of the executioner. Such barbaric acts of vengeance shall not be committed in my presence, and certainly not by your noble hands," Kieran explained. He watched as Fidele obediently, albeit reluctantly, stowed his knife away and got to his feet. The prisoner opened his mouth, most likely to say something completely moronic, but Kieran spoke first, effectively silencing any more discussion on the matter. "But of course you are free to beat him as you see fit should he fail to comply with orders. I only ask that you do not spill his blood."
That said, Kieran turned on his heel and retreated to a place to sit and curl up inside of his cloak to warm his frozen extremities. Fidele watched the prince's back for a moment before remembering that he couldn't afford to be caught pining. Should he allow himself to fall into a distracted lull, who knew what that sneaky prisoner would try to do? Returning to life after his brief moment of wistfulness, Fidele turned and summoned the nearest pair of guards to secure the criminal. "You two, make sure this dog doesn't try anything. Don't take your eyes from him for even a moment," he said, casting one last hostile glare before he set his sights on the prince, who had made himself as comfortable as he could at the base of a tree trunk, his knees pulled up to his chest under his cloak.
As he dropped to a knee in front of the young prince, Fidele kept his eyes down respectfully, training them on the pine needles that littered the ground beneath them. "Please forgive my behavior, your highness," Fidele requested quietly. "I never meant to offend you, only to protect you."
"Oh, so now you decide to listen to my orders?" Kieran responded, and when Fidele lifted his eyes, he saw a small grin playing on the prince's pretty lips.
"It was a virtuous order you just issued. This morning you were being selfish and juvenile in your commands. Very unbecoming of a member of the royal family," Fidele answered with a small smile of his own.
Kieran scrunched his nose at such an accusation. "I could be far more selfish and juvenile, you know."
"Trust me," Fidele chuckled softly. "I am well aware of that." He paused to let his gentle laughter pass before taking on a more serious tone. "It was a good thing you did, Kieran. The benevolence of a man who shows mercy is something to be admired."
Kieran averted his eyes, turning his head slightly as he rested it on the tree trunk behind him. "I think you give me too much credit, Fidele. I wanted you to tear out that boor's eye, but not while his hands are shackled."
"Kieran…" Fidele started, reaching out to take the prince's chin in his hand so that he could direct the boy's face to look into his own. He was distracted from whatever words he might have been thinking, though, at the lack of warmth he felt under his fingers. "You're stone cold," the bodyguard pointed out, his voice heavy with worry.
"Everything is stone cold in this weather," Kieran quipped.
Fidele chose to ignore the prince's smart comment and reached up to his shoulder to unfasten his cloak and pull it from his back, but as he made to drape it over Kieran, he was stopped by a pair of hands grasping each of his wrists.
"You can't let yourself freeze," Kieran said, looking up at Fidele in a manner that was somewhere in between chastizing and pouty, as though he couldn't decide whether to approach the situation in a as a stern authority or stubborn brat. Perhaps an authoritarian brat? It didn't look like Fidele was buying it, the way his mouth tightened in that way it did when he was trying not to smile.
"I will be fine," Fidele replied, allowing himself a small, lopsided smile. "You know I prefer cold temperatures."
That was true. With his thick limbs, Fidele seemed to have been crafted to withstand frozen, snowy gales. But that didn't mean he could just run around without proper protection from the elements. Kieran bit the inside of his cheek, staring into Fidele's gray eyes intently. "If you freeze to death, there won't be anyone left to protect me from that lout over there," the prince finally said after a few seconds of contemplation. He released his hold on his bodyguard's wrists, allowing the bigger man to do what he pleased with his hands.
"He is but a common thief," Fidele told Kieran as he fastened his large cloak over the youth's shoulders. "There is nothing he could do to you."
Kieran made a soft hum of understanding as he glanced over Fidele's shoulder at the criminal. A common thief. Surely he was something more than common. If he was a simple thief, the guards would have cut off one of his hands and been done with it. "Why does he look so strange? I've never seen hair that color," Kieran wondered, his curiosity finally getting the better of him.
Fidele turned his head to see just what had prompted such questions. The assassin would certainly appear bizarre to a prince who had remained in solitude for much of his life. There were some things that would never be found in those manuscripts and scrolls that Kieran loved to immerse himself in. The ways of the ancient warriors before they were civilized. The ways that the rebels seemed to have adopted, judging by the appearance of the captive. "It is a ruse. The barbarian warriors used to employ such strategies to intimidate their enemies. He uses substances to turn his hair that unnatural color to scare his enemies into thinking him some kind of demon. The way he looks now is nothing in comparison to how he would look marching into battle," Fidele explained.
