Prince David awoke.
There was a time, when David was much younger, he would wake with a heavy heart. With the prospect that he had to face another day weighing on him, pretending to be someone he knew, truly knew, he was not. Royalty, yes, perhaps he had a penchant for—he was born to that, of course, but nonetheless felt forced into the role of princess. As if he was a sharp sword placed into a decorative sheath that did not fit.
After the Trials, and by the will of the Good Mother Above and the All Father Around, he was blessed with a body of who he truly was. It had not come easy. He fought long and hard, and it did not come without scars either, but this was him, an actuality he had only dreamed about.
He believed his return to the Capital as the prince would mean he could wake for the day with comfort and happiness. He’d been naive in these thoughts. He continued to wake with a heavy heart. With the quiet disapproval from his parents, the King and Queen, despite their public support for the situation they could no longer control with their child, forcing him into a name that still was not his. The political imbalance it created amongst the court. Then the threats to not only himself but his dear sister Princess Laura. Having to leave the Capital, his home, in order to keep his sister and himself safe, or at least make attempts to.
Prince Schreibner woke every single day with a heavy heart, indeed.
But then, a chance meeting in the woods with an elven boy with beautifully rounded ears changed everything.
Today, Prince David awoke.
His heart was light but full.
“Matteo,” David said. His voice was low, a little bit of a sing-song to it. He rolled over in bed, his water-blue tinged wings stretching out behind him. Matteo continued to sleep.
They were in the guest wing in the estate of Lady Anne, his godmother. She was away at the Capital having audience with Queen Laura, or had been and was most likely on the road to return. David and Matteo’s adventures had brought them here a little untimely, having arrived before she, but she would be returning within days for their visit. Her home, as always, was open and welcome to David, and in turn Matteo.
Matteo was beside him, belly down on the mattress, the covers pooled around his waist. His green-tinged wings rested lightly over his back, folded in. David knew Matteo had spent much of his life trying to confine those wings, hide them, to not stand out in a crowd. He did not care as much any longer, and was more likely to put his wonderful wings on display, no matter where he and David were. But it was as if, in his sleep, they conformed to what they once had. It almost worried David, at times, but he reminded himself that perhaps this was only how they folded most comfortably for Matteo to sleep.
“Matteo.” David poked at his cheek. Matteo’s mouth was slack and he drooled a little on the pillow under his head. He was beautiful.
David leaned in and kissed the end of Matteo’s nose. Matteo’s nose scrunched, but his eyes did not open. Then David kissed the apple of his cheek, his eyebrow, the round of his ear by the decorative clasp he still wore, and back down to his nose. Matteo sighed but did not open his eyes.
“Matteo,” David said softly. “It is time for you to get up.”
Matteo, David had discovered, was not much of a morning fellow, in all honesty.
“David,” Matteo murmured. “It is time for you to go piss up a hill.”
David’s sudden laughter, pulled from the depths unexpectedly, was loud. Matteo could not hide in his sleep any longer, and his mouth tilted in the corner. His eyes cracked open but a sliver.
“Only you,” David said warmly. “Only you could get away with saying such blasphemy to the prince.”
“And only in the comfort of our room, I would think,” Matteo said. He rolled to his side, arched his back, his arms stretching into the air. Then he flopped right back into the position he was, eyes closed but a content smile on his face. “You are not making me get out of this bed, are you?”
“I would let you keep me here all day if I could,” David said.
“I see. Royal obligations, is it?” Matteo asked. His eyes opened fully, bright with their curiosity.
David let his body flop so he mirrored Matteo. He scrunched up his nose—a tic he never would have developed if he had not known Matteo, but it felt right somehow. “Unfortunately, yes. This is the price I must pay for our galavanting in the countryside for so long.”
“Galavanting? Is this what we do?” Matteo flipped onto his side again, stretching one arm above him. His nightshirt rode up, exposing skin at his belly above the waist of his sleep pants. David could not stop himself but to reach out and brush his fingertips against there. Matteo laughed and squirmed, the featherlight touch too ticklish for him.
“We do galavant,” David agreed. “So say the stories sung about us.”
“I’m going to curse Jonas for that one,” Matteo muttered. He grabbed David’s hand to stop the light tickling, and dropped a kiss to David’s knuckles. “I don’t see why we have to get out of bed to do anything at all. You’re the Prince, after all. Do what you want.”
“Which is why we did not leave yesterday.” David sighed. “If only it was that simple and I could keep us here a fortnight.”
“It could be. You could.”
“I suppose,” David said. He gave a quick peck to Matteo’s cheek, carefully avoiding the kisses he tried to return because that would be a distraction that kept David in bed for too long. Matteo groaned unhappily and reached out without success as David slid out from under the sheets and got up for the day, his wings stretching as he did. “But I would not want to tarnish my reputation. It would reflect badly on my sister. We have deep ties to this city.”
“But galavanting is fine,” Matteo muttered. His eyes followed David as David moved around their room.
“Yes, it is,” David said. “In moderation. I must juggle that with my responsibilities.”
“I know, I know,” Matteo grumbled. He pushed himself off the bed. The first thing he did was go to the window and push open the extravagant pane of stained glass.
