V. Three Words

From his balcony, Wren watched the men down below preparing to leave. It was a small party carrying a rather large amount of luggage with them. He assumed his father must be going off somewhere again. If his father was leaving, that meant that he was free from the usual ego-stroking Argus made him endure at breakfast. Thinking it was safe, he went ahead to get something to eat. King Argus was still very much not ready to leave yet, sitting with a ridiculous amount of food before him. Wren sighed, preparing himself to hear all of the same "glorious" stories of old about how great his father was in his younger years and how his sons would never compare. After a few stories, his father made an unexpected announcement. "Wren, you're coming with me to King Philip's. It's about time you started acting like a prince." "But I don't really know...anything about diplomacy and strategies..." Wren nearly dropped his food. "That won't take long to understand. Training you for combat will be more difficult, especially with all the time you've lost from your brother's meddling." Argus said as he finished off a bowl of food. "Training for combat...?" His eyes widened. "No one wants to follow a king who can't hold his own in battle." Argus grinned. "Why do you think they call me King Argus the Great? Everyone knows my strength." Wren cocked his head. "But I'm not to become King. I'm second in line." Argus waved his spoon at him, food dripping onto the table. "Do you really have no ambitions, boy? Besides, you never know when your brother may not come back from battle. He hasn't produced an heir either. The kingdom will become your responsibility in that scenario." "Well, that is true, but..." The conversation was making Wren uneasy. He was not the superstitious type, but speaking so casually of his brother's potential demise over breakfast made him wonder about his father's intentions. "I don't see why you're so hesitant. If I were you, I wouldn't have let any of my brothers interfere with me being trained, much less let them stand in the way of me getting the crown. In fact, I didn't. And that is why I am now an only child." Argus let out a big laugh. Wren was unsettled by that revelation. He knew he had no uncles, but he had no aunts either. He had assumed his father was simply an only child. No matter how Rowan angered him, to do something like that to him, Wren couldn't imagine it. "Surely, you're not suggesting I go that far." "Why not? Son, I want my kingdom to be ruled by the best man. I don't care which of you it is." Argus leaned toward Wren. "Don't you feel any resentment towards him? I was going to start training you after your seventh birthday, and it was your brother who refused to allow it. Do you really think it's because he thinks you're too weak to hold your own in battle? Isn't it really more that it's convenient for him to guarantee the person directly after him in line wouldn't be able to dethrone him? Either way, it's insulting, don't you think?" Wren never understood the details of that. He did hold some resentment toward his brother for keeping him so powerless, but deep down, he was also grateful. For all the complaints he made, Wren was far more afraid of being in his brother's position than envious of it. "Father, there's something I don't understand. You're still the one who allowed his demands." Argus narrowed his eyes. "He had that knight of his curse our water until I accepted." That was the first Wren had ever heard of that. It seemed out of character for both of them, and he had never seen Robin do any kind of magic like that. His doubts over his father's words grew. "He went that far?" "Precisely. You're next in line to the crown, son. Think over what your position means, and what it could be." He lowered his voice. "I'm not getting any younger, and I know you've taken a liking to your brother's fiancée. She could be your queen." With all the misfortune Rosabella had already been through in her life, Wren knew she would be absolutely mortified if Rowan died at his hands for the two of them to be together properly. He couldn't allow her to see him in that kind of light. "I...don't think she would be happy with me if that was how I became king." "What does that matter?" Argus put his hand on Wren's shoulder. "Think it over, son. I would wait, however, until the war is over. You should let your brother clean up that mess. Then, I won't have any more use for that dog of his either." "...You aren't going to kill him, are you?" "Oh, right. You think that fairy child is your friend. Don't be naive. He's nothing more than a wild beast hunting for unguarded meat to steal. He won't keep up his human act when your brother's gone." His father stood up from the table. "Come now. Prepare yourself. We have a long trip ahead of us." Wren didn't know how to refuse. Soon, it was his luggage being put on the carriage and he was sitting across from his father. With nothing in common to talk about, and his father always dominating every conversation they had, Wren expected to hear every one of his father's stories at least twice before they reached their destination. The journey was shorter for them than Rowan. The trip was made longer by Eider and Luke's inappropriate banter and Luke's lewd gestures towards Rowan. He was entertained by Luke initially, but the constant attention was starting to wear on his nerves. King Philip's other knights were also beginning to annoy him with their fascination over Robin. Their questions about him seemed to never end, nor did they ever address their questions to Robin himself. Between the unwanted focus and how little time he had to spend with Robin, his normal politeness was starting to break down. He managed to keep up his act long long enough. When they reached the castle, the men went quiet. Martin lead them to the king. King Philip was slightly older than Rowan's own father and far less physically fit. He had only one child, a son named James who was three years younger than Rowan. Neither of them had seen any combat themselves. Sir Martin, and his father before him, was primarily seen by the people as the protector of their kingdom. Rowan had met the king himself very few times. His opinion of the man was better than many others. He seemed kind, albeit exceptionally naive about the world beyond his walls. The king greeted them from his throne with a big smile. "Ah, you have finally returned. I am glad to see you all made it here safe and sound." "My king, we have returned at your request, though I know not as to why. Has something happened?" Martin bowed before the king. "Ah, that is an issue I cannot explain yet. It is a matter that must be discussed privately between only a select few." King Philip said. "I see." Martin rose from his knees. Luke stepped forward to stand beside Martin. "Well then. We should get right to the point then. With how you called us back, I take it this is of a time-sensitive nature as well." "Oh, you're still alive, are you? That's unfortunate." Prince James sat in the throne beside his father, scowling at Luke. "Father, I still don't see why you don't have him locked up, or better yet, executed." "James, there's no need for that. Sir Luke serves our kingdom well. So long as his loyalty is to the crown, his personal sins are none of my business. After all, who here has not committed sin?" "Thank you, my king. It is an honor to serve you." Luke bowed deeply. As he rose back, he glared at James. Rowan wondered what sort of past those two might share, but wasn't that deeply interested enough to ask. "Thank you, Sir Luke. You know I appreciate your services. Ah, and Prince..." The king turned his attention to Rowan. "It is an honor to have you here. Your father is also staying here right now. It's been so long since I've seen the both of you." Rowan winced. "He's here?" Philip was unaware of the tension between them. He kept smiling. "Oh, yes. Sir Eider, your father is here as well." "Really..." Eider took a step back behind Rowan. "I see..." "Unfortunately, Sir Faolán could not visit today as he is busy conducting some field training with a relative of his, from what I gather from King Silvanus. It's really too bad. I could have had all your fathers present, you Sir Eider, crown prince, and you too Sir Luke. Oh...if the Bloody Raven is here...the Hellhound is here too. Having all three knights of Cailean in the same room would have been