Nodding slowly as he absorbed this new bit of knowledge, Kieran studied the criminal from afar, capturing the image in his mind. The wraithlike shock of gleaming platinum hair, shaved behind and slightly above the ear on one side and swept over the other. There were beads and shells intricately woven into the long strands. A jagged fringe fell across his forehead, occasionally blowing into those proud green eyes. As much as he hated to think of someone so disgusting in such a way, Kieran had to admit that he found the eye-catching look to be rather exquisite. But of course the prince still much preferred Fidele's fair skin and auburn hair to that rogue and his wandering eyes. Tearing his gaze away from the prisoner now that he had scrutinized the man's foreign appearance, Kieran returned his attention to Fidele.
"I suppose he must be compensating for something, then," he smirked, squirming to bury himself deeper in Fidele's warm cloak.
Fidele let out a small chuckle at that, and the prince shared in the laughter for a few moments before the two fell silent. After a short while longer, time enough for all the horses to be given enough nourishment to carry on until nightfall, the party mounted and continued on through what eventually transitioned from sparse woods to a thicker forest. The path they followed through the trees was well-worn and very familiar to Kieran, as he had traveled it many a time coming and going from the king's castle. There was more respite from the chilling wind the deeper they ventured into the woods, but less warmth from the sun that only hit the ground in the smallest, most determined rays that managed to break through the evergreens.
The prisoner behaved quite well, much to Kieran's surprise. Apparently threatening to cut out his eye had been most effective. And though he had trouble even admitting it to himself, the prince might have found himself hoping for another little outburst from the man, if only to make things a bit more interesting. There were no more acts of lewd misconduct from the criminal, though, and the day dragged on slowly. Kieran would have liked to tell Fidele about his plans to find himself a horse once they reached home, but the presence of unfamiliar faces stopped him. He remained fairly silent throughout the hours; listening to what little talk others were engaging in. Having the prince around seemed to have caused lips to remain closed. It wasn't until night fell and the men had gathered around a fire that Kieran heard any conversation from where he sat under a canvas tent waiting for his bodyguard to return from outside. There words were muffled and inaudible, but the prince didn't mind because he would rather talk with Fidele than try to listen in on someone else's dull conversation.
It was quite a surprise for the young prince when none other than that filthy thief stumbled into the tent. Kieran's first reaction was obviously to shout for Fidele, but before he could get a word out, his bodyguard passed through the tent flap, his grip on the prisoner's arm firm as ever.
"What is the meaning of this?" Kieran demanded, folding his arms across his chest and looking up at Fidele expectantly.
"Begging your pardon, your majesty, but the prisoner must be kept here for the night. If it discomforts you too much, then I shall move him to another tent, but I must accompany him where ever he goes in order to prevent him from attempting escape," Fidele explained, averting his eyes from Kieran's.
What terrible options. It appeared that Kieran was either going to have to deal with having the criminal in his tent, or deal with not having Fidele in his tent. The prince pursed his lips in thought, letting his eyes settle on the prisoner, who simply stared right back at him stubbornly, that same unnerving smirk tugging at his mouth. A sigh escaped Kieran, and he found himself uttering a word of agreement to keeping the prisoner in his tent. "Fine," he surrendered. "I supposed he's not all that dangerous anyway. Just a nuisance, really."
A nuisance, huh? Terence would show the prince the true meaning of the word if the brat was going to go insulting him by saying he wasn't dangerous. The smirk on his face never left, despite the rough manner with which Fidele shoved him around. It made Kieran slightly uneasy. Especially since it seemed like he was the reason for the man's amusement, judging by the way those green eyes managed to find him whenever they had the chance. How could keeping that criminal in their tent possibly be a good idea? Kieran wanted to pose this sarcastic question to his bodyguard, but he didn't want the prisoner to know that he was uncomfortable.
