Professional Loyalty

It was evening and time to bring the prince another drink. Prince Hollis's daily demands and routine were long engraved into Finch. He headed up to the tower at the usual time with the usual drink, and received the usual directions of where to put it. Halfway across the room, Finch tripped over a loose stone on the floor. The tray slipped out from his grasp so easily he wanted to curse himself. He hit the ground seconds before the dishes smashed into pieces a foot ahead of him. Without hesitation, Finch picked up the broken pieces with his bare hands. In his hurriedness, he carelessly cut open his hands, but he knew better than to complain about such things in front of royalty. He had done more than enough wrong for the day. Finch's voice was desperate and quiet. He kept his head bowed down. "I am sorry, your highness. I will bring you another drink. Please forgive me." Hollis sighed. "You are forgiven, but do better next time, Finch. You know that part of the floor has needed replacing for weeks now." "I am sorry. I knew it was there, but my sight is not as good as yours. I am most sorry for my actions." Finch bowed down deeply. The prince hardly looked at him. He was too engrossed in what he was working on. "Yes, from that accident years ago. I suppose in a way it's a good thing for you. It was my fault that bottle was spilled on you, and that's precisely why my parents keep you employed. For my debt. But I should think you would have learned to compensate by now for your blindness in your left eye." "I am sorry. I will try harder." Finch lowered his head more. "If I were more like you, I wouldn't be so stupid." Hollis glanced over at Finch. He sighed and got up from his desk. He knelt down beside Finch and handed him a hand towel. "Don't fret over that. Here. We have a broom. Look at you. You've hurt your hands." Finch noticed how much blood he got on the floor. "I am sorry." "Clean your hands up before you tend to this mess, and use the broom first." Prince Hollis said. "Yes, your majesty." Finch bowed again and filled the bowl on the table by the window with water to wash his hands with. The prince returned to his desk to continue working on what he was writing. Finch dried off his hands. He swept up the mess on the floor. "I'll have another drink prepared for you soon." "Mm. Don't bother. I plan on bringing someone here soon. When you're done cleaning up, leave." Hollis said. "What would you like to eat tomorrow morning?" Finch put the broom away. He cleaned the blood off the floor. "The usual." "Is there anything else you would like me to have prepared for you tomorrow morning?" Finch asked. "No." Finch finished cleaning up. He went to the door and bowed, though he knew the prince would not look at him as he left. "Goodnight, Prince Hollis." Finch closed the door. He heard someone coming from the opposite direction he was headed in. He didn't bother looking to see who the prince was having keep him company tonight. The faces were rarely the same each morning. Prince Hollis had a few longer flings here and there. The most recent was with Princess Aderyn, which ended badly despite how passionate the two of them were prior to ending it. Finch was glad that relationship was over. He didn't particularly like the princess, nor any demands she made of him while he was there. In a way, he preferred the prince's nightly companion stayed constantly changing. When it was like that, nothing disrupted their pattern. He walked straight to his small room at the other end of the castle. The room was just big enough for his bed, each end touching the walls. Finch sat down to take his shoes off. He curled up on the stone bed and looked out the tiny window above his bed. A sliver of a moon greeted him in his empty room. He reached up at the silver light in the night sky as if to say hello. For a moment, he thought he heard his mother's voice, telling him an old story he had mostly forgotten. A little warmth filled him, but it faded quickly. His family was gone now. His mother died in an accident, his sister died in childbirth, and he never knew his father. He died shortly before Finch was born. Years ago, he shared this room with his mother and sister, when there was a little table in the room and a few toys. He would sleep beside his mother, staring up at the moon as she told him stories he'd fall asleep halfway through. There was no one here now, only him and the moon. In time, someone else would replace him and take his place by the moon, as it would repeat until something replaced the castle. One day, he thought, only the moon would remain. He found some comfort in that thought. His existence was largely meaningless, and in the grand scheme of things, so was everyone else's. Nothing mattered. There was no purpose to his lot in life, and no special reason Prince Hollis was born a prince. He played his role in life, grateful he had steady work inside the castle where it was safer than living in the farther parts of the kingdom. There wasn't much else for him, but this was at least better than having no roof over his head or bed to sleep on. If he were cast aside, even then, he would still have the moon above him. The moon was the single treasure no king could take from him. As he conducted his nightly ritual of gratitude, the emptiness within him crept in a little more than the previous night. He dreamt of nothing, and woke to nothing. He went about his morning ritual of getting ready for the day. From the window, he brought down a bowl of water, a rag, a brush, and a hand mirror. He washed his face off and brushed his hair, then fixed his clothes. After that, it was to the kitchen to get Prince Hollis's breakfast, and on to the prince's room. Hollis was still asleep on the bed, undressed, with a servant girl beside him. Finch tapped her on the shoulder. She jumped up and then covered herself with the blanket. "Annie, you're late for your shift in the kitchen." "What time is it?" She asked. Finch checked the large clock in the room, slightly annoyed she didn't herself. "Ten. You're three hours late." "Why didn't you wake me sooner?" Annie asked him in an angry voice as she looked around for her clothes. Finch placed the prince's breakfast on the table beside the bed. "That's none of my business." Annie reached over and smacked Finch on the arm. "Bring me my clothes." Finch's typical calm demeanor was discarded. He sneered. "Oh, you sleep with a prince and now you get to boss me around? Do it yourself." She balked at his suggestion, covering her chest further. "I'm indecent. Leave then." "I'm not abandoning the duties I'm paid to do because you didn't wake up on time. That's your problem." Finch walked away from her. He opened up the prince's wardrobe to find something suitable for the prince to wear. Annie was determined to have her way. She shook the prince awake. "Prince dear, good morning." Hollis sat up. He rubbed his eyes and looked over at her. "Huh? Oh, you're still here." Annie lowered the blanket slightly to show off her cleavage. She leaned forward toward the prince and spoke in a soft voice. "Yes, I need to get dressed, but your manservant is already in the room. Could you tell him to leave for a moment?" Hollis didn't care for her advances. "What? No. Dress yourself and go. You're a servant, not a noblewoman. Finch, did you bring me my rose lemonade?" Finch quickly returned to the prince's bedside and bowed to him. As he bowed, he pointed to the drink on the table with one hand. "Yes, your highness." "Good. Prepare my clothes for me." Hollis took a sip of the fruit drink while Finch returned to sorting through the prince's clothes to prepare him an outfit for the day. The maidservant, Annie, quickly dressed herself. Her face was bright red from embarrassment of Finch seeing her undressed. Finch avoided eye contact with her. He didn't care what she looked like naked. She stirred nothing in him with her clothes on. When Annie was done dressing herself, she dashed out of the room. Finch picked out an outfit for the prince consisting primarily of greens with red accents. He presented the clothes to the prince. "Does this outfit please you, my prince?" Hollis looked over the clothes. He nodded. "That'll do." After the prince washed his face, Finch dressed Hollis. They had their usual conversation as Finch worked. "Do I have any business to attend to today, other than that damn event later?" Hollis asked. "No, your highness." Finch straightened out Hollis's clothes. "Good. Any news about the war?" "Not yet." Finch moved farther down on his body, checking over every detail of Hollis's outfit. He got down on his knees to check over the belt Hollis wore and his pants. "I see. While I'm eating, fix up the room for me. After that, have my desk ready with plenty of parchment and ink." Hollis ordered. "Yes, your highness." Finch lastly checked over Hollis's boots. He noticed a slight smudge on one and cleaned it off. When he was done with that, he did everything else Hollis wanted of him while the prince ate breakfast. Hollis went straight to working on his writings shortly after. Finch stood beside the prince's desk. He asked, "Is there anything else you need?" "No, you are dismissed. Return tonight. I have that event Father's making me attend." Hollis did not look up at him. He was too focused on what he was writing to look at anything but the page in front of him. "What would you like for me to do for you tonight?" Finch asked. "I haven't decided yet. Be here at eight." Hollis said. "Yes, your majesty." Finch bowed, even though he knew Hollis would not look up at him. He spent the rest of his time in his room, keeping the loneliness at bay. It was too early for the moon to meet with him. Outside his small window, he looked out at the fields beyond the castle and the woods in the distance. He always wanted to play out there when he was a child, but his mother rarely let him go out to that area. She wanted him inside as much as possible, to keep him safe. She was very protective of him after the accident with the prince, but she never kept him away from the prince. She was worried over every little imaginary danger, but never kept him from the real ones he knew. When he was younger and more emotion stirred within him, her behavior angered him. Now that he was older, he saw her behavior as her attempts to keep him safe in an environment she really had no power to control. She could hide him from the outside world's dangers of strangers and enemies out for blood. The monsters that lurked within their walls were her employers, and more than that, he kept much of his pain from her. In his childish innocence, he somehow believed she must've known what was going on in his life, even when he kept things secret. He realized that was merely what he wished for, as he was too ashamed to admit what tormented him. Over the years, he feared it would break her heart so badly it would kill her. He never said a word, but she died anyway. Finch turned away from the window and took a long nap. As usual, he dreamt of nothing. Later in the day, at eight, he returned to the prince's room. The prince was resting on his bed, laying face down. He could sense the prince's agitation from across the room. He bowed to him. "Your majesty, is there anything you need?" Hollis briefly looked over at him, then turned over. "Finch, bring me ale and plenty of it. I'm going to need it to forget all of the moronic nonsense my father was spouting earlier." "Did you need anything else, your highness?" Finch asked. "That should be all for now. I have another...guest tonight. Be on your way." Hollis was in a very bad mood. Finch asked him no more questions. He brought the prince ale, as requested. He set out two cups, one for the prince and one for his guest. He filled each cup, then left the prince to brood on his own. He suspected whoever the guest was that night would likely be coming by soon enough. Finch returned to his room after getting something to eat from the dining hall. He typically ate sparingly, grabbing a little something whenever he was getting something Hollis needed from the kitchen or before bed. Tonight, he grabbed a bit of bread, cheese, and mead. He looked out the window as he ate. The moon greeted him. He watched the clouds move around the night sky. Rumbling in the distance suggested a coming storm. When Finch was finished eating, he lay down and closed his eyes. He wasn't really sleepy, since he napped for a long time earlier, but he needed to get up early in the morning. Finch turned over on his side. The room was cold. He imagined the prince's bed was warm, from the thick blankets and pillows that decorated it and from the company the prince was keeping for the night. His stomach begged him for more food. Frustrated, Finch got up and went to the dining hall again. He passed Annie along the way. She was flirting with a knight. Finch didn't like the man very much. He was a braggart who had a constant crowd of listeners due to his pretty face and his father's reputation. She sat in his lap, without a care. Finch hurried on his way back to his empty room. Another morning and another person was in bed with Hollis when Finch came to his room. This time it was a man. He recognized him as one of the knights. From the way that man behaved around the maidservants, he presumed the knight's interests excluded men, but he thought nothing of it. Finch went about his usual cleaning duties after he placed the prince's drink and food on the table beside the bed. Hollis woke first. "Oh, Finch, is it morning already?" "Yes, your highness. I've brought you your breakfast. Is there anything you'd like me to do for you right now?" Finch bowed to the prince. "Mm...not yet. Ask me again after I've finished eating." Hollis rubbed his eyes, then took a sip from his drink. He roused the man beside him. "It's morning. You should go soon." The knight sat up. He noticed Finch and glared at him. The knight ordered Finch over. "Servant, bring my clothes over and dress me. You had best be quiet about what you've seen." "You needn't worry about him. He never gossips. He knows well enough to keep quiet about my personal matters. Isn't that right, Finch?" Hollis reassured him. "Yes, my prince. I have seen nothing. Bad eye and all that." Finch pointed to his left eye. "I've trained him well. He's been my servant for a very long time. Out of all of them, I've kept him around the longest." Hollis said. Finch was a bit surprised to hear the prince say such a thing. Though he had served the prince since they were both young children, Prince Hollis had only bothered calling him by his name in the last two years. "Well, that's good. I can't have anything like this getting out. It was bad enough the time someone spread around that I had a night of drinking with that enemy knight from Cailean. I still can't get anyone to believe that I didn't sleep with him." The knight got up from bed. Finch began to dress him. "Didn't you though?" Hollis asked. "That's besides the point. Half of the soldiers on both sides have slept with him. People only gossip because they saw us together. He was still drinking the next morning. Should have slit his throat. That would shut people up." The knight sneered. Finch was disturbed by the knight's words, but not surprised. He couldn't fathom sleeping with someone and then killing them right afterwards. The thought of that made him sick. Hollis nearly spit out his drink. "That's a little vile, don't you think? I'd say he's at least owed to not be killed the next morning. He did give you a good time the night before." "He's a drunkard whore. Any man would do for him. It matters not." The knight said. Finch finished dressing him. The man pushed Finch away. "I'll be taking my leave. I have to report to your father today in a few hours." "Well, by all means, do what you must." Hollis said. The knight left without another word. Finch didn't understand what Hollis found appealing about that man. Hollis had a general disdain for battles and fighting, and such a disgusting man didn't suit his usual company. Finch presumed he must have misjudged the prince, and looks must be far more important to him than things like that, as he couldn't see anything else worthwhile about the man. Finch dressed Hollis and then went to change the sheets out. He wondered what it was the prince found attractive in people. Finch thought the knight and Annie were both quite ordinary, and some of the others the prince brought back to his room were not particularly beautiful either. In all that time, not once had Hollis asked Finch to do anything like that with him despite the frequency of nightly guests invited in. He assumed that must mean he was particularly ugly in the prince's eyes. While folding up the sheets, he snuck a peek at himself in the mirror. He rarely looked at himself, only doing so to check that his hair was presentable and his face was clean. He saw what he thought to be an ordinary looking man, but he took his assumption and threw it away. If the prince found him ugly, and the prince was obsessed with having pleasant things, Finch reasoned he simply couldn't comprehend what beauty actually was. There had to be a difference between him and the others. He took a closer look. His most obvious imperfection stood out to him. His left eye, though still blue