quite the sight." Philip looked around the room. "Where is the older brother?" "Sir Robin, please present yourself." Rowan motioned for Robin to come forward. Robin had been intentionally staying directly behind Rowan, not wanting to be noticed. "Yes, your majesty." Robin stood before the king reluctantly. Philip stood up from his throne and walked over to Robin to get a closer look at him. "You look more like your father every time I see you." "My apologies." Robin said coldly. "Ha! You and Sir Luke are definitely brothers." Philip burst out into laughter. After he had himself a good laugh, the king cleared his throat. "In all seriousness, we really should get to discussing why I've brought you here. All of my knights, you are to attend this private meeting, along with you, crown prince, and your knights. The others are already waiting. James, lead the way." "If I must..." James scowled again, taking his time getting down from his seat before leading them away. Rowan noticed Luke never once stopped watching James. The look in his eyes was a deep hatred. His curiosity over the matter grew, but from the way Luke normally acted, he doubted Luke would tell him anything at all. In the large, isolated room the meeting was to be held in, Lord Egret, King Argus, King Silvanus, and their men were already waiting. Egret and Argus were busy reminiscing about their old adventures together. King Silvanus kept mostly to himself. Wren sat awkwardly by his father. He felt completely out of place among all the warriors and leaders around him. He pulled the hood of his cloak over himself to hide his face. With news that Rowan had also arrived, Wren wished he could be anywhere else in that moment. When the others arrived, the room was crowded enough Wren didn't expect Rowan would notice him. It was strange for him to be there, and even stranger to him to see Rowan and Robin in such a formal light. He hated it. Philip sat at the center front of the room. "I regret that I have brought you all here today on such short notice with little explanation. What I am about to discuss with you was far too sensitive to deliver by messenger. I have reason to believe that at present there is most definitely a threat of betrayal within our ranks." "My king, do you speak of our issue on the battlefield, or has their been another?" Martin asked. "This is another incident, while you were away. Many of our goods have been stolen lately, along with armaments. I had it arranged for our goods to be delivered on different dates, at different locations, and we're still being attacked." Philip explained. "Sounds like you have an internal issue to work out. That hardly seems reason to call us all down here." Egret said. "There is more. Recently, someone has been targeting my son. There have been three assassination attempts on him since I sent away Sir Martin and many of my men." Philip motioned over to his son. James seemed hardly concerned by the matter. Philip continued. "I managed to capture one of the assassins. When he was interrogated, he gave me some disturbing information. Our mutual enemy, King Brion, has been paying off men to serve us, in battle and at home--all of us. He plans on attacking us from within, starting with my kingdom. Shortly before King Argus and Lord Egret arrived, there was an attempt on my life as well. I only wish I could have gotten Sir Faolán to join us. He too is being targeted." "So, they wish to destroy us all by attacking from behind? What cowards." Argus balked at the notion. "Brion has always been such an underhanded worm." Silvanus said. "I will make sure my loyal wolf hears of this." Philip turned his attention to Martin. "Sir Martin, you mentioned something happened when you were in battle as well. Elaborate." "As you know, we were planning for a surprise attack. We were very careful not to alert the enemy of our presence, and given the time of year, there was no reason for them to be so diligent either. However, the morning of the battle, they were already prepared. They surprised us. I'm positive someone must have tipped them off about us coming, but there is no one in particular I suspect." Martin explained. "This matter must be dealt with before it can be allowed to escalate any further." Egret slammed his fist against the table. "King Philip, I will offer any aid I can." Rowan said. He quickly revised his words. "With my father's support, that is." "You have our full support." Argus said, his anger coming through in his voice. "And mine. Should you find any of these little rats, send them my way. I know the way to deal with their type." As Egret said this, Eider winced. "If you wish, Lord Egret. I know you will handle them properly." Philip grinned. Rowan was unsure if Philip knew what Egret would actually do or not. "Damn right I will." As Egret laughed, Eider sunk down in his chair. "I'm sorry to have you leave your lands at a time like this, but you can see why I could not send you this message. There are few we can trust." Philip apologized to his visitors. "My land is safe. I'll head back in the morning. Sir Faolán's lands are near my own. I will deliver him the news myself when he returns." Egret offered. "Thank you, Lord Egret. You have always been so helpful to us all." Silvanus turned to Egret. Egret nodded along arrogantly to Silvanus's words. King Philip stood up. "We must be vigilant in our cause. Anyone suspicious must be thoroughly investigated. Now, as a token of my appreciation for your cooperation, I have prepared a feast for us all to enjoy. There will be plenty of food and drink for all." Rowan had no interest in socializing with the others. He quietly excused himself and Robin from the feast. The two of them discussed privately how they planned on dealing with their current setback. Rowan asked for Robin to gather some information from Martin for him while he took a walk outside to clear his mind. He would have spoke with Martin himself, but he didn't want to risk running into his father that night. Argus wouldn't bother trying to converse with Robin. He wasn't the only one avoiding the party going on. James was wandering the halls as well. Rowan avoided eye contact in hopes that James wouldn't bother speaking to him. This tactic didn't work. James walked over in front of him. "Ah, it is you, mongrel prince. I'm surprised at how well you've done for yourself. Good to see you inherited some things from your father." Prince James leaned in close and lowered his voice. "Fair warning. From what I hear, that sodomite has his eyes on you. Though I don't know what you like. Are you even a Christian? You do keep unholy company..." Rowan wanted to reply that he wasn't, but he knew better than to reveal that. "Unholy? You don't mean Sir Robin, do you?" "Naturally. I hear from Martin you keep him around for his skill with a sword, that he moves like a beast. I suppose someone like you needs all the extra help you can get. I wouldn't have a thing like that in my army." James said with a smug look on his face. "Then, do you object to your men working alongside mine?" Rowan asked. "I do, in principle. However, results are results. What my allies do is not for me to fix." James narrowed his eyes. "That said, I will not be sleeping easy until that thing has left our walls. You should take the other filthy brother with you, while you're at it." "If he were to desire serving me, I would welcome him gladly." Mocking him, Rowan smiled. "You're a strange one, alright. I can't stand to be in the same room as him." "Are you that worried he will do something to you?" Rowan spoke straightforwardly. James shook his head. "No, of course not. I'd have him beheaded if he tried anything. I despise his kind. It's disgusting." There were many things Rowan wanted to say that he couldn't. He kept his voice calm. "Now, now, Prince James. It is not your place to judge another. That is left for someone else." "I don't need to keep quiet about something I know a higher power would agree with me on." James stared at him with a strange look. Rowan could guess exactly what James was likely questioning in his thoughts. "Well, perhaps you and I have interpreted the scriptures differently then. I will be on my way. I have business to attend to, and after all, I'm sure you'd rather I remove my company from your walls as quickly as possible." Rowan excused himself. James didn't give him a word of goodbye, merely going on his way. Not far