Fresh air filtered in. David instinctively twitched his fingers, and he felt the air swirl around his body, enveloping him. Matteo smirked at him, likely because Matteo liked knowing David’s habits. This had developed into a near daily routine when they were staying in a residence or inn of some kind.
David smirked back. Then he twitched his fingers again, and a light blast of air hit Matteo in the face, his shaggy hair becoming even messier.
“Ha ha,” Matteo said sarcastically, patting down the flyaway strands, but took it with ease. “What is our plan for today, with all these royal obligations?”
“Let us take our morning meal,” David said. He knew the moment he or Matteo opened the door, his staff would be on hand to fetch them anything they wished. “Then we can get dressed and set out for the day.” It would be near noon, likely, before they made leave of his godmother’s estate, but there would be plenty of time left in the waking hours. Anything that did not get accomplished could be done another day.
Except for David’s surprise for Matteo. That would be today. For Matteo’s sake, yes, but also David was too excited to keep it in much longer.
“If we cannot stay in bed another day, this sounds acceptable,” Matteo replied. They had just arrived in the city two days previously, and had taken the time the day before to bathe away traveller’s dust, and to have a restful day in.
Matteo walked over to the wardrobe that was now filled with their belongings. Their trunks had been delivered before their arrival, everything unpacked and put away and prepared for them. They had arrangements for how they went about their travels and adventures, and most of their belongings, staff, and guard were sent ahead to the next town or city they would make a significant stay in. He and Matteo kept a much smaller guard on hand as they explored the countryside and smaller villages. David wished they had not needed that, and that they could travel as just a pair, but Queen Laura insisted on his safety, and he was grateful for the freedom he was afforded. It certainly went against much traditional royal protocol.
Matteo stared at clothes on display. “What would be appropriate wear, then?”
“Daily court wear would be fine,” David said. Their travel clothing was with the staff to be laundered. They each had formal court wear for official appearances, and Matteo could never tell if an appearance in a noble’s home or even a stroll through the market was an official royal appearance, or how to best present himself. He appreciated David’s opinion in this, David knew.
Matteo nodded and began to go through the wardrobe, searching for something in particular it seemed. He refused to be dressed by staff, and if there was something a little more intricate, David was happy to help.
David was correct in his assertion that there was staff at the door, which he never doubted. He let them know to prepare breakfast but indicated that it be served in the appropriate room in their wing rather than the grand dining room of the estate. He wanted to maintain as much intimacy between he and Matteo for as long as he could before the return of his godmother, where they would formally dine with her.
David returned to the room to find Matteo out on the small balcony. The estate was high on a hill and overlooked most of the city. David joined him, coming to his side but putting his arms around Matteo’s waist. He pushed his face against Matteo’s neck, breathing in the scent of sunflowers, of familiarity and home.
“This is one of the largest cities we’ve been to, isn’t it?” Matteo asked. His eyes were avidly sweeping over the city. He was a keen observer of everything outside of Mitte. “Other than the Capital.”
“I do believe so,” David said, lips against Matteo’s neck.
Matteo’s first and only stay to date in the Capital had been brief, long enough for a night’s rest and to meet Queen Laura in a private audience with David, then the short pronouncement of his reinstated title before the court. While the Court would have loved to get their claws into Prince David and his mysterious travel companion, Lord Florenzi, neither David nor Matteo were ready for this. They’d quietly and happily retreated from the Capital to carry on their adventures. They had been travelling for several moon cycles since.
“How long do you think we’ll stay?” Matteo asked.
“I am certain Lady Anne would keep us here for as long as we were willing. Half a dozen moon cycles, if we allowed it.” Matteo’s eyebrows raised. David knew he wanted to see everything, from coast to coast and valley low to mountain high. David could not blame him, not after being confined to one small area of their wonderful kingdom for so long. “But I think our schedule can allow for a moon cycle, perhaps a little less. Then we can make our way over another moon cycle to Queen Laura’s summer estate, and spend time with her. Then a meandering journey back to Moabit to visit your mother and friends there for a time.”
“That is fair,” Matteo said. “I do not want to keep you from your loved ones, and there is still opportunity to explore.” Matteo tilted his head against David’s. “But as you wish, David.”
“You are my loved one,” David said, kissing Matteo’s forehead. “And you also have loved ones. I wish that we come to an agreement. Tell me, at any time, if this is a plan that does not work for you.”
“It sounds perfect,” Matteo said. “Although I—nevermind.”
“Tell me,” David said, kissing Matteo’s neck. “You can always tell me. I want you to.”
“I believe my mother would like to winter back on the island. It would be nice to accompany her there, at least for a while. I can always go it alone if you are otherwise engaged.”
“Hush. I would be honoured,” David said.
On their first leg of their adventure, they’d gone directly to Matteo’s mother. The former Lady Florenzi was exiled from the court, yes, but the island she was on was inhabited. There were beautiful little villages, and a thriving community, and she was not alone. She also was not mad in the way the court gossip had made her sound. Perhaps time, and rebuilding her life, had healed the wounds. The reunion, however, had been incredibly emotional, and they’d spent a moon cycle on the island so that mother and son could come to know each other.