like his right eye, changed shade after the accident. It was nearly clear, and while not very noticeable upon a quick glance, anyone who stared him in the face could see it. He averted his gaze. Finch quietly did the rest of his work and left the room. Around noon, Finch returned with the prince's lunch. The prince seemed to be in a bad mood. He worked on his writing at his desk, crumbling another sheet of parchment and tossing it aside. "I've brought you something to eat, Prince." Finch held the tray, awaiting Hollis's response. "Put it there." Hollis pointed to the edge of the desk. "Ugh, it's no good." "Is something bothering you, your majesty? Is there any way I can aid you?" Finch placed the tray down on the desk. Hollis looked at Finch silently for a while. Finch wasn't sure if he angered the prince or not. Hollis turned his chair to face Finch. "Finch, I know you can read, but how well?" "Well enough, but not as competently as someone of more refined birth." Finch knew most common simple words and words that were useful for him for his profession. Hollis sighed. "I presumed as much. I suppose the art of poetry would be lost on a mind like yours." "I'm afraid so, your highness. I'm not intelligent enough for such things." Out of the servants, he was more literate than most, but Hollis's skills were far above the average noble. "It's all very frustrating." Hollis put his quill down. "Pardon me, my prince, but may I ask what you mean?" Finch asked. "My family doesn't appreciate such things. They only care about war and conquering. As I'm a prince, lower nobility praises me regardless, at least to my face. Most peasants can't read, and the ones who can would think the same way as those nobles who flatter me. I can't get an honest judgment of how well I write from anyone." Finch tried to think up a solution to the prince's problem. "What if you didn't attach your name to your work and had it spread around covertly?" "That won't work either. They'll praise it even more then because it's mysterious. Tell me, Finch, if you were able to understand what I write, would you give me an honest opinion?" Hollis asked. "I would try, but it is as you said. I would be very tempted to flatter you because of your status and my position beneath you." Finch answered with the truth. "Well, at least you're honest about that." Hollis sighed again. He watched Finch move to straighten out Hollis's sheets. He tripped over the broken part of the floor. Hollis jumped up from his chair and caught him before he hit the floor. He helped him regain his balance. "Again?" "Ah, I'm sorry. I don't know why that one spot keeps getting me." Finch lingered longer than he knew was appropriate. The warmth of Hollis's hands on him briefly alleviated his coldness. Hollis didn't push him away. He grabbed hold of Finch's chin and tilted his head slightly. He looked more closely into Finch's eyes. "Is something wrong?" Light red rose in Finch's face. "How blind are you in that eye? Can you see shapes or light?" Hollis asked. "Nothing. If I close this eye, it's only darkness." Finch said. He didn't think about it much anymore. The accident was so long ago. He only had issues now with little things here and there like the broken place in the floor or sometimes making a mess when pouring drinks. "It's a shame." Hollis let go of him. "Be more careful next time. I'm running low on ink. Retrieve me a fresh bottle." "Yes, Prince Hollis." He left the room to get the bottle. Outside the door, he stopped for a moment. 'It's a shame...what?' On his way back from fetching a bottle, he crossed paths with Annie again. Annie noticed the bottle. She said, "Oh, is prince charming out of ink for his pompous hobby again?" "I don't know. Did you manage to come to your shift on time today? Or did you forget how clocks work again?" Finch snapped back. "Defending the spoiled brat? What for? You don't need to kiss his ass when he's not in the room, you know." Annie said. "Ass kissing isn't exactly a skill of mine, so I don't know what you're talking about. Maybe you could enlighten me." Finch said. He wasn't really all that angry at Annie, but he rarely got to express his emotions at all and for some reason, they all seemed to tumble out so easily when she was around. The more they spoke, the more he saw his sister and felt like he was in a different time. "You think you're special because he pays attention to you. He'll toss you aside once you've messed up enough." Her words reminded him what year it was. His sister liked to tease him and be snappy at times, but she would never say such a thing. "Of course he will. What made you think I believed otherwise?" Finch's true feelings still overflowed from him. He couldn't stop himself. "I already know he sees me as a replaceable object. The king is the only reason I'm even allowed here. When I have enough cracks, I'll be thrown away like everything else he finds imperfect." Annie's tone changed. She softened her voice. "What are you going to do then?" "Get another job, I suppose." Finch said. "If I can't find anything, I can always be a beggar or a monk. You should behave better yourself. You know this world would toss aside a woman even faster than a man, and in ways far crueler." "We'll see about that. Prince Hollis will marry eventually, and he'll be needing someone to watch over his children or attend to his wife. I'll make my move then. Until that happens, all I need to do is make sure I'm not thrown out." Annie revealed her plan. "You're doing a fine job at that with that whole coming in three hours late." Finch reminded her of her recklessness. "One error every now and then won't be enough for anyone to care so long as I don't do something that seriously angers the royal family." She said. "You still need to be careful, Annie. You've only been working here for three years. I've been here since the day I was born and working since I was four. It's as you said. I can still be thrown away." "Time doesn't matter to these people. It's about doing what they want. Neither of us are better off than each other. I'll be fine. Why do you always nag me about everything? You barely talk to anyone else." Annie crossed her arms. "Because you're the only one working here who still has any spirit left. Be careful or it'll leave you behind." Finch said. "Good day, Annie. I need to get back to the prince. I'm sure you have something you need to be doing as well." "Of course. These bratty nobles always 'need' something. I'm sure the queen will need her ass wiped when I get back." Annie huffed and walked off down the hall. Finch did mean to remind her of the fragile nature of their employment to wisen her up, but he had another reason for his words. Annie reminded him so much of his older sister. Whenever they spoke, he lost his usual composure. He lost his sister four years ago. Childbirth was always a risky prospect. For his sister, despite all of her strength and tenacity, she couldn't beat the odds, nor did her child. Since that day, what remained of his own spirit and will disappeared. Out of grief and anger, he wondered if she really did have the strength and it was those around her that ended her life. Before her death, his sister was seeing one of the older princes, Prince Lewis, and the child would have likely been that man's bastard child. With as violent and war-mongering as the king's family was, he didn't put it past any of them to get rid of people who might inconvenience them. He wondered what really went on in that room when she went into labor. He never faulted his sister for being a bit of a flirt and chasing nobles, but in retrospect, he wished he'd told her to be more careful. All of them were so easily thrown away. Finch returned to Hollis's side. Hollis said nothing more about their previous conversation. He worked until nightfall, then went to the dining hall to find someone to keep him company at night. He dismissed Finch for the night when he left. The noises of the dining hall were inviting and foreign to him. He got a bit to eat and retired to his room. The rain from the previous night had not moved on yet, hiding the moon away from him. He did his best to sleep, but the room was far too cold. Finch considered finding someone to keep him company at night, but he reminded himself of his own ugliness. In the morning, he found a woman in the prince's bed. This time it was a princess. Annie came into the room shortly after he did. He presumed she was there to attend to the princess. The prince and the princess exchanged little words before she and Annie left. Finch stood dutifully beside the bed, waiting on Hollis's next order. When the prince was done eating, he immediately sat down at his desk to work. After an hour, Hollis turned to Finch and said, "Finch, I know this isn't really your strong point, but I want you to read this and tell me what you think." Finch took the parchment from him. He read over the poem. While he didn't understand many of the words, he comprehended at least that the poem seemed to be about a forbidden romance. "I'm afraid I don't really understand it, but it sounds pretty. There are a lot of words in this that I don't know." "I see." Hollis sighed. "Please forgive me, my prince. I am only a servant. The gaps in knowledge between you and I are vast." Finch bowed to him as he returned the parchment. "I don't blame you, Finch. There's only so much I can expect out of you." Hollis placed the paper down on his desk. He rubbed his chin. "I wonder...perhaps if I wrote in a way servants can understand. I might get a more honest opinion out of them, especially if they don't know who wrote it." "Hmm...perhaps. Cobblers and tailors sharing tales are always surrounded by crowds. I don't think they would enjoy poetry much though. They like stories." Finch said. This intrigued Hollis. He asked, "What sorts of stories do they like?" "Ones about simple people or people who endure hardships, bits of magic. Animals and trees granting gifts and extending kindness, spells of transformation, riddles and feats of wit and strength. Those sorts of things." Finch said. "Are those the kind of stories you like?" Hollis asked. "Can't say I've listened much. I've always been busy working, but I like stories where people aren't the focus. I think there's something innocent and kind in the way lower creatures are portrayed in stories, untainted by our wickedness." Finch found himself opening up much like he did with Annie. He caught himself and bowed. "Forgive me, your grace. I'm speaking too much." "No, it's alright. I wanted that information." Hollis picked up his quill. "It's beneath me, but I may try my hand at that sort of writing. I'm curious what the results would be, and it will make for an excellent exercise in testing my ability to alternate between styles. Though that still won't tell me what anyone thinks of my poetry. Perhaps I should have you educated properly." "I am not sure if I will be able to impress you, your majesty. I am not very, well...I am of low class birth. What I've learned to do up to this point is likely all I can do." Finch said. "Maybe so." Hollis leaned back in his chair. "I suppose I'll never get what I want." "I am most sorry, your majesty." Finch bowed. He looked over at Hollis. Hollis locked eyes with him. Finch's face had a hint of red in it. He asked, "Is something the matter?" "One's like ice, the other's like the sky." Hollis said. "Excuse me?" "Your eyes. It's like a winter scene...that gives me an idea...yes, I can work with that..." Hollis jotted something down on the parchment. "Ah, but this feels better suited for a poem. Well, I'll write that first then work on the story." Finch was used to such strange comments from the prince by now. He often got inspiration from completely random things, but this was the first time the prince was ever inspired by something on Finch's body. He didn't know what to think of that. Finch looked away. "Do you need anything else, Prince Hollis?" "Mmm, not right now. Come by again later." Hollis said. Finch bowed and left the room. He thought over what happened. He wanted to think something deep of it, but he instead presumed the prince must be bored out of his mind if he was getting inspiration from staring into his ugly, mismatched eyes. When he returned later in the day, Hollis was in a better mood. He'd finished the poem he started earlier and showed it to Finch. The prince was particularly proud of his work this time. He asked, "What do you think?" Finch read over the new poem. It was much longer than the last one, though there were more common words used in this one so he was better able to understand it. The poem was about a knight and a prince, both under a curse and on a journey to an icy mountain to find a cure. The poem was full of treachery, unspoken passions and lies, and pain. It was far more romantic than the piece he last showed him, and if the prince were to show other nobility such a work, it would certainly be scandalous. Finch understood Hollis knew he would not mention the poem's content to anyone else, as he kept all the prince's secrets. He blushed slightly while reading over descriptions of sexual longing between the two characters. 'How did you get all of this from looking in my eyes?' Finch wondered. He handed the parchment back to the prince. "I don't understand every word in it, but it is very beautiful. I am not sure you should show that to many others though, given some of the content in it." "Of course." Hollis nodded. "Actually, I'm thinking of adapting it into prose. I'd like you to read it when I do." "If that is what you wish, your majesty." Finch said. "Are you sure you'd like that of me? Writing it to my reading abilities must be limiting." "A true master of words can get the same message across no matter how sparse their word choice." Hollis stood up. He approached Finch. "Come here. Let me get a closer look again." "Yes, your majesty." Finch did as he was told. Hollis cupped his face and looked deep into his eyes. Their faces were less than an inch apart. Finch could feel Hollis's breath upon him. He tried to see something in Hollis's eyes, to conjure some far away place and get lost in a story, but Finch was no writer. He couldn't make stories out of such abstract things. Instead, his thoughts wandered to the sensation of Hollis's hands on his skin, warm and comforting. He wanted someone to hold him. His body was freezing. Hollis moved back. "Yes, I've got it. I know exactly what I need to add. Thank you, Finch. When it's done, I'll show it to you. It's late now. Why don't you turn in for the night?" Hollis returned to his desk to work. "Are you going to work through the night? Let me get you some more ink." Finch offered. "That's alright. I'll work until I'm out, then go to bed." Hollis feverishly worked at his desk. Finch could tell by the way the prince spoke that he was in one of his inspired moods. He would not move from that desk for hours nor want for anything. He bowed to the prince and left, getting a bit to eat before going to bed. That night, the moon returned to the sky. He whispered quiet confessions to the beautiful light above him. As he lay down, he felt over where the prince touched him. His body was warmed by the memory of that moment, but it quickly faded. The next morning, the prince was alone in bed. His right hand was stained with ink and he was not wearing his sleepwear. Finch knew exactly what happened. The prince worked until the bottle was empty, as he said he would, and was so tired, he merely collapsed in bed right after. Finch woke him. "Good morning, your majesty. How did it go last night?" Finch asked. "Morning already? Damn. Ah, it went well. I've got the beginning done. It's going to be longer than I expected, but I'm excited to see where it's going." The prince grabbed his drink and downed it. "It's really good this morning. Must be fresh today." "Yes, it is. I'm glad to hear your writing session went well. Do you need anything this morning, your majesty?" Finch asked. "Fresh clothes. Actually, a bath first. I smell horrid. You know I always sweat when I get into one of those moods." Hollis ate his breakfast. "Would you like the tub brought in here for a private bath?" "Yes, and add lavender to the water." Finch had a few other servants bring the tub down and help him prepare the bath. The prince took a hot bath. Finch ushered the other servants out of the room to attend to the prince personally. Hollis noticed, but said nothing of it. Finch's motives were selfish and unusual. He wanted to wash the prince because he wanted to be near the hot water. The heat radiating from the water warmed him, and his hands were more directly warmed as he scrubbed the prince down. The scent of the water was lovely. The prince was fond of lavender, and in his years of service to the prince, he also came to associate that scent with pleasant luxuries. Hollis touched his face and stared at him. "Another scene I can add...yes, it's perfect..." "Another? How can you see anything in me? You are truly gifted." Finch said as he washed the prince's face. "I appreciate the comment, but it doesn't come from me. The images are already there. I simply notice what others are too oblivious to see." Hollis grabbed a dry hand towel and dried his face off. "I haven't really looked into your eyes before like that. That must be why I missed it for so long. But now that I think about it...I think I did see something once when we were children, but I wasn't very observant back then. I can't remember what I saw." Finch thought back on when they were young. He remembered something he hadn't thought about in years. "Wait...I think I know what you mean...well, maybe..." "Oh, does it happen to you too after all?" Hollis asked. "Well...not quite like with you and your ideas, but a picture of something...I can't remember when I first started seeing this. I was very young, but sometimes when we were together as children, even before I started acting as your servant, I'd see this place and I was sitting outside somewhere with someone else. I can't really remember it clearly anymore." Finch tried to conjure up the memory. It was too blurry now. He remembered the stars, the moon, and someone beside him. The rest was too unclear to be certain of. "When did it stop?" Hollis asked. "I'm not sure. When I was very young, probably around the time..." Finch felt over the left side of his face. He went quiet. "Around when what?" Hollis asked. He noticed the placement of Finch's hand. Finch in turn realized where Hollis was looking. He quickly lowered his hand. "I'm sorry. I can't remember. It was very long ago." "I see." Hollis put the cloth aside. He touched the left side of Finch's face once more. "Come closer. I want to see it more clearly." Finch leaned in closer, nearly touching Hollis's face. "Is this right?" "Yes." Hollis pressed his forehead against Finch's, his eyes never looking away. "It's a shame." "What is?" Finch asked. "It's beautiful." Hollis said. "What is?" "What I see." Hollis's words were no clearer. Finch gave up on asking. He took in the prince's warmth and searched for some other landscape in his eyes. He couldn't see anything there, but he swore inside he felt his body burning. Hollis pulled away from him after a while and smiled. "I've found it. The perfect landscape." Hollis returned to his parchment and wrote with an intense passion. Finch wondered what Hollis really saw in his eyes. He took a quick look in the mirror. His eyes were as they always were. 