from them, Wren was leaving the festivities himself. Their father held extravagant parties all the time, but nothing like this. Somehow, his father and Egret had both convinced him to try every drink at the feast. Before he realized it, he was barely able to walk. He left to lay down before his father managed to get him to drink more. There was only one problem with that. He couldn't remember what room he was staying in, nor what way was back to the feast. The further he went, the less familiar everything looked. He was certain he could remember it all so easily before. Ahead, he saw what he thought was a familiar face. Something was off, however. Robin didn't usually wear such bright reds nor keep his hair so messy. The person he thought was Robin met him halfway. "Prince? Wait...you're...the younger one, yes?" The person who looked like Robin said. Wren realized who the person had to be. "Aren't you the younger one too?" Wren managed to say. It was hard for him to concentrate on what he was thinking, much less the words he was saying. "So, you know who I am." Luke got closer to Wren. "Your brother doesn't like you. My brother doesn't like me either." Wren mumbled his words as Luke put his hands on Wren's shoulders and pushed him against the castle wall. "You know, you're quite handsome. How would you like to spend some time with me tonight?" Luke whispered in Wren's ear as he slid one of his legs between Wren's. "Doing what?" Wren felt his body getting hot at the sensation of Luke's breath on his neck. "Why don't we get some more drinks and we can go back to your room. Or mine, if you prefer." Luke pressed himself against Wren. "I guess." Wren still didn't understand what Luke was doing. The contact reminded him of messing around with Rosabella, and his body was reacting in a similar way, but Wren couldn't imagine another man doing something like that with him. Rosabella was the only person who ever gave him that sort of attention. "You'll be fine. How much experience do you have with this sort of thing? I'll be gentle with you, if you need me to." Luke's face was nearly touching Wren's. He could smell alcohol heavily on Luke too. Wren assumed Luke had to be drunker than he was. Still, the close proximity excited him. "Experience?" "Come now. Don't be shy." Luke ran his hand down Wren's chest, stopping at his belt. "I'm not." Wren still didn't understand what they were talking about. He had an idea, but it seemed too absurd to be true. Moreover, his mind was distracted by how much Luke looked like Robin. "Which room is yours?" "Um...I can't remember...Nothing looks familiar..." Everything around him looked strange. "That's fine. No one's around. How about here?" Luke tugged at Wren's belt. "What are we doing?" As Luke started to undo Wren's pants, Rowan happened to walk by. At first, he noticed Luke and thought nothing of it, glad that Luke wasn't bothering him. Before he was about to move on, he glanced back again. He couldn't believe what he saw. To make sure he wasn't mistaken, he went closer. "Wren?" Rowan couldn't believe what he was seeing. He grabbed Luke's arm and pulled him away from his brother. "Excuse me, Sir Luke. I don't mean to interrupt you, but would you please not do that with my brother?" "Oh, I'm sorry, Prince. I didn't think it would bother you." Luke showed no shame for what he was doing. "What are you doing here? Leave me alone!" Wren snapped. "I'm saving you from having to apologize to Lady Rosa when you return home." Rowan released Luke and grabbed hold of Wren. "Lady Rosa? Isn't your fiancée's name Rosabella, Prince? Wait...oh, that's interesting." Luke had an excited look in his eyes at that bit of information. "Wren, go back to your room." Rowan ordered. "I don't have to do what you say. I can stay with him if I want. Why don't you go fuck yourself?!" Wren struggled to get away, but Rowan was much stronger than he was, especially in Wren's current condition. "Please excuse my brother's behavior. He's very immature for his age." Rowan kept his brother in a tight grip. "Sir Luke, I would appreciate it if you didn't tell anyone about this." "Let me go!" Wren continued to struggle. "Perhaps, but I don't usually keep secrets for free. In exchange, you could give me some of your time. How about a goodnight kiss?" Luke got uncomfortably close to Rowan as he spoke. Rowan backed away from him, never letting his hold on Wren loosen. "Please, don't ask me to fulfill such a request. I have money if that would be acceptable to you, but I do not wish to pay for favors in that way." "My apologies. It was rude of me to ask a prince for something like that. I will gladly take money, however, if you wish to offer me that instead." Luke gave a slight bow. "Thank you. Will this be enough?" Rowan handed him all the money he had on him. "More than enough. Goodnight, Prince." Luke blew Rowan a kiss before leaving. Since Wren wouldn't cooperate on telling him where his room was, Rowan decided to take Wren back to his own room instead. Wren had no intentions of making the journey there any easier. "Let me go!" Wren yelled. "No. Not until we get back to my room and talk. What the hell were you doing?" Rowan was angrier than he should be. Luke had to have been the one who started that. "What does it matter? I'm an adult. I can do whatever I want! I know what I'm doing." Wren stumbled as he spoke. "You can barely walk straight. How much have you had?" "None of your damn business." Wren wanted to get away from his brother immediately. He didn't want to be lectured. He didn't want to be in this castle. The only things on his mind were wanting to sleep and wanting to alleviate the urge he was feeling after that encounter. Rowan opened the door to his room and sat Wren down on the bed. "What are you doing here?" "I came with Father to speak with King Philip about the war." Wren didn't bother getting up. He was too sleepy. "He brought you with him? Since when did he start doing that?" "Why does it matter? I'm a prince too. I have a right to be here." "He isn't planning on you fighting, is he?" Rowan's voice softened. "Who knows. It's not like you're any good at getting things done." Wren taunted him. "After all, that's why he brought me here." "You don't have the training for fighting." Rowan's words weren't meant to dismiss his brother's capabilities. He wasn't really addressing Wren at all. He wondered what his father could be thinking. "So what? Everyone knows the only reason you get as far as you do is because when things get difficult, you make Rin do all the hard work. Without him, you're nothing." Wren's words hit on one of Rowan's deepest insecurities. He had heard others say that behind his back, but he didn't expect Wren to say something like that to his face. Wren glared at him. "That's the only reason you sleep with him, isn't it?" Rowan was shocked by his brother's comments, and confused. Someone else coming to that conclusion, he could see. Wren was the first person who knew about their relationship, long before Rowan had to deal with any of his current responsibilities. He sighed, realizing Wren was likely saying anything to upset him. "Wren, go to sleep already." "You don't like what I'm saying? You don't like me pointing out the stupid game you're playing with everyone's feelings to keep all your shit in order? If you weren't so incompetent, you wouldn't have to spend so much time..." Wren continued to rant, his voice getting louder. In his current state, Wren was not going to back down. Rowan couldn't walk away from him either with him like this. It was his responsibility to end it. He took a deep breath. "Wren, please. I'm tired. If you want to yell at me more, let's put it off until morning. I'm really tired." "...I don't care. You're the one who..." "Wren!" Rowan yelled. Wren went quiet. Rowan sat down on the floor in front of him and put his hand on Wren's. He sighed and faced him. "I'll listen to everything you wish to say to me. If you want to yell at me, it's alright. Go ahead and let it out." Wren's mind went blank for a moment at Rowan's display. His brother's cold hand felt foreign on him. Dark bags hung heavily under his eyes. In his hair, a few strands of grey stood out amongst the black. Those things shouldn't be there. They didn't match with the image in his mind. He looked away from his brother. He couldn't yell at him. He managed only three words in a voice barely above a whisper. "I hate