Soon enough, Kieran received an answer. Fidele was chaining himself to the prisoner. Well, that would be effective in preventing the foul man from trying to escape, but what if it turned out that the criminal needed to be kept away? Kieran had to swallow a lump of fear as Fidele snapped the cuff shut around his ankle, the mate to which was snapped on the prisoner's ankle. He tried not to form any kind of expression on his face, to pretend like it was nothing. After all, the man's hands were chained together. And besides that, Kieran had Fidele right by his side to protect him. When his bodyguard sat down on the ground next to him, the prince felt a strong urge to cuddle up to him. Just to make a point to that horrid thief. What point, exactly? Well, the point that Kieran was only interested in Fidele. No one else. He felt it very important that the prisoner know this, so he leaned into Fidele and rested his head on the bigger man's shoulder.
In response, Fidele reached across his body to brush a loose strand of dark hair from Kieran's face with the hand that wasn't being used to support his weight so the prince would not be disturbed. "What is it?" Fidele asked softly, his deep concern evident in the gentleness of his touch.
"I'm cold and tired," Kieran replied, tilting his head to look up at Fidele from underneath his dark lashes, eyes lidded as though he might just pass out right there.
What an act. From where he watched the moment play out, Terence scoffed at the disgusting tenderness of it all, drawing a glare from the prince, and a warning look from Fidele. No matter what threat the bodyguard was about to bark out, though, Terence just couldn't keep back his sardonic laughter. He threw his head back and cackled for several seconds before getting a hold of himself, at which point he realized that the other two in the tent were still staring at him. Although, staring probably wasn't the appropriate word. That cute little prince looked absolutely murderous. The bodyguard didn't look too happy either, but he kept his expression from being too telling.
"Oh, don't mind me. Please, carry on," Terence smirked. He would have used a gesture to urge them to continue, but his hands were chained together.
Shockingly, the scene did not pick up from where it had left off after being ruined by the rogue.
"Or you could just come over here and I'll gladly kiss you the way you want. I'll do more than that. Things that he couldn—" Terence's offer to the prince was cut short by Fidele's hand clapping over his mouth with such force that he felt his head bounce off the ground for the third time that day. Much more of this and his brain was going to be damaged or something. The palm of the bodyguard's hand was pressed so tightly over his mouth that no air was allowed in or out of Terence's lungs. He squirmed underneath the crushing weight, trying to shout out that he was being suffocated, but Fidele's attention was trained on something else. The prince of course. Terence tried to look at the boy, only to find himself unable to gain any leverage under Fidele's hand. It wasn't until he heard the shouting that he could figure out what was going on.
"Get that mongrel out of my sight immediately!" Kieran yelled, throwing his arm up furiously and pointing his finger toward the tent's opening. "And do not bring him back here tonight."
Fidele flinched slightly at the sound of Kieran's angry voice. Such an outburst was rare from the prince, who generally remained fairly even-tempered. Never had Fidele been banished from the prince's side. Granted, Kieran hadn't specifically thrown him out, but it was evident that Fidele would not be sleeping in the same tent as the prince tonight. With obedient silence, Fidele got to his feet and vacated the prince's tent, dragging the criminal along with him. The criminal, who had gotten Fidele exiled. He reached down and took the chain connecting himself to the prisoner in his hand, and gave it a harsh yank.
Terence had only just begun to catch his breath now that Fidele's hand was no longer suffocating him, when he felt his foot ripped right out from under him. He managed to keep his balance though, and hurried to stay at pace with Fidele so he wasn't pulled down. "Hey now, big fella, no need to take your anger out on me! It's not my fault you don't have th—" Why wasn't Terence ever allowed to finish his sentences when he was within Fidele's vicinity? He ducked under a punch that was meant to take off his head, his thoughts coming to a screeching halt due to concern for his life. When he straightened up, Fidele was immediately in his face. At least there were no fists flying this time, though. Just a strong finger poking Terence's chest.
"If not for his majesty's orders that I cannot spill your filthy blood, I would have crushed your skull with my bare hands by now," Fidele hissed venomously.
"I guess I better give him a proper thank-you sometime, then," Terence replied, his lip curling upward at the corner.
"Rest assured, you rat, that as long as I am breathing, you will never even find yourself within reach of Kieran," Fidele told Terence, his voice never rising louder than a low murmur. He immediately regretted referring to the prince by his name, the way he did when he and Kieran were alone, but it was too late to take that back now.
A/N: Now that I'm in the process of rewriting, sometimes looking back at this old stuff makes me shudder. I'm proud of some parts, but others...not so much haha. I love you all.