'If you can see anything beautiful in there, you must be doing magic.' Hollis could not enjoy his burst of inspiration. Within the hour, the king sent a servant up to the tower to inform Hollis his father was requiring him to meet with him in the evening. The servant did not say what the king wanted him for, and the absence of that information made it obvious to both Hollis and Finch that it was about the war. Hollis was the only one of his brothers not out fighting. His father had been demanding he go out and fight since the beginning, but Hollis refused him every time. Typically, after one of their "discussions" about the war, Hollis would lock himself away in his tower for a few weeks or leave the castle for a month. The prince refused to fight on the grounds of morality and pacifism, but Finch knew the prince's concerns were as much about that as they were about his own fear. Hollis had always been a poor swordsman, hated training, and had a strong fear of death. No amount of glory would convince the prince to risk his life for anyone. From that fear, Finch saw in the prince a more rational mind than that of his brothers. If it were to save someone nearby or a loved one, Finch understood laying down one's life for that. Many others were forced to fight, fought for pay to feed their families, or because they believed in a cause. There was no grand cause in this war. The king attacked another king because he wanted his land, and then several kingdoms were fighting. They were the aggressors for no reason other than greed. To fight in this war as one of nobility was to risk one's life for empty glory and greed. Hollis valued his life too much to risk it over something so pointless. The prince did not have the comfort of religious promises either. He spent far more time reading the philosophical works of wise men long past than visiting the church, and had tossed aside his faith in the process. Finch saw the prince's intentions there as being more about seeming more intelligent than anything, but Finch didn't believe in anything either. The way he saw it, if there was a god, that god was heartless to allow so much suffering. He saw no reason to believe in such a thing, nor care if he was wrong. When it would come his turn to die, Finch presumed he would simply cease to be, and the world would go on as it was. For the prince, the prospect of dying was much more frightening. He had more to live for, while Finch endured on out of habit more than anything. Hollis went to see his father in the evening, and at night, he returned with the exact demands Finch expected. "Finch, prepare yourself. We'll be going on a trip tomorrow. I'd like to visit the countryside for a while." "I see. What time are we leaving?" Finch asked. "Around eight tomorrow. Come to my room by seven to help me get ready." Hollis didn't say much, but Finch could tell he was holding in a lot of things he wanted to say. "As you wish." Finch bowed to him and helped the prince pack for the trip. The next morning, Finch dressed Hollis and they left for the trip. On the way out, the queen stopped them. The queen grabbed the prince's wrist and pretended to cry. Finch knew well what her fake tears looked like. "Hollis, you should stay home. It's not safe to go out right now. You never know what those brutes might try." "Mother, I'm not a child. I'll be fine. We have plenty of guards and soldiers at our disposal." Hollis snapped his wrist away from her. "Your father isn't going to like this. You know he would rather you go out fighting if you must leave, or do some diplomatic work." Her true intentions shined through. The king had sent her, as he often did, to attempt to trick Hollis into fighting. As usual, it didn't work. Hollis knew exactly what she was doing. Unimpressed with her lackluster, repeat performance, Hollis turned away from her and entered the carriage. "Father will have to continue being disappointed. He already knows I don't care for such things. I have four older brothers. That's plenty to fight and negotiate." "Hollis, please..." She tried to get in the carriage with him. "No more, Mother. Leave me be." Hollis shut the door of the carriage. Finch wiped away the queen's fake tears. He bowed to her. "Queen Francesca, everything will be well. I will ensure Prince Hollis returns home safely." "That's a good man." The queen said. "Perhaps you could get him to think differently." Hollis opened up the carriage door. "Finch, come on. It's time to go." Finch bowed to the queen one more time before getting into the carriage with Hollis. As soon as the carriage was moving, Hollis was already spouting insults. "Damn old bat. Can they ever stop bothering me?" Hollis slouched down. "Finch, I want a drink." Finch opened up a bottle of imported wine and poured him a glass. He spilled a bit when he poured, but Hollis didn't scold him for it. He readily downed the entire glass and asked for another. When the castle was out of sight, the prince's mood improved. Hollis pulled out a few pieces of parchment and handed them to Finch. "Since we have a long trip, I have another task for you. I tried writing more simply this time. Tell me what you think." He said. The papers he handed him were not of the story he was adapting from a poem into prose. Finch was actually curious what that one would be like, since Hollis was inspired by Finch's eyes. He wanted to know what this landscape Hollis saw looked like. What Hollis gave him was a new story, a short fairy tale about a peasant girl and a prince who fell in love with each other and were separated by magic. "It's a lovely story. It's very romantic. There's still a few words I don't know in here, but I understood more of it than the last one. I like the peasant girl in the story. She is very kind." Finch said as he handed the papers back. "Enough flattery, Finch. I want to hear the criticism. You won't be punished." Hollis straightened the papers and sat up. "Hmm...well, I think if it were meant for peasants to enjoy, the girl would be a bit more clever. Do you know any peasant stories, Prince?" Finch asked. "Very few." "What if I tell you some of them?" "Very well. I'm sure I'll pick up on the form and themes easily." Hollis got out a fresh sheet of parchment, ink, a quill, and something to bare down on. "I don't know as many as most peasants do, but I do know some usual favorites. There was one about a girl who wears a coat of a thousand furs that I liked hearing as a child." Finch said. He told him every story he knew. Of the girl who wore a coat of all kinds of fur, a two eyed girl who lived with monsters of one and three eyes, a girl in a red cap who met with a wolf, two peasant sisters who spent their days with a prince disguised as a bear, a girl with no hands--every story he could remember, he told the prince, as best he could. He hardly had any talent for storytelling like the prince did. In total, he told the prince at least thirty stories, to varying degrees of decency. The prince diligently took notes and remained quiet the entire time Finch spoke. Hollis worked on writing something new after that. After a few days of traveling, the prince grew bored of the trip. He read through books he brought with him on subjects ranging from rhetoric to medicine. None of them held his interest for long. Finch wasn't very comfortable during the journey either. He never slept well when they traveled like this. It wasn't strange for a servant to share a room or even a bed with the one they served. Some nobles found it quite convenient to have certain servants share that amount of space with them. However, that had never been the arrangement between Hollis and Finch, and Finch himself preferred having quiet time away from the prince at night. When they went on long trips like this, he could hardly sleep. The carriage felt suffocating. Due to this sleep disturbance, he was waking up later in the mornings. One morning toward the end of the trip, the prince woke before Finch. It was very early in the morning, about an hour before sunrise. Prince Hollis shook Finch awake. "Finch, wake up." With his later sleeping schedule and the prince waking up so early, Finch had barely gotten more than a few hours of sleep and was very tired. He struggled to sit up. " you need something?" "I can never sleep in these things. My back is killing me." Hollis complained. 'You didn't have a problem fucking Princess Aderyn in a carriage,' Finch thought to himself. He was so tired he nearly said his thoughts aloud. He caught himself before saying something foolish. Finch rubbed his eyes. "Is there something you want me to do?" "Ugh, we've been traveling so long. When will we be there already?" Hollis crossed his arms. Finch understood. Hollis didn't want anything specific. He simply wanted someone to listen to his complaints. Finch accepted he wouldn't be getting any sleep for a while. "We should arrive in a few hours, Prince." "Thank God. I hate these long rides. It's impossible to write in these conditions." Hollis was getting more antsy. He fidgeted with his fingers. "The terrain here is rather rough. Perhaps you could speak with your father when we return about having something done about smoothing it out or finding alternative routes?" Finch offered him an idea of what to do about that, though he knew the terrain wasn't really what the prince was upset about. He wanted out of the carriage, the same as Finch did. "He never goes this way. He wouldn't care about this. If it were near home, he'd do it in a heartbeat to look good." Hollis tapped on the side of the carriage. His fingers hit against the wood at a fast pace. "This waiting is unbearable." "We'll be there soon. Perhaps there is some way you could alleviate your pent up energy other than writing?" Finch suggested. "This isn't the place for what I'd want to do either." Hollis said in an agitated tone. "Hmm?" Finch grasped what that meant easily. He said his earlier thought in a more polite manner. "But you've done things like that in a carriage before." "That time, it wasn't moving. All this bumping up and down is making me sick." Hollis shifted around in the carriage. Finch wondered if Hollis really didn't want to not because of the terrain, but because the only option near him was Finch. Hollis clearly had no interest in doing anything like that with him. He didn't dwell long on that thought. Hollis could touch himself, as he had no qualms letting Finch see him doing anything intimate, or Hollis could ask the coachman. The prince was likely being honest. Hollis looked over at Finch. He asked Finch something unexpected. "Have you ever done it before?" "Yes." Finch said. He averted his eyes. "Would you do it in these conditions?" Hollis asked. "I suppose, if someone required me to." Finch replied. Hollis sat up straight. He turned his entire body towards Finch and asked, "Required? Has someone 'required' that service of you before?" Finch's face went pale. This wasn't something he was prepared to discuss with the prince. While he was used to seeing and hearing about the prince's bedroom activities, that side of himself to the prince had always been completely private. Like sharing the carriage for a long time, the conversation made him deeply uncomfortable. As a servant, he was in no position to voice his discomfort. He answered the prince honestly. "Yes." "You're my personal servant. Who had the audacity to request such services from you?" Hollis's tone shifted from agitation to anger. Finch presumed Hollis's anger was not for Finch's sake but that someone else had done things with his property he didn't approve of. He hoped the prince wouldn't keep asking him for more details. More than it making him uncomfortable, he knew the conversation was going to make the prince uncomfortable as well. He'd been avoiding this issue for years. Working from only three hours of sleep and already exhausted from not properly sleeping for days, he was in the worst condition to be dealing with this. He expected Hollis wouldn't be pleased with his response, but he hoped he'd be lucky and the prince would drop the subject. "I don't think you...would want to know that information, Prince." Luck was not on his side. "I order you to tell me the names of everyone you've slept with." Finch's face turned red. He decided to tell him the least difficult portion first. "Well, the most recent time was with Princess Aderyn." "Excuse me?! She what?!" Hollis raised his voice. "You slept with my former lover?!" "This was after you broke things off with her. She ordered me to as a way to spite you." Finch explained. It only happened once with the princess, the very night Hollis ended their relationship. The woman saw him on his way out of the dining hall and demanded his company immediately in her room. He couldn't say no, as she outranked him. She was a princess and a guest of the royal family. As soon as he entered her room, she had her hands on him. He never liked the woman. She was brattier than the prince and far more spoiled, despite being from a less powerful kingdom. Out of the many men and women the prince had slept with over the years, she ranked among the ones he disliked the most. The prince was head over heels for her, for some reason. They started off so passionately. Finch couldn't comprehend why the prince stayed with her as long as he did, especially given that he typically kept company for only a night. Just before the relationship ended, Hollis had many complaints about her behavior in bed. That night, he found them to be true. He could pleasure her without risking a pregnancy. He had the skills for that, but she demanded he get on top of her anyway, with the order for him to pull out before he came. She was rough with him, clawing too hard against his skin with her long nails, and when he was close to climaxing, she pulled him in closer and held him tight. He informed her he couldn't hold on much longer, but she ordered him to and wouldn't let go. Hollis told him about her doing things like that. The prince half wondered if she was looking to get pregnant and make it appear to be an accident. Finch was no different than any other man. He failed at meeting her demands. She slapped him after he came and threw him out of her room. The experience disgusted him, but all of his experiences with sex were disgusting, so he didn't think much on it beyond disliking her further. "Why didn't you refuse her?" Hollis asked him. "I can't refuse a princess." Finch gave him the obvious answer. "Stupid bitch. You said most recent. Who were the others?" Hollis was getting more worked up. "Before, this was a very long time ago, but it was more two people were alternating between using me. I don't think they were aware of each other." Finch spoke his words more softly. 