you..." Rowan pulled his hand away, but remained seated on the ground. "I see." Wren immediately regretted his words. He got up and went for the door. He expected Rowan to stop him, but Rowan did not follow him. When he left the room, he waited on the other side of the door, listening. Rowan still did not come for him. Alone in the hall, he was left in the same situation he had been to begin with. He was completely lost. "Prince Wren? What are you doing here? Are you alright?" Robin happened to return not long after that. He found Wren sitting on the floor in front of the door with his head buried in between his knees. "He's so stupid!" Robin sat down beside him. He could smell that Wren had been drinking. He put an arm around Wren. "I think you've made yourself upset from drinking too much. You'll be alright in the morning." "I'm stupid..." Wren muttered, leaning against Robin. "Stupid...I'm so stupid..." "You said something you're regretting, didn't you?" Robin gave him a hug. "Shh. You can ask for forgiveness tomorrow. Go on and go to sleep." "I can't. I can't remember where my room is." Wren looked like he was about to cry. Robin was slightly amused by this as it was such a simple thing to deal with. "Oh? Don't worry. We can ask. I'll help you get back to your room." Robin helped Wren up and found someone in the castle to ask. It didn't take long for Robin to find the correct room. "Here, this should be the right one. Let me help you to bed." Robin walked Wren over to the bed. He tried to lay Wren down, but Wren clung to him and pulled them both down. "Sleep with me." He whispered, wrapping his arms tightly around Robin's neck. "You're too old to sleep in bed with me anymore, Prince." Robin said. "No, I'm finally old enough." Wren caressed Robin's face. "Stay." Disturbed, Robin pushed away Wren's hand. He quickly got off the bed. Robin calmed himself by remembering Wren was drunk and likely was acting more on arousal than anything emotionally-driven. "Go to sleep. Everything will be fine in the morning." "You're a liar." Robin didn't let Wren's words get to him. He hummed a familiar song to Wren. Wren recognized it at something Robin used to sing to him when he was little. As Wren drifted off to sleep, he recalled a memory from when he was little. Rowan and Robin were both slightly younger than he was now, and Rowan was far less careful with hiding things. Robin always did as Rowan wanted, even then, so he wasn't discrete about anything either. Wren was too young to understand then the exact nature of their relationship, nor why it mattered less that they hide it when they weren't quite adults yet. That day, he walked in on them kissing. He had seen some adult things by that point, as there were people in the court who didn't care if anyone knew about their affairs. Most often, he saw a lot of kissing and fondling. From his childish perspective, the way adults kissed looked disgusting. His brother was one thing, but he was perplexed to see Robin engaging in that sort of thing. He couldn't imagine Robin doing anything disgusting. Robin started kissing Rowan down his neck. At some point, he was certain Robin was biting him. His brother's face was strange. His face had turned red and he looked like he was in pain. Wren was confused. Robin adored Rowan, yet he looked like he was intentionally hurting Rowan. He would understand it later, but in his innocence, he interrupted them out of fear. "Rin, what are you doing?" "Oh, Prince Wren. I see you found us." Robin smiled like nothing was wrong. "Jesus Christ, Wren. Go away." Rowan's face had turned a deeper red. "Rowan, quit being so grumpy." Robin sat up. Rowan got up after that, dusting himself off. Wren's confusion hadn't been clarified yet. He asked again. "Rin, what were you doing? It looked...painful..." Rowan rolled his eyes. "He wasn't hurting me. You're so annoying." "Rowan, don't be mad at him. He's only seven." Robin got up and patted Wren on the head. "Don't worry, Wren. You know I wouldn't do anything to hurt him. You'll understand it when you're older." "Wren, go play somewhere else for a while. We'll play with you later." Rowan was still picking stray bits of grass and petals from himself. "But why? I'm already here. You're not doing anything important. You were just kissing and...doing weird things." "A little kid would say that." Rowan stood up and put his arm around Robin's. Robin looked at Rowan. Wren had always been jealous of the way Robin looked at his brother. He wanted Robin to give him that sort of blissful gaze, but his brother got all of Robin's attention. Robin didn't look at Wren when he spoke. "Prince Wren, please do as your brother says. We will play with you later, but Rowan's been asking me to spend time alone with him for a while now." "It's not fair. You always do stuff with him more." Wren protested. "Of course he does." Rowan grinned. Robin was grinning too. "Prince Wren, you have to understand. Rowan's very special to me." Wren only got angrier with the two of them. "Am I not special to you?" "Of course you are, but in a different way. To me, you're my precious, sweet little brother. We may not be bound by blood, but you will always be my family. But Rowan is..." Robin blushed. "Listen, how about this...after dinner tonight, I'll play a game with you, just you and me. Is that alright?" "Yeah, I guess so...but you're still going to come play with me after this too, right?" "Yes, definitely." Robin still kept his eyes on Rowan. "I'll wait in the garden. Remember, you said you would!" Wren waved goodbye. "We will." Robin waved back at him. Wren went on to the garden. He used to play there by himself all the time when Rowan and Robin wouldn't play with him. He sat underneath the big tree in the garden. The flowers were in full bloom, pretty white petals scattered all around the ground from them. The wind picked up as he waited and the sky darkened. He started to get nervous. There was a soft rumbling in the distance, and then another. A crack of lightning went across the sky. Wren wanted to wait it out and prove to the two of them he wasn't childish. His fear got the better of him and he ran back. Wren found them kissing again. Rowan noticed Wren before he could say anything. "Something wrong?" "Prince Wren...what are you doing back already? We said we'd come and play with you later." Robin came over to him and put his hand on Wren's head. "I don't want to be alone in the garden right now." Wren tried to hide his fear. As another lightning strike touched down, Wren cowered. The wind picked up drastically from earlier. "We should go inside." Rowan stood up. He held his arms out. "Wren, come here." Wren didn't hesitate. He ran over to his brother and clung to him. Rowan picked him up and held him close. Robin stayed very close to them as they walked home. It started to rain before they got back to the castle. Rowan hid Wren under his cloak. It was so vivid in his mind, the texture of the red cloak, his brother's scent, and how tightly he was clinging to his brother's shirt. When they were inside, he didn't want to let go. Rowan let him stay like that. He ended up falling asleep in his brother's arms once the storm quieted down. As the memory faded from him, his mind was at peace. Robin returned to the room he was sharing with Rowan. He was still a little bothered by Wren's behavior. Rowan was already in bed, but Robin could tell he was still awake. He lay down beside him and put his arm around Rowan's waist. Rowan's body felt tense. Robin rested his head against Rowan's back. "Rowan? Are you alright?" "I'm fine. I'm just tired." "You don't have to hide anything from me." Robin kissed Rowan's back. "I know. I don't want to talk right now. I'm half asleep already." "Get some rest then." Robin let it go. Morning came quickly. After eating breakfast, Rowan instructed Robin to run some errands for him before they left as he still had a lot to take care of before they departed again. While the two of them were busy, Eider and Luke were wasting time. Luke was in a bad mood from the previous night. Rowan had given him quite a lot of money, but he wasn't satisfied with that. He had spent the night alone again as well. "What sort of things does the prince like?" "You still going after him? Hold him down when no one's around. He won't talk." Eider said. "Like hell he won't. My brother would have me in pieces before the day was done." Luke thought