'Please, I beg of you, Prince, stop asking. You don't want to know.' "I don't care about that. Who?" Hollis persisted. Finch took a deep breath. He had to work up the courage to name them. Finch braced himself for the prince's reaction. "Your older brother, Lewis, and your mother." The prince's eyes widened and his face went pale. "That's not funny." Finch lowered his head. "I'm not lying." The atmosphere of the carriage completely changed. Hollis's voice matched in pitch with Finch's. "How many years was this going on?" "Ah...hmm, let me think. About four for your brother and five for your mother." He wasn't exactly certain on that. Queen Francesca approached him first, and there was roughly a year gap before Lewis approached him. He wasn't sure if it was five or six years exactly. His memories from then were always somewhat hazy. "When the hell did that start?" Hollis looked sick. "Oh, this was around fifteen years or so ago. I told you, it was a very long time ago." Finch said. Hollis's face suggested he was even more disgusted. "Fifteen...? Finch, how old are you? You're my age, aren't you?" "Yes. We were born the same year. You've watched me grow the same as I've watched you." He said. Hollis grimaced. "Finch...if what you're saying is true, you were under ten years old." Finch counted backwards to check that was correct. He didn't think about his age very often, beyond that he was born the same year as the prince. He nodded, "Yes." "You are being truthful to me, yes?" "I would never lie to you." Finch said. "How is it I've never known about this?" Hollis looked like he was going to vomit. Finch faced the prince with an empty look. "Servants know many things those above do not know about each other." He watched the expression on Hollis's face shift from disgust to fear to sadness over the span of a few seconds. "Is this something they both do a lot?" "From what I've heard, yes. Their reach extends beyond servants. After that knight, the one they call the Incubus of Cailean, got his reputation for whoring around, your brother boasted about taking his virginity when that man was only thirteen. He wanted to take 'credit' for being so good at it, he corrupted that knight forever into sin. He demands knights allow their pages and younger squires to spend the night with him as well. I heard he once even slept with a young prince from a weaker kingdom. But he also likes young girls as well. He only touches girls when they're servants and peasants. He is quite pushy with servant women as well in getting them to comply with his private demands." Finch saw often how the crown prince, Lewis, treated adult women. That was the last person his sister was romantically involved with. She was always a feisty woman, but in his presence, she bent to his will like a wilting flower. He never understood why his sister was in love with that man, but he did keep from her what Lewis did to him. That wasn't something he could tell her, or his mother. He was a servant, so he couldn't say no, but the experiences he had with nobles left him humiliated and disgusted. He always wondered if his sister knew about that man's other preferences, or if she ever loved him at all and she merely convinced herself she did out of denial of being controlled. He wished he'd asked her more questions, but there was nothing he'd really do. He was as powerless as she was in front of the crown prince. Hollis stared down at the ground. He asked in a quieter voice, "And my mother?" "Her interests are exclusively male, from what I've heard. She has had her way with younger nobility and servants. She loses interest in boys around the same time Lewis does, right as they begin changing." Finch said. He thought the queen's age preference might have also started a bit lower than Lewis's, but he wasn't sure of that. The queen was the first one to approach him. She called him over one day when his mother was busy in the kitchen and Prince Hollis was being tutored in reading. He remembered the prince was learning about poetry for the first time, and how excited Hollis was over it. The prince hardly noticed him leaving. When he came back, the prince was still engrossed in his studies. He served him lemonade. That was all very clear in his mind, but the important parts were hard for him to recall now. He wondered why. He continued, "Your brother is the same. He boasted that he had 'caught' that knight from Cailean at 'just the right time' before it was 'too late' as his voice changed a couple months later. They are the same kind of person. Your mother is much more covert about it." Hollis put his head in his hands and sighed, "Well, since we have a few hours, why don't you tell me all of my family's secrets? What are my sisters hiding? My brothers? My father?" The king was the easiest. "Your father murdered his only brother and made it look like an accident." "I knew it." Hollis immediately rose up his head and slammed a fist down on the side of the carriage. "Your eldest sister, Patricia...I've heard only one of her children is her husband's. Elena does strange things with her servants." Finch went relative by relative. "Strange? In what way?" Hollis asked for clarification. "Uh...well, there's no polite way to say this. She is a sadist. She has...things she uses on her servants for her entertainment. She's killed a few of them by being careless." Hollis winced. "What sort of things is she doing exactly that someone could die from?" "I don't know all the details on that. One, she accidentally killed with a rope around their neck. Another, I heard she cut them up too much." Finch said. He saw the body of the girl she killed with a rope. Her head was barely attached to her. The other girl he heard was found in such a gruesome state that the first person who found her in the morning became ill at the sight of her. "Too much? One shouldn't be cutting up can she enjoy that?" Hollis shivered at the thought. Finch decided to try again to dissuade the prince from asking further questions. The prince had more partners at night than Finch had, but he was much more innocent about some of the stranger things people did for sexual gratification. "I don't know, your majesty. That is only what I've heard. Are you sure you want to hear the rest?" "Go on. What have the rest done?" Hollis said. Finch was grateful the prince asked about the other relatives rather than more details about what Elena did. He continued. "Anne poisoned her first husband so she could marry her lover. Collin...actually, I've never heard any rumors about him or Mark, other than they get a bit wild when they drink too much and Collin sometimes flirts with men when he's drunk. Justine, I haven't heard anything about her either. And your sister, Jane, well, she fancies only women and I heard she faked her sole pregnancy. The baby, supposedly, belongs to one of her servants." "I always suspected that about Jane and women, but to fake her pregnancy? Surely, her husband must know." Hollis said. "Is he not sleeping with her?" "I've heard he, likewise, only has interest in men. It seems to be a situation they agreed upon together." Finch explained. "Oh, so that's it. Clever." Hollis adjusted his cloak. He pulled the cloak in more around himself. "Well, seems once we got to Collin, all the filth that was flowing out through the family tree ran out finally. You should have told me about my mother and Lewis. I would have put a stop to that." "No offense to you, Prince, but I really doubt you could have done anything about it when you were so young." Finch said. "I suppose you're right. Actually, I have my own confession. Neither Lewis nor my mother ever did anything like that to me, but I do remember that Mark didn't want Justine, Jane, and I being around Lewis alone, and he didn't like me being around my mother alone either. That makes sense now. I wonder what he saw." Hollis slouched down, staring up at the ceiling of the carriage. Finch shifted uncomfortably in his seat. "You know something else, don't you?" Hollis noticed his behavior. Finch stared down at the floor, sensing Hollis was catching on to his unspoken implication. "Oh god, don't say it....Which one of them?" "Your mother. She did it to Lewis too." Finch turned away from him. Hollis didn't say a word for a few minutes. Finch wasn't looking at him, but Finch knew exactly what sort of face the prince was wearing now. Hollis asked, "Does my father know?" "Yes." Finch said. "Am I the only one who didn't know about these things?" Hollis raised his voice. "What each knows about the others varies. Some know more than others. You, Jane, and Justine knew the least of everything." Finch lowered his head. "I'm sorry. Perhaps I should have lied to you." "No, I don't want you to lie to me. I'm glad we're not home right now. I don't want to look at so many people right now." Hollis spoke in an angry voice. He softened his tone when he looked over at Finch. "Finch, I asked you to name everyone you've slept with. Was there no one outside of someone ordering you to?" "No, sir." Finch answered. The prince looked upset. He took that to mean he'd angered the prince as well. He promptly apologized. "I'm sorry. Are you upset with my behavior?" "No, you're the last person I'd be upset with right now." Hollis gave him a strange look. Finch was unsure how to interpret it. "But you...also sleep with servants." "I invite people to my room. I don't order them. I've never pushed anyone who's declined me into going back with me. I moved on to the next person or went to bed." Hollis sounded irritated. "You've been around me long enough to know that." "I'm sorry. I suppose I...see things differently than you. I'm supposed to serve your family and any welcomed by your family. If that means I have such things, then that is what I must do. I've never thought of that as...something I can refuse. Is it not your right to do so?" Finch asked. It never occurred to him he ever had the option to refuse, but he doubted those he had slept with would have allowed it regardless. "It's morally reprehensible,'re right, I doubt many would care since you are our servant." Hollis sighed. He reached over and put his hand on Finch's. "If someone gives you an order like that in the future, tell them you have to ask my permission first because I requested your presence for something important. I'll deal with them from there." "Yes, sir." Finch's eyes widened and his heart skipped a beat. He couldn't believe what the prince was saying to him. Was the prince being protective of him, he wondered. He quickly threw that thought away and presumed it was more a matter of him being Hollis's servant and his to do with as he pleased more than anything. A part of him didn't want to believe that and take what the prince was saying as it sounded, but he didn't want to get his hopes up. "Thank you." "Finch, would you like to sit here with me?" Hollis patted the space beside him. "Ah, alright." Finch got up and sat beside the prince. Typically, on their long trips, he always sat across from the prince, tending to whatever the prince wanted done. He certainly didn't sit so close beside him. There was only an inch or so between them. Hollis leaned against the side of the carriage. "It's a little chilly in here, don't you think?" "Oh, I'll get you a blanket." Finch got up and opened one of the chests they brought with them. He pulled out a blanket and placed it on the prince. Finch sat back down, just outside the blanket. Hollis lifted part of the blanket up. "We can share, if you'd like. Come here." Finch couldn't believe the prince was making such an offer. He asked, "Are you sure?" Hollis smiled and nodded. Finch got under the blanket with him. His face burned. "You can get closer, if you want. I don't mind. Uh, but you don't have to if you don't want to." Hollis added the last part quickly. Finch looked at the prince in confusion. His face went a deeper red. There were still parts of him that wanted to tell him he was being deceived, but when he noticed a hint of red in the prince's face as well, he chose to be hopeful. Finch leaned against the prince. "Is this alright?" Hollis put an arm around Finch and pulled the blanket up higher. "Yes, it's fine. You can take a nap if you want. I was thinking about taking one myself." "I couldn't possibly. I'm working right now." Finch's heart raced. This contact felt different than the other times he'd been held by those outside his family. The warmth he felt inside reminded him of innocent times, when he was small and his mother told him stories by moonlight. He did want to sleep. Fear lingered, but the prince felt safe. "Shh. You can rest. I won't need anything the rest of the way." The prince spoke to him in a gentle voice. Finch still was unsure if he should accept this gesture, but he was tired, he told himself. He curled up against the prince and closed his eyes. As he drifted into sleep, he noticed the prince was falling asleep too. His breathing was slowing down. Years of waiting on the prince made him somewhat alert to everything the prince did, even in that state. Under the blanket with the prince, everything was warm. He dreamt of watching the moon. Hollis woke him later in the day. "Finch, we're here. It's time to get up." "Mmm?" Finch was somewhat disoriented. He lingered there against the prince for a little while, still tired. He felt something wet on his face. Finch wiped it off. He'd drooled in his sleep. As he became more alert, he realized something. He looked over at Hollis's shirt. He'd drooled on that too. Finch's face went pale. He quickly apologized. "Ah...I'm sorry! I didn't mean to." Prince Hollis looked at his shirt and wiped it. "Oh...don't worry about that. How was your nap?" "It was nice. I haven't taken a nap like that since I was really little." Finch said. He noted the prince was speaking to him in the same kind voice as before. Hollis leaned forward and brushed back some of Finch's hair. "There. That's better. Let's go inside. I want to work on something new." Finch's face went deep red. The prince fixed his hair. That was not how their relationship worked. Flustered, Finch got up and went over to their luggage. "I'll get everything ready for you right away." Finch had the servants at the small castle they were staying in bring their luggage in. He took the prince to get something to eat, then they both went to the usual room Hollis stayed in when he visited. The castle belonged to the king, the remnants of what was once a small kingdom the king conquered before Prince Hollis was born. The family now primarily used it as a place to get away from things. This place was Hollis's favorite spot to run away to when his family wouldn't cease bothering him about needing to fight in the war. Hollis went to work on writing a story. Finch peeked over the prince's shoulders while he worked to see it was the story adaption of the poem involving the icy landscape. He was intrigued how the prince would expand it. Hollis didn't get very far into his work. He spilled a bottle of ink on his desk and threw away about half the pages he did write. Finch cleaned up the mess while Hollis grew more frustrated. Hollis ended up knocking over his drink as well. Finch got down on his knees to clean up the mess. Hollis rested his head down on the desk. He looked over at Finch cleaning. "Are you still tired? Be honest with me." Finch glanced up at him. " back hurts a little, but it's nothing." "Why don't you lie down while I work?" Hollis put his hand on Finch's shoulder. "Ah, but what if you need something?" "Rest on my bed. That way, you're close if I need anything and you can still rest up." "Are you sure?" Finch asked. "It's fine." Finch wanted to refuse, as he didn't think he deserved to be resting at a time like that. His back ached. He accepted the good fortune and lay on the bed. He'd never rested on any bed the prince slept in before, but he had been in nobles' beds before. The prince's bed was as soft as those beds, but he found this one more comfortable somehow. Hollis went back to work on his story. It didn't go any better. He ripped up the latest page. "Is something wrong, Prince?" Finch asked. "Ah, it's nothing..." Hollis sighed deeply. " be honest...I can't stop thinking about everything you told me...It's a lot to...accept." "I'm sorry. I should have been more vague or..." Finch started to say. "No, I wanted to hear it. It's just very...hard to come to terms with all of that." Hollis turned his chair so that he could face Finch better. "I've never liked most of my family to begin with, but I know, I'm the odd one here. I'm different...but...this...this isn't normal." "I'm sorry." "I should be the one apologizing to you." Hollis put his head in his hands for a moment, then he looked over at Finch. "Do you want to take the evening off?" "No, I'm fine, really. I'm not upset by what happened with the princess, not really. I don't think she thought of it like that. You said it yourself. Not all would agree with your view on how to treat servants. And with your family, that was very long ago." Finch said. That wasn't entirely correct about how he felt about the events, but at this point, he was less disturbed by it at the moment than the prince was. "Tonight, will you stay here with me? I'm not feeling well. I'd like you nearby." Prince Hollis looked as tired as Finch felt. Finch got up and walked over to the prince. "Would you like a massage?" Hollis thought it over. "That would be nice. Let's do that on the bed." "You want me to do a full body massage?" Finch asked. "Yes." Hollis got up and lay down on the bed. Finch got on the bed with him and massaged him, starting at the prince's shoulders. He'd done this before on occasion for the prince. The queen demanded this out of him far more often, but touching the prince didn't stir up memories of that. He worked his way down the prince's back. Finch stared down at the prince. He was practically sitting on top of the prince. An unexpected thought crept up on him. He liked this view. Hollis turned his head to look up at Finch. The way he was looking at Finch was very different from how he usually did. Hollis completely turned over underneath Finch so that he was now laying on his back. The two of them locked eyes, neither saying anything. Finch wanted to doubt himself, but he couldn't help but wonder if the prince was going to offer him a night. Hollis put his hands on Finch's waist. Finch was more excited than he expected. Hollis never looked away. "I've never really noticed before how good you are at this. Sometimes, some of the people I bring to my room at night try to impress me with a massage, typically lower nobility and servants. None of them are ever good at it." Hollis broke eye contact. His face was slightly red. "I don't know what I'm doing right now." Finch was confused by the prince's behavior. "What?" "I shouldn't. Not today, at least." Hollis sat up underneath Finch, by extension having Finch sit in his lap facing him. He kept his hands rested on Finch's waist. Hollis locked eyes with Finch again. "Would you go on a walk with me tonight? Just for a little while. I think I need some fresh air." "If you'd like." Finch said. Desire was slowly creeping up on him. "This is a personal request. You may refuse me." Hollis moved his hands away. The loss of that contact didn't make their position any less suggestive. Finch had no intentions of moving away until the prince wanted him to. "I'd like to." Hollis lightly touched Finch's shoulders. "Did you bring a cloak with you?" "I don't own one." "You can borrow one of mine tonight." Hollis went to put his hands back on Finch's waist, but he stopped. He glanced down at his hands then back up at Finch. "I shouldn't...Can I, for a bit?" "Yes." Finch was keeping his responses short and empty, but inside, he was overflowing. He was shocked at the thoughts running in his mind. Hollis put his hands on Finch's waist again. He pushed Finch slightly forward as he did. "You're on the thin side. Are you not eating well?" "I eat what I am allowed." Finch said. "Hmm." Hollis was distracted. He held up one of Finch's arms and examined it. "I'd like you to eat more. I don't want you getting frail on me." "Yes, Prince." He said. Hollis returned his hand to Finch's waist. They stared at each other for a while, neither able to vocalize what they wanted. Hollis leaned in. Finch expected he wanted to kiss, and leaned in himself. When there was barely any space between them, Hollis pulled back. "I'd like to go on that walk now. Let's go." A lot had happened to Finch in his life, but he was certain he'd never felt so disappointed before. He got off of Hollis and off the bed. Finch didn't let his disappointment show on his face. He went to get the prince's cloak. When Finch put the cloak on the prince, Hollis said, "Go. Get one for you too." Finch sorted through Hollis's clothes to find another cloak. He put it on. It was warm like the blanket they slept under in the carriage. He couldn't help but smile a little at wearing it. He'd never worn anything so expensive before. The fabric was soft to touch. He glanced in the mirror. Wearing something so nice with his own clothes, he looked like a thief who'd just left a rich man's home. Hollis straightened out the cloak for him. He said, "Those colors actually suit you well. Your blue eyes almost look like they have some green in them now." "Does that ruin the landscape you saw?" Finch asked, meaning his words as a joke. Hollis looked more closely in his eyes. "No, it's different, but...oh, this gives me a new idea..." "You really can be inspired by anything. That's quite the talent." "A talent that no one cares about." Hollis laughed at himself. "Come, let's go. Perhaps the night will reflect a different shade." They walked together into the night. Hollis took Finch out to an area far from the castle. An open field of wild flowers on a hilly area was brightly illuminated by the moon. Finch was in awe at the beauty of the space. His dear friend, the moon, was on full display above him. Hollis led him over to a specific spot and sat down. He motioned for Finch to sit beside him. "What do you think of this place?" "It's beautiful..." Finch stared up at the night sky. "It's nice to hear someone else say it, even if you're saying it to appease me." Hollis said. "This place...when I was younger and my parents would take me on trips out here in the summer, I used to sneak out here late at night." "Why?" "The view here is perfect. Look. When the sky's clear and the moon is high, you can see everything." Hollis fell back into the grass. "There isn't any view like that back home." "You like simple things like this?" Finch lay down beside him. The prince could describe a wondrous landscape in immense detail in writing, but Finch assumed that was merely for effect and not out of genuine love for such spaces. "Yes. The moon is my only friend. I always watch the moon late at night, but the view isn't as nice as here." Hollis said. Finch listened closely. "You know I've never...been close to any of my family. I don't exactly fit with the family image, and I know I'm spoiled and hard to deal with. I've never managed to keep anyone by me for long...I'm not really sure how. It's funny. I can write romance stories with ease, but I don't know how to hold onto anything." "Prince..." Finch rose up slightly and hovered over Hollis. "The moon is only friend. I have nothing to hold onto either." "Is that really true?" "Yes." "What do you think of me? Be honest." Hollis tugged on the lining of the cloak Finch wore. "You're family is kind to me. I have a place to sleep every night, food to eat, clothes to wear, and some money left to take care of my health. I have no reason to complain." "I said be honest. What do you think of me?" Hollis asked. Finch had many things he wanted to say, but none were appropriate. "I...don't know how to answer that." "That bad, huh?" Hollis laughed. "No. I meant what I said." Finch fell back on the grass. His eyes were heavy. He was starting to drift into sleep. "Are you asleep?" Hollis asked. "Mmm?" "You're still tired, aren't you? Let's go back in." Hollis helped him up. "Are you still staying tonight? I'm not asking you to have sex with me." "I didn't think you were." Finch said. "I wanted to make that clear." Once again, Finch was deeply disappointed. They went back to the room. At first, Finch went to the edge of the bed to sleep. Hollis told him he needn't do that. He was free to sleep next to the prince if he wanted. Finch took up that offer, hopeful again. He was more forward this time. He cuddled with the prince. He wanted to tell the prince his desires, but he could not vocalize them even then. Eventually, the prince fell asleep. He missed his opportunity again. Finch sighed and watched the prince sleep. He curled up against the prince into his back, wrapping one of his arms around the prince's waist. Out of frustration, he whispered, "I wanted it." Hollis put his hand over Finch's. "Is that so?" Finch's heart rang in his ears. He was certain the prince wasn't awake. Otherwise, he would have never said that. Embarrassed, Finch pulled away and rolled over. He said, "I'll leave." "Don't go." Hollis touched his shoulder. "I want it too. I've been wanting it...for a while..." The room went quiet and both of them remained still. Finch made the first move. He leaned in and kissed the prince. Hollis reciprocated passionately. With that gesture, everything Finch had been holding back could no longer be contained. He ran his hands over the prince's body, something he had done before when he washed the prince or helped him dress. His touch carried a different meaning now, and he was desperate for any contact he could get. Hollis was touching him with the same desperation. "Wait...hold on." Hollis stopped. He got up from the bed and lit a few candles. He returned to the bed. " to see the face of the person I'm with." Finch laughed, but he didn't know why. "You want to look at me?" "What a silly question to ask." Hollis threw off his clothes. Finch did the same. "You're very good at getting them off." "That's easier than putting them on." Hollis said as he tossed his pants on the floor. As soon as the prince was undressed, Finch got between his legs. He pleasured Hollis with his mouth. Finch had plenty of experience at this, none of which he really wanted to remember. He thought not of how he acquired that experience, but of how to use it to impress the prince. Hollis put his hand lightly on Finch's head. "Not too much. I want inside you." Finch's body burned. He looked up at Hollis to see what sort of face he was making. He'd seen the prince make that expression before, as the prince had no qualms about engaging in sexual activities in front of him, but he'd never seen it from that angle. He wanted to show off more. "Prince, lie back." Finch sat up and searched for something from the table near the bed. He knew exactly where Hollis kept everything. Hollis was always a very organized person, sometimes to the point of becoming upset if anything of his wasn't put back exactly as he left it. Finch found what he was looking for. He used some oil to prepare himself, then got on top of the prince. Hollis put his hands on Finch to help him balance as Finch used the prince's knees for support. When Finch had gotten himself stable, Hollis stroked him. With Hollis touching him like that, every barrier that remained between them shattered. Finch didn't care how loud he was being, nor what face he showed the prince. He wanted nothing more than to make Hollis feel good, and in turn, have Hollis make him feel the same. For all the times he'd been required to sleep with someone else, none were ever like this. He didn't want it to end. After their passionate encounter, Finch returned to his servant duties and cleaned the both of them up. Hollis pulled him close when he was done. He caressed Finch's face. "That's good enough. We can bathe in the morning." "The candles...I should..." Finch started to say. "No, it's fine. I want to see you before I sleep." "I'll put them out after you fall asleep then." Finch rested in Hollis's arms. In that moment, he felt complete satisfaction. Hollis fell asleep soon after. Finch watched him sleep for a while before blowing out the candles and going to sleep himself. The following morning, Finch woke up embarrassed and afraid. He stared down at Hollis beside him. Finch quickly dressed himself and went to get the prince's usual breakfast. He left the room so quickly he wasn't sure if he properly closed the door. He cursed himself. The prince rarely kept anyone for more than a night, and none more than a few months. When he grew bored of someone, he simply stopped bothering to interact with them. 'Will you finally throw me away too?' The tray that was usually easy for him to carry felt heavy on his return to the prince's room. Hollis was already awake when he entered the room. "Good morning, Finch. Is that breakfast?" Hollis smiled at him. "Yes, your majesty." Finch placed the tray down on the table beside the bed. "Is there anything else you need?" "Hmm...oh, you forgot my drink." Hollis said. Finch checked the tray. He bowed deeply. "I'm so sorry! I'll go get it right away." "Ah, it's alright. You can get me a drink later." "No, please, allow me to correct my mistake." Finch continued to bow. "Well, if you insist." Hollis said. "Could you dress me first before you go? I'm a bit cold." Finch dressed Hollis, then left to get his drink. Out in the hall, he ran into a familiar face. It was Annie. Finch approached her. "Annie, what are you doing here?" "I was moved here not long ago. They're shorthanded here." She said. "I heard Prince Hollis is here now. He must be if you're here, or has he thrown you away finally?" Finch would have typically argued with her, but today, he didn't have the fire in him for it. "Not yet, but it will be soon." "Soon? Did you mess up something again?" Annie asked. "Yes, something I can't fix." Finch noticed a smudge on her face. He cleaned it off for her. "Careful. Royalty can be so fickle about appearances, especially the appearance of a woman. Do you have a hand mirror?" "I do, but I haven't got it on me." "You should carry one and check yourself occasionally. It's easier for most to forgive a pretty face." Finch said. He started to walk past her. "Finch, are you really getting thrown out soon?" She asked. "Well, most likely, from serving Prince Hollis at least. He may move me to a different position." Finch went on his way. He didn't want to explain anything to her about that. When he returned to the prince, he noticed Hollis was behaving oddly. He gave Finch strange stares, then abruptly looked away. Breakfast was eaten in complete silence. Hollis was the first to speak again. "Um...about last night...I wasn't pushing you too much, was I?" He asked. Finch looked away from him. "No, not at all. I told you. I wanted to." "Would you want to...again?" Hollis's words were more passive than Finch was used to hearing. "Right now?" "Tonight...perhaps...if you'd like..." Hollis said. His face was slightly red. "I might like that." Finch responded in both a vague and positive way. He did want it. If the prince had asked him for it right then and there, he'd have stripped immediately. He knew he shouldn't. The prince always tossed aside people once he grew bored of them. Tonight, he might extend that date, but the prince would throw him away eventually, as he had done with everyone else. "Do you want anything, Prince?" Hollis cleared his throat. He stood before Finch. "I'd like you to accompany me on a walk to the garden. It's peaceful there. I've gotten a lot of ideas out there before." "Very well. Should I prepare anything for the trip out?" "Pack a bit of parchment and ink for me." Hollis said. "Yes, your majesty." Finch bowed and got everything ready. Internally, he was excited and sad. 'I don't want to leave your side.' Finch walked out into the hall with the prince. He thought over the years they'd spent together. The prince rarely paid much attention to him prior to the last two years, but Hollis was familiar. He'd been by the prince's side since they were infants and his mother served as a wet nurse to the queen. He knew the prince's habits, his preferences, and he was comfortable around him in a way he wasn't with others in spite of his restrictive role. Underneath that, he knew there was another reason he would not admit to himself until that moment. It was illogical, but he felt it nonetheless. Finch looked over at the prince and then away. 'At least let me stay here.' Hollis stopped by a window in the hall. "It's dark out. Rain?" Finch stood beside him at the window. "Looks like it will soon." "Damn. Well, let's head to the library then." Hollis lingered at the window for a while, then started walking in a different direction. "Finch, I think I'm ready to work on that adaption again. I'd like you to read over my progress." "If you'd like. Are you close to completing it?" Finch asked. "Mostly. I have a few more scenes I want to add, then I'll fix some things and copy it all out. I'd like you to read the final version as well." "Are you sure you want me to read over it? I'm nowhere near as educated as you." Finch said. "I've been thinking about that. I'd like to have you tutored. I know you haven't been tutored since we were children, but I think I could at the very least get you to the level of a noble with a lesser education." "Why would you want to do that?" "I trust you to be honest with me." Hollis said. Finch's heart skipped a beat. Perhaps he wasn't going to be thrown away. He wanted to believe that. He asked, "Why?" "I've been thinking...about a lot of things lately.." Hollis stopped and faced Finch. "I've been thinking that I..." A loud cracking noise echoed through the hall as everything shook, and then another. Screaming came next, then shouting and another loud thud. "What's going on?!" Hollis froze in panic. Finch ran back to the window and looked out. A heavy wind hit against him as he caught sight of the canons and soldiers on the horizon at the forest's edge beyond the field. Finch ran back to the prince and grabbed his hand. He led him towards the stairs of the tower nearby, intending to descend it to find a way out. "We're under attack. Prince, please follow me. I'll lead you to somewhere safe." When they were in the stairwell, something hit at the top of the tower and shook everything. Something hit the tower again shortly after that. The top of the tower, made of wood, broke open over them. Finch pushed Hollis down and covered as much of him as possible with his own body. Everything fell on top of and around him. Some of the stones of the tower walls came down nearby. When the falling stopped, the rain started. Lightning illuminated everything. Finch couldn't move. There was so much on top of him. "What was that? Did they hit the top of the tower?" Hollis got out from under him, pushing his way through the wooden boards. Finch said nothing in response. His body felt numb, and he was getting dizzy. He did his best to concentrate and check if the prince was injured anywhere. From what Finch could see, Hollis had a few scrapes here and there, but he was mostly unharmed. Finch then turned his attention to his own body, to sort out why he was stuck. He knew his legs were caught under something without having to look. Finch couldn't reach back that far to free himself. Hollis would have to help him. He tried to push away as much as he could, and that's when it dawned on him. He couldn't move one of his arms. Finch stared at his left arm in shock, unable to believe what he was seeing was real. One of the wooden boards broke and pierced right through his left arm. The wood above it and a large crack in the floor kept the long piece of wood firmly planting into him. The blood on the floor was so great. He was certain his arm was broken, but he couldn't panic. He was losing consciousness. 