back to watching the two of them in battle. He was a fairly good swordsman himself, but he wasn't foolish enough to pretend he could defeat his brother in combat. "Moreover, that's not my way. I want him to want me. There's no point in it to me if he doesn't want me." "I don't see why you're wasting so much time on him. I get that you like royalty chasing you, but by now you've usually had six or seven men buy you a drink and a night's worth of fun." Eider attempted to get over his hangover by drowning himself in more alcohol. He offered Luke a drink. Luke wasn't paying attention. His mind was only on Rowan. "I know. But I can't stand it. I have to have him." "Why, Luke, don't tell me...are you in love? I thought you didn't do that." Eider laughed. "What? That's ridiculous. You know I don't waste my time on all that sappy romance nonsense. I want him. There's nothing deeper than that." Eider nudged him. "Is that why your face is red?" "The only reason my face is red is because you're pissing me off." Luke took the bottle Eider was drinking from and downed the rest of it. "I'm just messin' with you." Eider was starting to seriously wonder. Luke wasn't usually so easily flustered. "You're askin' the wrong man. I may have known the prince for years, but we ain't friends. Bold displays like you did when we met up won't get you any closer to him though. He won't do anything that will lessen his reputation. That's about the only advice I can give you." "Hmm...I see." He handed the bottle back to Eider. "You bastard. You drank it all!" Eider tossed the bottle. "Well, I brought another one with me anyway." Eider and Luke continued their usual pointless banter with each other, both of them drinking until the second bottle was emptied. During the latter part of the morning, Rowan was having trouble keeping his thoughts focused. Rowan decided to take a break and go on a walk to clear his mind. Wren got the same idea and taken the same path by coincidence. When the two of them bumped into each other, there was an awkward silence between them. Rowan was the first to speak. He kept his tone friendly and distant. "Good morning, Wren. How are you feeling? Does your head hurt?" Wren held his forehead. He looked very groggy. "Yeah. What did I do last night?" "You don't remember?" Rowan asked. "I'm not sure...I feel like I remember something, but I can't tell if it was a dream or something real." A flash of something vague hit him, but Wren couldn't get the context. "Did we...argue last night?" Rowan paused before answering. "No." "Oh. I thought...I guess I did dream that. You're being far too nice to me right now if I had really said..." Wren couldn't bring himself to say it, even if it was from a dream. "Do you want me to get you something to drink? No ale or anything like that of course." Rowan pulled out a jug he had in his pouch. "I have some water on me." "No, I'm fine." Wren shook his head and then clutched it again. The motion made his headache worse. Wren sat down on top of a stone fence. "I hope you feel better." Rowan sat down beside him. Wren smiled, forgetting to keep up his usual act. "Thank you." Rowan unconsciously reached his hand over to hold Wren's in a gesture of comfort. Before making contact, he flinched and pulled away. Wren noticed his odd behavior, a memory of what he thought was a dream from the previous night lingering in his mind. Rowan quickly looked away. "I'm sorry." Rowan stood up and turned his back to him. "I better be going now. I'm sure you don't want me around. You have business with Father today, right?" Wren didn't know how to respond to the first thing Rowan said. "Yes, later in the morning." "I wish you luck with that. I have some business I need to attend to myself before we leave again." Rowan started to walk away. "You're already leaving?" Wren jumped up. "Later today, yes. Well, I'll be on my way." Rowan continued on. Wren followed him. "Wait..." "What is it?" "I wanted to ask you something." Wren was nervous. He forced the words out. "Father told me the reason I never received any training was because you forced him to stop it. What was your reason?" Rowan looked away from him. "I didn't want to see you stained in blood too." "I'm not a child, you know. I could have handled it. I'm not as weak as you think I am." "I have never thought of you as weak. But I do owe you an apology for that. My own incompetency has gotten us to the point you will need to do all those things I was keeping you from anyway. All I've done is waste everyone's time." Rowan was not usually so honest with Wren about those kind of things. Wren worried what this honesty meant. "You're not that incompetent. You usually win." Wren didn't want the two of them to leave on bad terms. They may not see each other again for a few months. "I win because Robin does the work I'm incapable of doing. If I didn't have him by my side, I would be dead by now." The more his brother spoke, the more he recalled from what he thought was part of that dream. "Is that why you're so kind to him?" "Wren, I understand why you've gotten the idea in your mind that I'm using Robin for my own means. I am eternally grateful for his help, but..." Rowan looked him straight in the eye. "The only reason I wake every morning is because I know he'll be there beside me." "I'm sorry. It's hard for me to accept you loving anyone." Wren wanted to smack himself. What he had meant was that he had a hard time imagining his brother in romantic situations because the thought of it embarrassed him. "Wait, no, that's not...I said that wrong..." "Don't worry about it...Rain?" He looked up. A light drizzle had started. Without thinking, Rowan undid his cloak and went to hand it to Wren. He stopped midway. "Ah...you probably don't want mine, but..." "What will you wear?" "I'm used to being drenched. You know how Robin is." He joked. "I'll take it." Wren took the cloak from his brother and put it on. Rowan fixed the hood of the cloak to cover Wren more. "You look better in that than I do." "You think? I don't know. I think red and black on me looks a little..." Wren tried to fix what he said. "Not that I'm saying it looks bad on you...it's more because you always wear those colors that...wait, I think that still came out wrong." "Wren...you're ridiculous. I'm going to go now. Take care of yourself." "I will." Wren watched his brother walk the other way for a while. Rowan really did hate being stuck out in the rain. He looked for somewhere to take cover. He still had some things to do inside, so he decided to do those tasks next. As he was walking back to go inside, Robin snatched Rowan from behind and pulled him under an arch. He whispered in Rowan's ear. "It's raining." "I can see that." Rowan laughed. "You should stay with me until it stops." Robin kissed him on the cheek. "Is this your doing? You know better. Let me go. You know I still have work to do." Rowan was so caught off guard by Robin's actions he didn't think about where they were. He was enjoying the moment too much. "I want you now." Robin kissed down his neck. "Quit misbehaving." Rowan turned around and kissed him. Robin was more aggressive than usual. If they weren't where they were, he would have taken Robin up on his offer. "Will that satisfy you for now?" "Yes." Robin held him in an embrace. "Be good and I'll reward you later. Have you finished all of the tasks I gave you?" Rowan ran his fingers through Robin's hair. "Not yet. I'm almost done." Robin kissed him again. "I'll come find you when I am." Robin left in a hurry, the rain dissipating shortly after. At this point, Rowan could usually tell when a passing storm was Robin's work or not. He didn't know any magic himself, but he could sense something different about it. After Robin left, someone grabbed Rowan from behind. "No shame, have you?" Rowan froze. He recognized the voice clearly. His heart pounded in his ears as he fumbled through making excuses. "I was...that was not..." "I knew it. You dare do that outside even? Has he bewitched you, or are you truly that foolish? I don't have time for your childish behavior." Argus turned Rowan around and held onto his shoulders. "Please, listen. I was..." Argus slapped him. "I don't want to hear anything from you. You're nearly twenty-seven and you have no heir. And what are you doing? Putting off your wedding to play with some wild animal. When the war is done, you are getting married and you are