'I'm going to die.' He stared at his arm as he gradually accepted his fate. The pain was beginning to hit him. It was more agonizing than when Hollis accidentally spilled a poison in his eye when they were children. He accepted death quickly. Finch reflected back on his life, finding little to care about. There was nothing extraordinary, he'd accomplished nothing, and he'd soon be forgotten. No children, no family, no land. He thought of the moon and that quiet space at night. He wished he'd gotten to see it once more, but the last twenty-four hours with the prince had been very nice. Having accepted his demise, he decided he would be faithful in his duties to the prince until the end. "The rest of the need to take the first door on the left...and then..." Finch forced himself to speak. "You're abandoning me? You have to come with me. You're supposed to..." Hollis sensed something was off. He leaned close to Finch. "Are you unable to free yourself?" "It's alright. There's no time to free me...I'm sorry, Prince, but you must go on alone." Finch did his best to stay awake. "Nonsense. Here, let me get this off you. I'm strong enough for that at least." Hollis began lifting off the wood that covered Finch. "Prince, please save your strength." "You're my servant, and you're coming with me. Now, when I remove this from you, I want you to get up and we'll go together." Hollis removed more of the wood. He stopped when he saw it. Not only was Finch's arm pierced through, his left leg also had pieces of wood stuck in it, though not as deeply. The bloody sight was so shocking to the prince he could not speak. He only stared in silence. Wanting to honor the prince's request, Finch attempted to stand up and pull his arm up through the wood. More blood fell, but he was unable to free himself. He didn't want Hollis to see this. Finch didn't realize he was crying when he spoke. "I'm...sorry...Please, I'll tell you the..." "Why didn't you say you were injured like this?" Hollis, to Finch's confusion, was crying too. "I'll pull it out for you." Hollis tried to pull the wood out, but he couldn't. Finch kept himself from making any noise or gesture that would suggest he was in pain when the prince pulled on the wood. Hollis stopped when he realized all he was accomplishing was making Finch bleed more. "I'll figure out something. Maybe there's something I can use to cut through it." Hollis frantically looked around the area for anything to break it with. When he found nothing, he tried using his hands, but he wasn't able to. The blood stained his hands. Lightning illuminated a third figure in the space. Annie had entered the area, looking for a way to escape. She stopped before them, her eyes locked on Finch. "Annie..." Finch called out to her. "What's happened..." She was already shaken from the attack. Annie couldn't take anymore and cried. "Annie, please escort the prince...I can't seem to get out of here." Since the prince would not listen to him, Finch gave her an order instead. Annie cried harder. She grabbed the prince's arm and pulled at it for him to get up. "Come with me, your highness." "Girl, get me help for him. I'll manage on my own." He pushed her away. "But..." She tried again, but he would not allow her to touch him. "Do as I say. Do not question me." Hollis said in a stern voice. "Prince, you should go with her..." Finch tried again. "Please, I beg you..." "I owe you my life. I can't leave you here." Hollis put his hand to Finch's face. "I won't." "Your kindness is misplaced. I'm going to die and if you stay, you may die too." With his free hand, Finch touched the prince's. He took in the warmth of the prince's hand, glad he could feel that sensation before the end. "No, I'm getting you help." Hollis refused him again. "I know, and it is still likely I am going to die. Please, I beg you. Please, go on." Finch heard another loud noise echo down the hall as everything shook again. He couldn't hold back anything anymore. He raised his voice at the prince and cried harder than he had ever done in front of anyone. "You have hundreds of servants. You'll forget my name in the morning." "Why would I forget your name? I've been saying it for nearly twenty years." Hollis hugged him. "That's not tr..." Finch nearly corrected him. In all the years they spent together, the prince had really only paid any significant attention to him in the last two years; and the prince never bothered with remembering the names of those who he stopped paying attention to. Seeing how sad and terrified the prince was, he kept that truth inside. More than that, he thought it pointless to say regardless. The prince likely would forget his name in the morning. "Prince, please leave." "Come, Prince Hollis. We must go. We have to get you somewhere safe." Annie urged the prince to leave. "No. I am not leaving. Get us someone to help him. I order you to do it now or I will have you thrown in the streets!" Hollis yelled at her. "Yes, your majesty!" Annie bowed and ran to look for someone. "You should have gone with her." Finch said. "I will choose my own fate." Hollis freed Finch's feet. He pulled the smaller bits of wood stuck in Finch out of him and ripped up the edge of his cloak to wrap his wounds where he could. "I won't abandon you. I'm here." Shortly after the prince uttered those words, everything went black. He woke in the carriage, laid out on his back with a surgeon staring down at him. He tried to sit up, but he did not have the strength. He still had a chunk of wood stuck in his left arm and one in his left leg, but both pieces were now broken down into being much shorter and the smaller chunks of wood the prince couldn't remove before were now gone. He looked around the carriage. Hollis was sitting on the floor beside the seat Finch was laying in. Annie was at the carriage door, still in tears. The cruel knight Hollis kept as company one night was also there standing by the door. And beside him a surgeon was looking through his tools. "Prince...what happened?" Finch asked. "Sir Cian freed you after you passed out, and carried you while he got us to safety. We're a ways from the castle now. We're safe here. When things settle down, we'll make our way back home." Hollis held Finch's hand. "I'm sorry, but...well, we'll have to have you treated out here. It's not ideal but we don't really have a choice. You need to be treated immediately. Sir Cian tells me this surgeon is very good. You'll be alright." "Are you alright?" Finch asked. He didn't want to look over at the sharp objects the surgeon was preparing. "I'm fine. He already looked me over and cleaned me up." Hollis said. He then turned to the surgeon. "Please, help him." The surgeon carried a saw in his hand. "I can save the leg, I think, but the arm will have to go. I'll do the arm first. There's no point in making him endure the pain for the leg if he dies during the amputation." Hollis was more panicked than Finch was at the surgeon's casual words. "What are the odds?" "Hard to say. I have a good survival rate. I can do it much quicker than an executioner can behead a man. It'll be nice and clean. I still have men die from the shock of it sometimes. Here, drink this. All of it. Hopefully that doesn't take you either." The surgeon handed Finch a cup of something vile smelling. "What on earth are you giving him? Can't you give him something safer?" Hollis objected to it. "I can give him alcohol instead, if you want, but this will knock him out good. He won't feel it." The surgeon was far too cheery for the situation. "But he might die..." Hollis said. "He might die from the pain or he might die from the drink. He might die in several days from an infection regardless. Take your pick. Do you want me to give him this or spirits?" The surgeon asked. "What do you want to do?" Hollis asked Finch. Finch sniffed the drink again and handed it back to the surgeon. "I'll take the alcohol." The surgeon pulled a big bottle out of his bag. He opened it and handed it to Finch. "Very well. Drink this then. Every bit you can." Finch did as he was told. He downed the entire bottle. The surgeon handed him another bottle once he finished that one. Finch took it the surgeon wanted him to get as drunk as possible. He kept drinking. When he was struggling to stay conscious again, he stopped. "Good man. Open your mouth. This is so you don't bite your tongue." The surgeon placed a smooth stone in his mouth. He asked, "Are you ready?" Finch was not afraid. He was too empty inside. He nodded. "Prince, you may want to leave." The surgeon suggested. "Girl, you too." Annie nodded and left the carriage. The knight went out with her to keep watch on the area while the surgeon worked. Hollis stayed behind. He said, "I can handle it." "Suit yourself. But if you faint, I can't tend to you until after I'm done." The surgeon said. He placed the saw against Finch's skin. "Look away, young man. It's best not to watch." The surgeon made good on his words. He cut through Finch's arm with rapid timing. In that small amount of time, Hollis's fear spiked to a degree he'd never experienced before. Seeing all the blood and watching the arm separate from Finch's body, seeing the inside of his arm--he couldn't take it. He had to step outside to vomit. Finch did not look away nor react with disgust. He watched consumed by emptiness. A single tear slid down his face. "I warned him." The surgeon said. He bandaged up what was left of the arm, then went to removing the chunk of wood in his leg. The wood wasn't in as deep as the surgeon thought it was, and the leg was not broken. He didn't have to amputate it. He tended to the injury. Finch slipped back into unconsciousness midway through the surgeon fixing up his leg. The following day, the carriage was in a new place. They'd moved through the night. In the morning, the surgeon checked on Finch's wounds, cleaned them, and redressed his bandages. Hollis assisted him in the process. "How is he doing?" "He survived the night well enough. It's still too early to tell if he'll make it, but I'd say he should recover." The surgeon said. He left the carriage to wash his hands off. Finch woke up shortly after that. Exhausted, he couldn't rise from where he lay. He looked over at what little remained of his left arm. He touched the bandages with his right hand. Finch looked down to see if he still had his left leg. He was grateful to see it, but his thoughts soon turned to what he'd lost. How many things, he wondered, could he no longer do? Those thoughts weighed heavily on him. "Finch, how are you doing?" Hollis sat beside him again and petted his hair. "Ah...I'm sleepy..." Finch said. "You're exhausted from yesterday. That's to be expected. You should go back to sleep then." Hollis's voice was kind and gentle. This only made Finch more frustrated. He wanted the prince to throw him away like a broken dish with no remorse. Seeing the prince so sad only pained him more, as he still believed the prince would let him go. He was certain he now had too many cracks for the prince to keep him. In time, the shock of the event would pass and with it, the prince's concern. He wanted it to end already so that he wouldn't need to keep holding on to a worthless hope. "I'm sorry. I'll leave as soon as I can walk again." "Leave where?" Hollis asked. "I'm not fit to be a servant anymore." "That's not your decision to make." Hollis touched his forehead to check his temperature. "Annie's been worried about you." Finch struggled to concentrate. "I'm sorry...I didn't understand what you said..." "That's alright. Go on back to sleep." Finch closed his eyes. He presumed he must be dreaming as he swore before he drifted into his dream that the prince kissed his forehead. A week passed before Finch could really hold a conversation for long. He'd grown very weak from all the blood he lost, but he was recovering well. He spent the time mostly sleeping. After a week, he was finally able to sit up on his own for a little while. The prince brought him some food Annie cooked for them from berries and leaves she and some of the other servants picked and fish the knight and some other servants caught. Now that he was able to stay awake longer, he learned through Hollis more about their situation. There were a total of three carriages traveling together. Other than the surgeon, the coachmen, and the knight, everyone else with them were servants. They didn't know what happened to everyone else who was in the castle. It would be another week and a half before they'd reach home. There were towns nearby, but the knight was leery of visiting any of them. He suggested they stay hidden until they made it back. "How are you today?" Hollis asked him. "Um, tired...I'm sorry." Finch apologized as he ate. "I heard your wounds are healing nicely. There doesn't appear to be any signs of infection." Hollis sat with him and ate. "I see." "Do you want some water?" Hollis picked up a pitcher from the makeshift table Annie set up for them in the middle of the carriage. "I can get it. I don't need a servant." Finch said. He didn't need Hollis doing things for him. That only made it more apparent how useless he was to him. He was ashamed at the thought. "We don't need a servant. I can pour a glass of water. I'm not helpless." Hollis smiled to try and lighten the mood. "I didn't say you were. I can do it." Finch tried to reach for the pitcher. "Did you want water?" "You don't need to do that. I'll do it myself." Hollis said. "I see." Finch gave up his attempt. He lay back down and stared at where his arm was. He hated himself. "Are you not going to pour your glass?" Hollis asked. "I'll do it later. I'm not that thirsty." Finch rolled over away from him. "Are you going back to sleep?" Hollis asked. "Yes, I think I will." Finch said. Hollis took Finch's bowl and put it back on the table. "Rest well." He left the carriage to give Finch the carriage to himself. Alone with his thoughts, his mind spiraled down into self-hatred and cruelty. He wanted to die. After that day, Finch refused most of his meals. He grew more depressed as time went on. Hollis had to order him to eat. As he could not refuse the prince's demands, he did as he was told. With every bite he ate, he wondered when the prince would grow tired of taking care of him and cast him away. The prince had no need for broken things and unpleasantness. He knew how the prince was. He suspected by the end of the month at most, the prince's attention would be directed at something else. Another week passed. They were almost home. Hollis tended to his wounds with Annie as the surgeon did not see him as needing his level of care any longer. "Do you need anything else?" Hollis finished changing Finch's bandages. "Huh? I have food and water." Finch said. "Yes, but aside from that." "I don't think I understand." Finch blinked. He didn't understand what more he would need to ask for. "Oh, Prince, you're thinking of what you would need. Servants don't need more than this." "Really? I thought my father paid you plenty to have more than that." Hollis said. "The king pays me well with a bed to sleep in and food, and enough to save up for when I need to have new clothes made or buy medicine so I can keep working." Finch rarely spent his money. He kept it saved up primarily for any medical expenses he may have, as he'd watched many poor people quickly deteriorate from curable things due to lack of money. Beyond that, he didn't see anything else he needed. Right then, he didn't even want the money for that. "Do you not have other things? Peasants have some personal items, I know they do." Hollis said. "I did have a few toys when I was a child, but I don't need anything now." Hollis gave him a strange look. He patted Finch's hair. "We'll be home soon. You can sleep in a proper bed again. I'm going to have a room prepared for you to stay in so that I can ensure you recover well." "What do you mean?" "Something better than a servant's room, where I can have my physician keep an eye on you and you won't be far from my room." "You needn't do that." Finch said. "It's my decision." Hollis said. "Are you sure you don't need anything else right now?" "I'm fine. Thank you." Finch said. When they arrived at the castle, Hollis had Finch placed in a room not far from his. The room was typically reserved for visiting nobles or family members. Hollis visited him frequently, though tending to his injuries was now handled by others at the castle who were properly trained in such care. Finch's mood didn't improve. He ate little. When he was alone in the room, he tried to adjust to using only one arm. He was fortunate in that he was right handed, but he found plenty of activities difficult without his other arm. The more he tried, the more frustrated he became. He was too afraid to try getting out of the bed and walking around. Every day, Hollis asked him how he felt and if he needed anything. Finch always gave him the same replies. On occasion, Annie visited him. "I heard you're recovering well," She said. "That's what I've been told." Finch said. "What are you going to do?" Annie asked. "A monastery would take me in." "When do you think the prince will let you go?" "Once he calms down. The incident shocked him a bit. He isn't used to seeing such things." Finch hadn't looked in a mirror since that day. He didn't want to see himself, as he didn't want to walk and face whatever damage may have been done to his left leg. "If not, I'll leave on my own soon enough." "I'm sure you'll be treated well by the monks. It's not a bad life. It's a very respectable life to live." Annie was speaking too kindly to him too. He didn't want to hear it. "I know. It'll be nice there. They won't say anything of my body's ugliness when I'm there." Finch said. He hadn't really decided on that, as he considered simply wandering the streets until he faded away from hunger, but he couldn't say that to her. The world around them had little sympathy for differences and lack of strength. From the blindness in his left eye to the loss of his left arm to the damage to his leg, he was not worth anything to most now. If he had a family, they'd care for him or let him work alongside them in their trade if he were able. He didn't have that luxury. In this world, he was alone. Weeks passed and Finch's wounds healed up. He stayed in bed. Hollis brought a tutor with him one day to improve Finch's reading abilities. After the lesson was over, and Finch had not greatly improved, his self-hatred grew. "I'm sorry, Prince, but I am afraid I am too stupid to learn such things after all." Finch apologized to Hollis after the tutor left. "It's your first lesson, Finch. I don't expect any improvement from you today. It will take time." Hollis encouraged him. "You'll do well in time." "I'm sorry, Prince. I don't want to disappoint you, but I don't think I am capable." Finch apologized again. "I won't be disappointed in you either way." Hollis held his hand. "You've been bedridden for a long time now. Would you like to try walking soon?" "I don't think I have the strength for that yet." "Alright, but you should try sometime soon." "Yes, your majesty." Finch lay in bed and stared at the ceiling. From this room, he could half see the moon, but he no longer wished to see it. Hollis stayed with him for a while, watching over him. Then he left to his room. The next day, Hollis didn't visit him until the evening. Finch assumed he was beginning to grow bored of him finally. Hollis pulled up a chair beside the bed and sat down. Hollis started their conversation with his usual routine. "How are you feeling today?" "I'm fine." Finch said. "Do you need anything?" "No." Hollis glanced over at the food on Finch's table. It was uneaten. "Did you eat anything today?" "I'm not hungry right now." "I see." Hollis looked at him with pitying eyes. "Tomorrow, I'd like to have the tutor come again, if you're feeling up to it." "If that is what you want." "Finch, um, I'd like to share something with you." Hollis pulled out some parchment from a bag at his side. "I tried writing a story. I'm not sure if I wrote it correctly, the way the ones you know are told, but...I'd like you to listen and tell me what you think." "Alright." Finch said. He lay back in the bed and absentmindedly stared at the ceiling. He wanted to enjoy whatever time he had left being so close to the prince, but he felt nothing at all. Hollis straightened out the papers and began his tale. "Once, in a little forest, there was a tree with limbs of always growing red berries. They were the most beautiful berries, brighter than jewels, and their sweetness attracted all the birds in the forest to come by and eat their fill. The tree liked the attention, but it didn't want to lose all its beautiful berries. At the end of each day, half its berries would be gone. By morning, the berries returned, but the tree hated having its limbs so naked underneath the moonlight. Each day, new birds came and ate their fill, and each night, they left. Only one bird stayed. This little bird built itself a nest on one of the tree's weaker branches. It spent its days watching the tree. In the mornings before the other birds came, it sang a soft melody at its happiness to see all of the beautiful berries. At the end of the day, when all the other birds had left, the little bird would pick off a single berry and carry it back down to its nest to eat. The little bird never took more than a single berry, but as it was the last berry picked off the tree every day, the tree grew to resent the little bird and thought of it as selfish. 'How dare you come and take one last berry, when all the others have gone!' The tree yelled at the little bird one day. The next morning, the little bird sang ever so softly before flying away. The usual visiting birds came and ate. When they were all gone, the little bird flew back to its nest in the tree with a yellow berry from another tree. As it ate the berry, it stared up at the remaining jewel-like red berries. This night, the little bird took nothing. The tree was still suspicious of the little bird and thought it was planning on stealing some. Out of meanness, the tree shook the branch the bird was on. The nest fell lower on the tree, on the weakest branch of all and its nest was half broken. The next morning, the little bird flew away again and did not return until night. This time, the little bird brought nothing home and only glanced up at the red berries once before going to sleep in its broken nest. The following morning, a violent storm swept through the forest. The little bird left the nest after giving a song barely above a whisper. No birds came to see the tree that day until the little bird returned back at night. The wind was strongest at sunset, and the little bird barely made it home. All the bird's strength was gone and it fell into the nest. While the bird was away, the storm had broken even more of the nest. The little bird didn't notice as it was struggling to make it into the nest at all. When the little bird fell into the nest, it landed poorly and broke a wing. Hurt, cold, and hungry, the little bird did not make a sound. It didn't look up at the beautiful berries anymore. The little bird lay quietly in the nest, waiting for a long sleep to come. In the morning, there was no song. The little bird lay in the nest still waiting to sleep. The tree noticed there was no song, but thought only of how the little bird wouldn't be able to steal any berries while it was hurt. The tree rejoiced that it would be free of worrying over the little bird for a while. The usual visitors came and went, day in, day out, over the next three days. For those three days, there were no songs. The tree felt strange at the absence. The tree checked on the little bird and saw it was still in the nest, laying where it had been since it came back from the storm. The tree realized the little bird wasn't healing. It couldn't because it wasn't eating. Pitying the little bird, it shook its limbs to drop berries into the nest so the bird may eat again. The little bird did not move. For a moment, the little bird looked at the red berries in the nest, then turned away from them. The tree said, 'Little bird, have some of my berries. You'll never get better if you don't eat.' 'It's alright, beautiful tree. I will never fly again. You don't need to give me your berries. You'd have to give them to me forever.' The little bird said. 'You already need berries forever. You are a bird.' 'I don't want you to have to keep shaking your limbs for me forever. You'll grow tired of it soon. It's alright. My nest will fall apart soon and then I'll be gone.' The bird's voice grew weaker as it spoke. The tree had an idea. It gave the little bird an offer. 'What if you give me something for my work? Your song is very nice. Will you sing for me for my berries?' 'There are many birds with much nicer voices. You can give your berries to them.' The bird said, then finally stood up. One by one, the little bird began to toss out the twigs that made up its nest. 'Little bird, what are you doing?' The tree asked. 'The fox is hungry, I'm sure. I won't be a very good meal, but the fox will be less hungry if I fall now rather than later.' The little bird said as it destroyed its own nest. 'Please, little bird, you mustn't do that. The forest won't be the same without you.' The tree pleaded with the little bird. 'Please, live.' 'Who would miss me? None of the other birds care for me, nor the trees. I am best to make someone happy in death so that they may live longer.' The little bird said. 'That isn't true,' The tree said. 'It is only your voice that makes me happy in the morning sun, yours and yours alone. If only for a single moment more, I'd like to hear your song again. For one song, you may have whatever I can give for the rest of your life.' 'Thank you for your kind words, but I don't think I will ever be able to sing again. My voice is almost gone.' The little bird continued to pick away at its nest. Very little remained. 'Go on and eat anyway. You've already given me a gift, one that resides in my memories. Even if you never sing again, I have already heard your voice and it is within me. For that, you deserve all the berries you need.' The tree begged the little bird to eat. The bird was so weak it could not finish destroying its nest. It lay back down and rested its head into its good wing. 'Thank you, but you needn't do that. It's too much.' The tree filled with sorrow, for the bird and for the cruel deed it had done to the innocent creature. It cried out, 'Little bird, please don't go. What good are my berries to decorate me if there is no one I can share their wealth with? They have no meaning without you. Please, eat again.' Seeing how sad the tree was, the little bird ate half of a single berry. It didn't believe it was truly worth anything, but it did not want the tree to be sad. The little bird intended to leave the nest when it was stronger and be eaten by a fox once the tree was happy again. It ate a little more each day until it was eating more than it used to eat when it used to sing its beautiful song. As the little bird became stronger, the tree made the little bird a gift. From wood and leaves, the tree constructed the little bird a new wing to place over its broken one. It couldn't fly with it, but it was beautiful. The tree placed the new wing on the little bird, and the little bird grew happier. It saw its reflection in the dew on a leaf and for the first time in weeks, it sang. Though the little bird could never fly again, its song was so beautiful that more birds came to see who was singing. They sat around the little bird, each bird taking a single berry and listening. Some birds sang along with him, and the tree heard a song more beautiful than anything the tree had ever heard before. At the end of the day, the tree was left with almost no berries at all, but the tree was happy. The most beautiful gift it could contain still remained within its branches." When Hollis concluded his story, he looked up at Finch for his approval. Finch was taken aback by the story. The words Hollis recited to him almost suggested he knew exactly what Finch was feeling, and what he wanted. That couldn't be. The prince wouldn't truly be paying attention to him in that way. Finch said, "That's a very nice story." "Did I do it right?" Hollis asked. "There's no right and wrong in how to do it. So long as it entertains, it's right." "Did you like it?" Finch nodded. "Yes, very much." "I hoped so. I wrote it for you." Hollis looked at him shyly. "For me?" "Yes. I thought maybe if I gave you a gift, you might feel a little better. I don't know what you like. This was the only way I could think of to give you something that would be genuine." Hollis said. Finch's face burned. He looked away. "That's very sweet of you, but you needn't do that. I am only your ser..." "No, you are the bird who's song brightens my every morning." Hollis grabbed Finch's hand and held it. Finch's face turned a deeper red. "I have no beautiful song." "Yes, you do. I was so blinded by your constant presence, I've forgotten to listen closely to it." Hollis kissed Finch's hand. "Please, I beg you, please don't let yourself fade away." "You know I'm replaceable. You could hire a far more competent servant with ease. You don't need me. I'm not..." Finch protested his words. "I don't want another servant." Hollis said. He looked Finch deep in the eyes. "I want you by my side. Please, don't do this to yourself." Finch stared back at the prince. In his eyes, he swore he saw something he'd long forgotten. The view from the window of a little room in some city by a sea he could not name. He didn't recognize his reflection in the pool of water on the window sill nor the man who stood beside him, but at the same time, he could not shake the feeling that everything he saw was somehow familiar. As impossible as it was, in his heart, he knew he'd been there before a long time ago. Memories returned to him from years ago. He remembered the prince playing with him when he was young, as they often did when they were children. He was the prince's servant, but he was also his playmate. They went to lessons together, and though Finch was not required to work on lessons beyond a certain point, he enjoyed attending them. The prince was always bratty and spoiled, unintentionally cruel at times, and careless at others. He never blamed the prince for blinding him in one eye nor being so distant. He understood their differences in power early, and that he was help, not truly the prince's friend. That didn't bother him back then. His mother made it clear to him how lucky he was to stay in the castle, and how he needed to appease the royal family. That was why he never told her or his sister about what went on with the queen and the crown prince. That was why he held his tongue at times when he wanted to snap at the prince for being rude to him. When his mother was gone, his world became a little darker and he grew colder. The prince had no need for a playmate as he aged. Then, his sister was gone and he became even colder and more distant. The prince changed in that time too. He became more distant to his family and constantly sought new excitement. In his searching, nothing ever lasted long. The prince was always searching and running, chasing after the next pretty face or shiny thing and escaping from the reaper the king sent after him in the king's quest for warrior sons. Whatever connection that existed between them, Finch long saw it as dead. In time, he'd forgotten there ever was one. An early memory, from when he had sight in both his eyes, hit him last. He recalled sitting with the prince on a summer night under the moon. They were very young then. Finch was too young to be working as a servant and they hadn't started lessons on reading and writing yet. They sat in the grass, laughing about something incomprehensible to adults. Hollis stopped laughing first and turned to Finch. He said, "Let's see those places again." In his memories, Finch nodded. They held hands and looked at each other. He saw something there, something wintry and cold, but his memory was too hazy to recall it clearly. When did that stop, he wondered. He couldn't remember. It was gone. Finch was overwhelmed. He calmed himself enough to hide it and asked, "What am I to you? Am I only your servant?" "You're more than that, but I don't know what to describe you as." Hollis answered him. "What do you want me to be?" Finch asked. Hollis answered his question by repeating it back at him. "What do you want me to be to you?" "I don't know." "That's fair," Hollis said. "We should leave it at that for now. Finch, would you please eat something for me right now?" "I can do that." "Thank you." Hollis sat on the bed with him. He brought the bowl over and helped Finch eat. "Is it alright if I have the tutor come? I want to know how you honestly feel about it." "I'd like that." Finch said. He ended up finishing off all of the dish. Hollis and Finch talked for a few hours after that. Their words were strained, but it was more than they'd spoken in a long time. Hollis informed Finch about the current events involving the war, his father's constant pestering, and his coming to terms with the things Finch told him about his family members. Finch mostly responded more than leading the conversation in any particular direction. When it was late, the prince helped him with getting ready to sleep. For the first time since staying in that room, Finch truly took in how soft and comfortable the bed he was laying on was. He'd been in nicer ones. The queen had very luxurious tastes when it came to anything related to sleeping. He never liked being in there. This bed was wonderful, and the prince's was even better. He wanted to sleep in that room, but he