dismissing him." "I refuse." Rowan pushed him away. "What did you say?" Argus glared at him in a way Rowan had only seen his father do with criminals. Rowan stood his ground. "I'll marry, if that's what you want. But I will not dismiss him." "Then I'll do it myself." Argus moved closer to him, backing Rowan against the wall. "I won't allow it." Rowan returned his father's glare. "Excuse me?! I'm the king. Exactly how are you going to stop me?" "You're afraid of him. I'll give you a real reason to be afraid." Rowan smirked. "Are you actually threatening me? You..." Argus raised his hand again. "What I do in private has nothing to do with running a kingdom. You've clearly demonstrated that yourself. Exactly how many women have you slept with in the last month?" He stepped forward, his father taking a step back reflexively. "What? Did you think I didn't know about your secrets?" "That is irrelevant." A part of Rowan was disgusted that his father wouldn't try to deny his own behavior, but he had long realized his parents no longer shared a mutual affection. "I'll give you what you want, but I'm keeping what's mine. That's more than reasonable." Argus took advantage of the situation to bring up the other thing Rowan was avoiding. "Marry him off. It's about time he was wed as well. He's even closer to thirty." "When the war is done, I will arrange it." Rowan hated saying those words. He contained his anger. "I have nothing else to speak with you over." As he walked away, he could vaguely hear that Argus had muttered something at him, but he didn't care enough to find out what was said. He wanted to get away from his father as quickly as possible. The last twenty-four hours had been spent in someone else's home, and yet he felt worse than he did when he was in his own. He sighed and thought to himself, 'What could possibly make this day worse?' Up ahead, he noticed Luke standing on the bridge he needed to cross along with Eider. He laughed at himself and said, "Of course." There was no way around it. He would have to put up with Luke as well. Luke noticed him almost immediately as he went to cross. Eider did as well. He laughed and made a suggestive face at Luke before he left. Luke put himself in the middle of the path to block Rowan from proceeding any further. "Hello, my dear Prince. Alone again?" "I am very busy right now, Sir Luke. I don't have time to play around right now." Rowan tried walking around him. Luke continued to block his every step. "Should I take that as an invitation to play with you later?" "Sir Luke, while I am quite flattered by your advances, I am not interested in you in that way." Rowan was already agitated from his father. He pushed Luke aside. Luke grabbed hold of his wrist. "That does not mean you have to push me away completely. Let me help you with whatever it is you need doing. I mean that sincerely." Rowan resigned himself to simply having bad luck. "Very well. Come with me." If he had to put up with Luke, he could at least make use of him. Having Luke run errands with him kept Luke from having any time to keep making advances towards him. He could tell Luke's patience was also wearing thin. When there was nothing left to take care of, Rowan knew to quickly end their time together. Before Luke could begin, Rowan asked, "You want another reward, don't you?" "If you would like to offer one, I won't object." "Will this satisfy you?" Rowan gave him a pouch of money. Luke looked down at it. He should have been content, yet he felt cheated. "I don't object to money. Though if there were any other kind of reward you wish to..." "You want...a kiss?" Rowan decided to get back at him a little for bothering him earlier. He extended his hand. "You may kiss my hand. Will that not satisfy you?" "Well, it's a start." Luke took the prince's hand and kissed it. He knew Rowan was mocking him, but he wouldn't let it show that it was bothering him. He was already annoyed with himself that he was bothered at all. It made no sense to him. "Sir Luke, what is it you're after?" Rowan asked. "What do you mean?" "What do you want most?" Rowan pulled his hand away. "At the moment, a night with you would suffice." "I don't mean in the short term. Why are you here?" Rowan motioned to the area around them. "For the money and land." Luke gave no thought to the question. King Philip didn't mean anything to him any more than any other king. "Is it wealth you desire?" "Wealth gets me most things I want, and my looks get the rest for me. What more is there?" Luke couldn't shake the feeling the prince was leading him into some sort of verbal trap. "I see. Is there not anything else you want?" "Not really. I can already get what I want whenever I want something. Well, other than you. You've been quite difficult." Luke tried to regain control of the conversation. "Let me ask you. What is it you want?" "Something you can never give me." Rowan's words struck something inside Luke he was unfamiliar with. His heart felt heavy. Rowan walked past him. "Thank you again for your help, Sir Luke. We will be leaving soon, as you know. Please get ready." Before they left, Luke spent some time alone at the back of the castle. There was a tower there that almost no one ever went towards. He had spent many hours beside it for its quietness. Luke thought over the prince's words. What Rowan wanted, he already knew the answer to that. It was the same thing he desperately wanted himself. He stared up at the top of the tower. It looked like an elegant prison, a fitting place for him to be drawn to. For all his efforts, true freedom still eluded him. No matter how much he acquired, what he indulged in, it was a prison. Accepting that fact had been easy when he was young. If everyone is bound, better to have the nicest looking cell. When he looked into the prince's eyes, he saw a desperation that once burned in him long ago. Perhaps there was a way to tear down the tower and escape. Fighting like that with all of his being for that slim hope, he couldn't himself. That was beyond him. He didn't have the key to unlocking the last door to the answer. As he resigned himself to his failings, his mind briefly considered what it might be like to stay with the prince. The thought was pushed aside. For the next battle, all of the knights kept a close watch on the lower soldiers. A few suspicious ones were questioned along the way, but nothing came of it. Due to the lost time and the information leaks, their enemy was far more prepared during the next battle. By numbers, they were evenly matched. King Philip was not cheap with his hired men either. The men who Rowan had paid were still mostly useless, but he knew he could compensate with his more skilled knights and himself. He also had no choice but to have Robin fight again. The others were all expecting it. Robin had quickly abandoned his horse. For someone who was trained as a knight, Robin was better at fighting with his feet on the ground. His strange preference made him appear even more wild to the other men as he hacked his way through the enemies. Rowan ended up starting the battle off on the ground himself. Likely because he was easy to recognize, one of the enemy archers had shot his horse as soon as the battle began. As before, Luke couldn't help himself from watching the two of them fight. More than before, his gaze kept wandering back to Rowan. His own technique was suffering because of this. If he kept at it, he would risk putting himself in danger. Luke focused himself on his surroundings. Luke noticed something strange to the left of him. One of their archers was not in position. He went over to him to see what was going on. The archer was aiming at something. Luke looked ahead of them. Rowan was fighting directly ahead of them. Luke got down from his horse to stop the man. He had a better advantage on his horse, but he didn't want to risk killing the man. They needed any information they could get out of him. "What the hell are you doing?!" Luke grabbed hold of the man's bow hand. Just as he did, the man released his arrow. Martin and Robin both looked. Robin attempted to reached Rowan, but there wasn't enough time to stop it. All he was able to do was catch Rowan as he fell. Martin knocked the archer down to the ground and snapped his draw arm. "You bastard! Don't think you'll get a peaceful death!" Luke ran over to Rowan. Up close, he could see the arrow went straight through the prince's chest. Rowan was still conscious. He hoped that meant the wound wasn't fatal, but with where he was shot, it wasn't clear. The enemy had very quickly noticed the crown prince was injured and were going in for an easy finish. Luke knocked them back. He looked over to his brother. "Go. I'll clear the path for you. He needs to be treated immediately." Robin was in shock, Luke assumed more from what happened than what he said. "Thank you." Luke shielded the two of them as they made their way back to camp. Robin carried Rowan in his arms. Rowan stayed conscious, though he was heavily disoriented. A little blood dripped from where the arrow had pierced him, but the arrow still being inside kept him from bleeding heavily. At camp, they took Rowan to the barber surgeon to be treated. Robin helped the surgeon with the wound. Luke wanted to stay to see if the prince would live. He made himself leave. He was not going to allow himself to become attached to anyone. He returned to the battlefield. Despite what he said to himself, he fought more fiercely then than he had ever done before. Robin was enraged. He wanted to soak the earth in red. He couldn't move from Rowan's side. Keeping Rowan safe was more important than getting revenge. As the surgeon removed the arrow, Robin was filled with far more fear than anger. Rowan's blood spilled out onto him. He undressed Rowan's upper half and applied pressure to the wounds in his back and chest as the surgeon prepared to stitch them shut. "Rowan, how are you feeling?" Robin asked, mostly to keep Rowan awake. "It hurts like hell." Rowan forced a smile to calm him. "Keep him steady. I'm almost done with the front." The barber surgeon instructed. "Can you breathe alright?" Robin wanted to be more affectionate. Rowan would scold him if he did so in front of the surgeon. He restrained himself for the time being. "I think..." The surgeon finished quickly and bandaged Rowan. Robin stayed by Rowan's side, keeping a constant watch on him. According to the surgeon, the arrow had fortunately missed hitting anything vital, though it had come very close to striking his heart. With proper care and rest, Rowan would recover. This did little to ease Robin's anger nor his worrying. Robin held Rowan's hand knowing he shouldn't. Rowan didn't object to it. Not long after the surgeon had finished his work, the holy man who accompanied their army entered the tent. "What are you doing here?! He's not dying!" Robin shouted. "Calm down, Knight of Cailean. It is merely customary that I provide support in the instance something goes wrong. Do not fret." The priest stood beside the cot. "Prince, I am here if you need anything." "I have to agree with Robin, Father David. You being here really doesn't make me feel any better about this." Rowan said. "Unfortunately, it is part of my work to serve as a final messenger before the grim reaper comes. But you need not worry. This is merely a formality. I hear from barber surgeon that your wound will likely not take you from our realm yet." Father David put his hand on Rowan's other hand. "I hope so." Rowan was still very disoriented. He was starting to have trouble staying conscious. "With this one at your side, I suppose we needn't worry over finding pure water to keep your wound clean." The priest spoke of Robin. "Though speaking of purity, won't you let me baptize this one? Or yourself, for that matter?" "I promised Robin I wouldn't be until he chose to be." "Your mother's influence is strong. She is a kind woman, but I wish she would convert and stop putting such strange ideas in your head." Queen Ran had very defiantly refused to allow either of her sons to be baptized when they were young. It had caused a bit of a scandal at the time. Most had long forgotten about it. Rowan fell asleep while the priest was talking. "Rowan! Please, stay awake!" Robin held his hand tighter. Rowan woke up again, more disoriented than before. "Robin, I'm fine. Don't...don't let them send news of this to my father." The priest sat on the bed opposite the side Robin kneeled at. "There's no point in that request, Prince. The enemy knows you've been injured and word will get back about it no matter how silent we stay." "Damn it." Rowan pushed himself to sit up. "Then send word to my father my injury was minor. Robin, get my armor ready." "The hell I will. You're staying here until the battle's over." Robin took hold of him, preventing him from moving any further. "Prince, it would be advisable if you stayed. You risk reopening your wound if you go into battle so soon. Please, you must give yourself some time to heal." Father David helped Robin with getting the prince to stay down. "You were very lucky. A little over and that arrow would have struck your heart. God has been very merciful to you. Do not throw that away recklessly." "I'll be fine." Rowan struggled. Robin held down both of Rowan's arms. "You're staying here if I have to chain you down." Martin entered the tent. "How's the prince's condition?" "He should recover well if he rests and keeps the wound clean." The surgeon finished cleaning his tools. "I'm fine now. Let me go back already." Rowan demanded. "I see. Prince, we can handle the rest of the battle from here. You don't need to worry about that. Though I would like to have your hound back to speed up the process." Martin said. Rowan accepted his defeat and stopped struggling. Robin and Father David released their holds on him. "Fine. Robin, go on then." "I refuse." Robin's words surprised him. "Why are you being so disobedient?" "I can't leave you right now." Robin took hold of his hand again. Rowan looked around the room. He had an idea. "Father David, bring me that water." "Very well, but why?" The priest went to fetch the water. "Nevermind why. Do it. Robin, give me your charm." Robin understood. He handed the charm from his mother over to Rowan. Father David brought the bowl of water. Rowan wrapped the charm around his hand and put it in the water. "See? I'm safe now. Go fight with Sir Martin." Robin reluctantly stood up. "As you wish." Robin left with Martin. This was the first time Martin had been alone with Robin. He had his suspicions already. Watching how Robin behaved in the tent, he was almost certain. Keeping his voice low, he asked what was on his mind. "Are you in love with the Prince?" "Sir Martin, I didn't take you for the type to waste time with unnecessary things." Robin said. "What do you mean?" He stopped and stared directly at Martin. "There's no reason to ask something you know the answer to." Martin was taken aback. He hadn't expected Robin to respond so honestly. "You're very different from your brother. Don't spirit him away, Hound. We still need him." "Rowan decides everything." Robin said nothing more. Martin didn't ask him any further questions. Robin was human physically. He saw little else human about the way he acted. Rowan had put a thin rope around a monster's neck. He couldn't shake the feeling that Rowan had deliberately kept the Hellhound on a very loose leash. For what purpose, he didn't know. With Rowan down, and Robin, Martin, and Luke having temporarily left the battle at different points, the enemy had started to push them back. The other knights held their ground, and Luke was already shifting things back in their favor. Martin was in awe of how Luke was moving. There was no showing off or mindlessly going through the motions to finish what needed to be done. Luke was completely engrossed in the battle, his every movement full of intention. While Martin was watching Luke, Robin had already started fighting. He soon noticed him too, as did Luke. Briefly, Luke watched his brother. The same as the last time, he only saw a monster slaughtering men. In a way, he found him more terrifying than his father whom he feared. His father was a beast that destroyed simply because he didn't care about anything. That was why he had distanced himself from that man as soon as he could. Robin was a different sort of beast. He was more akin to a mother bear. Every action was deliberate and fueled entirely from emotion. There was no escaping him once he decided to target someone. Robin was more destructive than ever. Luke took that as another reason he had no need for any kind of love or loyalty. Love created the monsters no amount of gold ever could. Such a display of devout chivalry irked him as much as pious men praying to some unseen being. Luke could