couldn't get himself to say it. When the prince left for the night, Finch watched the moon from the window. He couldn't see the moon as well from this angle. He tried to get out of bed to sit by the window, but when his feet touched the floor, he fell. With only one hand to grip and balance with, getting back up was even harder. After much struggling, he got back on his feet. He tried walking forward, only to fall again. Frustrated with himself, he hit the ground with his fist. He considered crawling the rest of the way, but he didn't think he'd have energy to get back into bed. He gave up. After several minutes, he managed to get himself back into bed and went to sleep. The next morning, the prince visited him very early. He began his usual routine. "How are you feeling today?" Finch surprised him with his response. "I'd like to try walking around some. I've been laying in this bed so long..." "Really?!" Hollis smiled. "Alright. Be careful. Your legs may be weak." Finch was determined to do better in front of Hollis than what happened the previous night. He was certain he could. He got out of bed, managing a few steps forward before he stumbled. He caught himself against the table by the bed. He pretended to be surprised by his weakness. "More than I thought." "Do you need help?" Hollis asked. "No, I'll do it on my own. I can't ask for something like that." Finch tried again. Hollis stood nearby and watched. Finch stumbled again and with nothing to hold on to, he fell forward. Hollis caught him. They both exchanged looks. Finch didn't know why his face was so red. Perhaps from embarrassment at appearing so weak, or some other feeling he didn't want to speak of. He wanted to hide his face until he realized the prince's face was the same shade of red. Not sure what to say, Finch apologized. "I'm sorry." "Don't worry about it. I think you've done enough for now. We can try again later or tomorrow, if you'd like. Would you like to try something else?" Hollis kept a firm grip on him. "Why don't you try changing clothes?" Finch nodded. Hollis helped Finch over to the bed to sit down. Hollis brought Finch's other set of clothes. Finch owned two sets of clothes, one for warm weather and one for cold weather. He was staying inside, so it didn't matter what he was wearing. It was merely practice for him to adjust. Finch understood that, but he was embarrassed at the prince bringing him a change of clothes rather than the other way around, as it usually went. "You didn't need to do that," Finch said. "That's enough of that. I can do whatever I want. Are you arguing with me?" Hollis smirked at him. "No, your highness." Finch tried taking off his shirt. It was more difficult than he expected. He did get the shirt off. His pants were as much of a struggle. That was easy in comparison to getting his other clothes on. He couldn't do it, but he kept trying. He didn't want Hollis to see that he couldn't. Hollis saw through that. "Here, let me do it." "Prince...that's not appropriate..." Finch said. "What did I tell you earlier?" Hollis said as he helped him pull his pants up. Finch looked away from him. "I'm sorry. I'll be quiet." "Ah, no, that's not what I meant...Don't think anything of me doing this. I want to help you." Hollis was also having issues with dressing Finch. He laughed nervously. "This is harder than I thought it'd be." Finch laughed. Seeing the prince struggle at basic tasks a servant would do was more entertaining than he expected. "You think it's funny I'm having a hard time?" Hollis grew more frustrated and determined. "No, your highness." Finch tried not to laugh again. Hollis succeeded in dressing him. Finch had never seen the prince struggle like that before. He always thought of nobles as more intelligent and competent than servants. Watching the prince have difficulty with something as simple as putting clothes on shifted his perspective a little. The two of them ate together, then the tutor came. Finch did better in his lesson than the previous day. In the evening, Hollis helped Finch practice walking again. He didn't get much farther. When the prince retired for the night, Finch tried walking again on his own to reach the window. He got halfway across the room before collapsing and giving up. The following morning, Hollis had servants prepare a bath for Finch in the room. A large tub was brought into the room and filled with hot water. The other servants left the room once it was prepared. Finch undressed himself and was about to walk his way over to the bathtub. Hollis assisted him in getting in. The water felt good on his skin. He didn't typically bathe in warm water. Most of the times he bathed, he washed himself with a rag and bucket of water or he washed off in a river when they traveled. Usually, experiencing this warmth happened when he was bathing the prince. He did enjoy doing that, as it allowed him to get a taste of that luxury when his hands would meet with the water. "You didn't have to bring the tub in here." "I prefer privacy." The prince undressed and stepped into the tub. "Are you bathing with me?" Finch asked. "Yes." "Why share with me?" "You won't ask for help when you need it." Hollis said. He wet a wash cloth with the water. "I don't need anything." Finch said. "See? That's exactly what I mean." Hollis took hold of Finch's arm and washed it. "Don't start on that nonsense about our differing status again today either." Hollis bathed Finch, then himself. Finch was embarrassed by his own body. Yesterday, he'd gotten a look at himself. Today, he looked more closely. He had deep scars down his left leg and his left arm stopped a few inches above where his elbow once was. It'd healed over well enough, but he was certain the prince found it disgusting to look at. It went well with his unsightly left eye, he thought. Hollis was staring at him. He knew that had to be what the prince was thinking about. "You know..." Hollis said. "You're really handsome." 'Oh, he's trying to make me feel better about it.' Finch blushed. "You don't need to lie to me to make me feel better, your majesty." "I'm not lying." Hollis leaned in close to him. He caressed the left side of Finch's face. "Your eyes are especially beautiful..." "They don't match." "I know. That's what makes them beautiful. Not many have eyes like that. It's a shame it cost your sight in that eye." Hollis ran his fingers through Finch's hair. "I never properly apologized for that." "You don't need to. That was a long time ago and I'm your servant. It doesn't matter if..." Hollis touched him now with both his hands. "I'm sorry, for every stupid thing I've done." Finch's face went a deeper shade of red. Hollis slid one of his hands down Finch's body to where Finch's arm was cut off at. "Does it hurt anymore?" "No. It's healed up now." Finch put his own hand over the place. "I'm sorry you have to see..." "See what? This?" Hollis felt over where the wound was. He leaned in even closer to Finch's face. "I want to see you, all of you." Finch leaned forward and they kissed. "Tonight, may I stay with you?" Hollis asked. "If that is what you wish, your majes..." "What do you want?" Finch looked into Hollis's eyes. He swore he saw some other place far away. He wanted to say he wanted him, but he was still afraid of being thrown away. A small bit of courage rose in him. He managed to say it. "I want you to touch me." Hollis kissed him again. "Tonight, don't use my title. Call me by my name. Say it." Finch's heart rang in his ears. "Hollis." After the bath, Hollis helped him dress and work on walking. The tutor came later and Finch did his best to understand the day's lesson. Hollis was pleased with his progress in both areas. Hollis stayed the night. Finch was afraid Hollis would become disgusted with him when he touched him more, but the second time they had sex was better than the first. They cuddled in bed afterwards. Hollis struggled to get comfortable when they were both ready to sleep. "Is your regular bed like this? It's a little stiff." "Actually, this bed is really nice compared to the one I usually sleep on." Finch said. "Is that so? Why didn't you say it was so bad?" "I don't think it's a problem. You're used to luxurious things. Perhaps you should go sleep in your room?" Finch rested his head against Hollis's chest. "Tomorrow, I'll request my father get better beds for all the servants." Hollis rubbed Finch's back. "This room, do you like it? It's bigger than your old room, isn't it?" "Yes. It is nice. It's a lot closer of a walk to your room from here. My old room was at the farthest end of the servant quarters." "Then you may keep this one, and if you want, you can sleep in my bed whenever you wish." "That sounds nice, but this is a guest room. Shouldn't I stay in the servant quarters?" "Then I'll have everything moved to one of the rooms over there that's closer than your current room." Hollis put both his arms around Finch and held him tightly. "I...I want you to...stay with me." "As you wish, your maje..." Hollis put a finger to Finch's lips. "Shh. No. Use my name." "Hollis." "Finch, what I mean to say is..." Hollis was getting flustered. "I want to...I want you to you be my lover?" Finch barely managed to reply. "Y-yes." "I love you." "I love you too." Finch fell asleep in Hollis's arms. He stayed in that room until he was able to walk well on his own and do basic tasks for himself. He walked with a limp. The royal family's physician told him he would likely always have the limp. He accepted that. He told himself it was better than not being able to walk at all. In that time, Hollis managed to convince the king to give the servants all new beds by reminding him that happy workers did better work. With everyone tense because of the war, it would be a good move to please the people. While Hollis still refused his father's wishes on fighting with his brothers, the move did gain the prince some popularity with their subjects. While Finch's new room was being prepared, he stayed in Hollis's room. Finch woke every day still a little afraid at being tossed aside, but as time went on and the prince showered him with affection, that fear was subsiding. At lunch one day, Hollis informed him about the state of his room. "Your new room will be ready to move into today." "You really didn't need to do that." Finch said. He liked staying in Hollis's room, but he also liked having personal space. He was excited to see the new room. "Also...I have something else for you, but you can see that later when you go back to your room." Hollis blushed. Finch was curious what the prince's gift would be. "I have some business with Father today. I'll see you after supper. Why don't you go see your new room?" Finch nodded. They parted ways. Finch's new room was the first room at the beginning of the servant quarters. It was twice the size of his last room, and the room was decorated like it belonged to an aristocrat. Everything that was in the temporary room he stayed in had been moved, along with a few new pieces of furniture. Finch noticed the bed itself was placed right below the window. He smiled. On top of the bed, he saw some folded clothes and in front of the bed were a pair of black boots. He unfolded the clothes on the bed. The first item was a green cloak with red trim. Decorating the area around where the clasp was sewn in were holly leaves and berries. A shirt and a pair of pants in the same color scheme were underneath the cloak. They were made of very nice fabric, unfit for someone in his position. It was so soft. He wanted to try everything on immediately. He put the clothes on. They fit perfectly and were even more comfortable on him than he thought they'd be. He fell back on the soft bed, taking in everything. The room smelled like lavender and rose from dried flowers on the floor. He felt like a prince himself. "Why have you not thrown me away? I'm more broken than ever. I don't deserve any of these things." He said his thoughts aloud. He rolled over on the bed. "This it different?" Finch stayed in the room through dinner. He explored everything stocked in the room. Hollis had a writing desk placed in the room with plenty of parchment and ink for Finch to practice with. A bookshelf was full of books on philosophy, poetry, classic stories, and astronomy. Finch pulled one of the astronomy books off the top shelf and tried to read through it. To his surprise, he could understand more of it than he expected. Annie visited him before the prince did. "I see you've moved in. He really overdid it." "Yes, he really did." Finch put the book down. "You could pass for royalty in those clothes. They look nicer than what some knights wear." Annie smirked. "Seems a little too much for saving him. I wonder if he has some other reason for giving you all these things." "Perhaps he does." Finch smirked back at her. "Oh, you admit it, huh?" Annie hopped onto the bed and rolled on it. "This bed is amazing. It's much better than the replacement beds we all got, but those were pretty nice too. You should whisper a few more suggestions in his ear, like higher pay." Finch laughed. "I'll see what I can do. How have you been since the attack?" "I've been working with the queen for now, waiting out the time for someone to have a baby or get married. The queen is so disgusting. Do you know about what she does with little boys?" Annie whispered the last part. "Yes, she's done that for years." "That's not even the worst I've heard about people in the family. There's some murders in the family history too..." "Of course. They need someone to wipe their asses, but they have no issues with murdering someone." Finch said. Annie laughed loudly. "I know. They're like angry children sometimes. How's Prince Hollis? He seems...different since the attack." "Yes, he does, but I think the change was starting a little before that." Finch thought back on the time before the attack. He wasn't sure why Hollis was changing, but looking back, he could see it. "Looks like he's changing for the better. It's too bad he's last in line. I'd prefer him over Lewis for the next king." Annie explored around the room as Finch had earlier. "So many books. Can you read these?" "I can read pretty decently, actually." "Really? Could you teach me? I can only read a few words." "Sure. When you have some free time, let me know. It's not as hard as it seems." Finch offered. There was a knock at the door. Hollis entered the room. Annie bowed and excused herself. She smiled and waved to Finch on her way out. Finch got up from the desk and approached the prince. Hollis looked him over, noting Finch was wearing his new clothes. He held Finch's hand and walked with him over to the bed. He asked, "Do you like your clothes?" "Yes. I've never owned anything so nice and comfortable before." Finch sat down on the bed. "This bed is wonderful too." Hollis's face was so red Finch was worried he was ill. He touched Hollis's forehead. "Are you alright? Your face is so red." "I'm fine." Hollis pulled Finch down to lay on the bed with him. They cuddled close. "It's strange." "What is?" "You've been by my side all this time and I never noticed until recently how handsome you are...It's ridiculous. When did that happen?" Hollis caressed Finch's face. "I don't think I look any different than before." "I know you don't." Hollis cuddled closer and kissed him. Finch kissed him back. "Are you sure I'm good enough?" "Good enough?" Hollis pressed his forehead against Finch's. "I should be asking you that." The fear in Finch finally disappeared. He smiled and asked, "Could you tell me a story?" "Actually, I finished that adaption. Would you like me to read it to you?" Hollis kissed him again. "Yes, I'd love that." Hollis took out a book he'd copied his finished manuscript over into. He started the story. "Gray skies rolled over the sea. In an hour, the city would be under the storm's grip. He watched the fishermen and travellers down at the docks below come inward. A few foolish ones went out farther to meet the sea's embrace. He paid them no mind. The storm did not concern him..." Finch understood nearly every word in the story, and more than that, he could see it perfectly in his mind. The icy landscape, the seaside city, the curse upon the prince's body, and the face of the knight who turned out to secretly be a prince under a spell. The whole story unfolded in his mind so intensely, he almost felt like he lived it a long time ago. When the story was finished, he asked for Hollis to have a copy made to be put on his shelf. Hollis took that as the greatest of compliments. From that day on, Finch requested the prince tell him stories. His favorite request was the story about the little bird and the tree with ever-growing berries, though the story about the cursed prince and the spellbound knight was his real favorite. He liked reading that one alone at night in his room by moonlight. Something about that story was magical in a way. Hollis treated servants differently after that incident. He made a point to know the names of everyone who worked for the family. Annie was able to get her wish fulfilled as well, in the form of a slight raise. As months went by, Finch didn't think about being thrown away anymore nor anger about the past. Instead, his mind was filled with thoughts about seeing the prince in the morning and the moon's company at night.