not fathom why Robin would devote himself in heart and body to any crown so eagerly. Why care for the wellbeing of someone who was little more than a glorified employer? In the end, Rowan was using him as a tool to achieve his ends. There was no sense in concerning oneself with any king or prince to the point of self-sacrifice. He found the prince alluring, but he wouldn't allow himself to die for him. At the back of his mind, something else was creeping into his thoughts. It was subtle, but he was noticing a similarity in the way he was moving compared to his brother. That made even less sense to him. He had no such devotion and he refused to entertain the notion of love being the cause. Luke's mind wandered back to Rowan. He tried not to think about him. The more he struggled to shut out his thoughts, the more they consumed him. He rejected the logical reason and let his body control his movements. With everyone, save Rowan, present again, they were able to get Brion's men to retreat. Robin wasted no time in running back to see Rowan. Luke followed him, though he did not understand why he wanted to. Luke could tell Robin was still in a daze. He carelessly was about to enter the tent. "Brother, wait!" Luke caught hold of his arm. "You're completely filthy right now. You risk his life if you go in there as you are. Wash off first, then visit him." The sky darkened above them. Rain poured heavily across the entire area. Blood ran down to the ground from their clothes and armor. Robin asked, "Is this enough?" "...Yes." As soon as Luke answered, Robin had already gone inside. Luke quietly followed. Robin returned to sitting on the floor beside Rowan and held his hand. "Rowan! Are you alright?" "Is it over already?" Rowan rubbed his eyes. He had clearly been sleeping the entire time. "Yes. How are you feeling?" Robin started to calm down again. "Better than earlier. I'm sorry I had to leave you out there alone." "I'm more concerned with you. Are you sure you're alright? Should I redress your bandages?" "If you wish." Rowan noticed Luke standing behind Robin. "Oh, Sir Luke. You came too? Thank you for earlier. I don't remember it very clearly, but you were helping clear a path for us after I was injured. You were a great help to me." "It was only natural that I assist." Luke felt out of place watching the two of them. "I am indebted to you." Rowan thanked him. "Not at all." Luke said. Rowan's attention was back on Robin at that point. Neither of them were talking. They seemed to be enjoying simply being in each other's company. Luke didn't understand it, yet he felt envious. It didn't take long for Rowan to fall back asleep. Robin sat on the cot and kissed his forehead. Luke realized then he had missed something blatantly obvious. On some level, he already knew it. For his own interest, he had ignored it and presumed Robin's loyalty was based entirely in chivalry. He felt even more awkward standing there. Robin looked over at him. "Are you still here?" "I'll be going." Luke sighed. "You don't have to leave." Robin spoke gently to him. "Tell me, are you merely wanting to play with him, or have you come to love him?" "How could I possibly love him? We barely know each other." Luke balked at the suggestion. "That hardly matters. Though it will make falling out of love far more likely than the feeling staying." Robin petted Rowan's hair. "I don't care for anyone. That's how it is." Luke's voice was filled with agitation. "I'm not like you, and I don't want to be like you. You wholeheartedly give everything you have for him, to the point of putting your life on the line. You await his every word. You're a slave, chained by your affection." "I gladly put those chains on myself. I'm not ashamed of it. Is that what you're afraid of? Submitting and letting someone else be in control?" Robin couldn't help but laugh. "You act tough, but you're that afraid of being hurt...it's a little childish, don't you think?" "No, it isn't. Right now, aren't you in pain? Your entire circumstance is pain. Why do you endure it? You can't possibly feel more happiness than suffering." "You're right, I don't. And I will stay in spite of that pain." Robin smiled at him. "What if the day comes when he doesn't want to keep you by his side anymore? When you're too much of a burden to his position...where will your heart have led you then?" Luke asked. "I'm not afraid of that." Robin stared down at Rowan, his expression of complete content. "If that day were to come, I would let him go. More than anything, I don't wish for my happiness. I wish to make him happy. If I must endure more suffering to accomplish that, then that is how it is. This isn't some kind of reward system or a balancing act. There would be no meaning in that. It is because I expect nothing in return that it holds meaning." "That's completely foolish. It's no different than aligning myself to the church. A whole lot of self-sacrificing and loss for nothing." Robin stood up from the cot and walked over to Luke. "Luke...if you can only find activities with rewards of value, you are more bound than I am." "How is that?" "You'll understand in time. But I wonder...if you do not value love and compassion, why are you still here?" He grinned. "I simply wanted to see the prince. That's all." Luke turned away from him. "I will take my leave now." "I accept your challenge, if you wish to continue pursuing him." Robin said as Luke was leaving. Luke didn't look back. "You can have him back once I'm done. I only want him for a night." In Luke's behavior, Robin saw a little of Wren--completely foolish and prideful to the point of becoming self-defeating. He hated to admit it, but he was starting to like Luke. Though he certainly had no intentions of letting Luke lay a hand on his lover. Still, perhaps he could acknowledge him as his younger brother in time. Rowan made a quick recovery from his injury. Robin kept him in bed longer than necessary to be safe. When Rowan had fully recovered, they prepared to move on. Martin and Rowan privately discussed their plans for the next battle. Little information was gotten out of the traitor in their midst. Martin had his men give him a gruesome and slow death. What little he did get out of the man, he passed on to Rowan. Now that they were alone, there was something Martin had been meaning to ask the prince about. "I learned something from your beast not long ago. You are aware, I'm sure, he is in love with you." Rowan did not respond. Martin made a suggestion he knew was inappropriate to say to a prince. "Is that how you keep him on a tight leash? You exchange yourself for his power?" "It's not like that." Rowan expected that, as absurd as it sounded to him. Martin asked the next thing he had in mind. "Don't tell me, Prince, that love is mutual? He's bewitched you." "Perhaps he has." Rowan wasn't in the mood to argue with Martin nor explain himself. No matter what he said, Martin would never understand it. He wasn't seeing Robin as human. To him, Robin was something between an animal and a demon, naturally predatory and malicious. Rowan hated it, but this illusion also worked in his favor. "But neither you nor I are in a position to complain about gaining his strength as a result." "You're playing with the devil, Prince." Martin warned. "I've met worse devils on the battlefield." Rowan shrugged. "I don't care what you do behind closed doors, Prince. If he were an ordinary man, I wouldn't be warning you like this. But that one is dangerous." "I can handle it. He's harmless to me." Rowan had to contain his laughter. He tried to change the subject. "I find his brother far more dangerous." "I apologize for that. Luke has never been one to behave. I worry about him. It's a wonder he hasn't gotten himself killed already." Martin's tone changed. "When I look at him, I can't shake the feeling he'll disappear one day without a word. But you know, Prince, I get that same feeling when I look at you. Please, be careful." "I appreciate your concern, but I have everything under control." Rowan reassured him. Robin betraying him was the last thing he needed to worry about. It was too ridiculous to even give thought to. As they moved on to the next battle, Rowan hoped they would be away for a long time. Long enough, at least, that the news of his injury in battle would fade from his father's mind. Above anyone, the person Rowan feared most was his father.
VI. The Wanted Chain