Lady Florenzi accepted the Crown’s apology, and while she allowed her title to be reinstated, she wished Matteo to be the head of the family going forward. To carry the titles of the family. She had no interest in ever returning to court. She’d agreed to go back to Moabit and oversee the reconstruction of the estate, and they’d accompanied her return.
David had been honoured to be included in any way, and had come to adore Lady Florenzi. He was grateful to her for her son, and that she was willing to set aside the past so the future could prosper, as she had said.
“There we have it, then. A plan forward for our adventures.” Matteo scrunched his nose. “Are adventures to be so planned?”
“When they involve a prince and at the bare minimum a consultation with the Queen,” David said dryly. “I am sorry to say they do.”
Matteo shrugged. “I like them anyway.”
David could not help but smile. “I do as well.” He leaned in and kissed Matteo because he could. And not because he was a prince getting his own way, but because Matteo was always there to willingly accept it.
There was a knock on the door.
“Ah,” David said, pulling away from the kiss. Matteo made a little disappointed noise, so David kissed him once more. The knock at the door would always wait for him. “That is breakfast. Let us on with the day?”
“Since you are not allowing us back to bed,” Matteo said pointedly, “I think we should, yes.”
“Especially since there is a surprise in store for you,” David said as he walked away, smirking at Matteo as he did.
“What? You could not have opened with this?” Matteo complained, but quickly followed after David. “You would not have had so much resistance.”
“I know,” David said, “but it is much more fun this way.”
Matteo’s laugh was David’s favourite in all the world.
Matteo looked up at the building sign sceptically. His wings fluttered at his back. “This is where you wanted to take me?”
“Yes,” David said, putting on an air of being proud. “I thought you would like it!”
“I have certainly never been to an Apothecary before,” Matteo said sarcastically. “It is not like I was raised in one.”
“I am not fooled by your demeanour,” David said haughtily. “I am well aware you like to inspect every Apothecary in any village or city we travel to.”
“Yes but usually I am the one who finds them on my own, or insists you come along with me.” Matteo narrowed his eyes in suspicion. “That you brought me here yourself is curious.”
“Are we going in or not?” David asked. He had to suppress a smile. He was not surprised of Matteo’s suspicion, and it made this all the more fun.
“Fine, fine.” Matteo held open the door. “After you.”
“No, no, I insist.” David made a gesture for Matteo to go in before him.
“Thank you, Your Highness,” Matteo said, with a formality David knew was a jest. David would never require it from him and he knew it, and used it to play. With a flourished bow, Matteo entered the Apothecary.
“It is,” Matteo whispered, much too loudly to be a real whisper, “an Apothecary.” Then he paused and really looked around, turning in a circle with his wings folded tightly to his back. “It reminds me a lot of my own.”
David also turned in a circle, his own wings folded in so that he did not knock over one of the hundreds of vials on the shelves lining the walls and set up in the middle of the room.
“It really does, does it not?” David liked the place immediately.
“Welcome, welcome,” a voice said from between a set of shelves. Someone stepped out, and it was a mage in long robes. They were not the muted earth colours that Matteo’s apprentice Abdi tended to wear, but bright and colourful like a rainbow.
The mage paused and then a smile lit up his face. He clapped his hands together. “My little butterfly!”
“Hans?” Matteo gaped as he took in the mage. “Is that really you?”
“The one and only! Here, give me a hug.”
Matteo did not protest or pull back. He seemed rather in shock, but patted Hans’ back lightly when Hans gave him a quick hug.
“Look at you, butterfly,” Hans said. He waved his finger up and down, indicating Matteo’s clothing. “Who knew you could clean up so nicely? Not a speck of earth on you. Marvellous!”
“What are you doing here?” Matteo asked, clearly still stunned. “I thought you’re a travelling mage. Is this someone else’s shop?”
“I was a travelling mage. I decided to stay in one spot. Put down roots, so to speak. There is something to be said about having a community, a home. You taught me that.” Hans put a hand on his hip. “Though I heard about the curse being broken and your own wanderings. I’m so happy for you, Matteo—or, wait. It is Lord Florenzi now, I do understand.”
Matteo waved a dismissive hand. “Please. You do not have to refer to me as such.”
David had to bite back a smile. He loved when Matteo got flustered over his title, how uncomfortable and unfamiliar he was with it. David hoped for nothing more than Matteo to become better with it, to truly accept it, but it was a comfort to know that Matteo just… did not care that it was who he was, even though it was his birthright. He was so different from the rest of the court, of the nobility, David grew up knowing. As always, it made David’s heart squeeze happily in his chest.
But now Matteo turned sharp eyes on David. “You knew about this, didn’t you?” He couldn’t have looked happier, though.
David laughed, delighted. “I may have heard about the new owner of this Apothecary. And I remember you mentioning knowing the travelling mage Hans. I thought perhaps you would like to spend time with someone familiar.”
Matteo’s face brightened. “You mean you’re not taking me on your audiences with the nobility?”
“Not today,” David said. “If you would rather stay here?”
“How is that a question you even dare to ask?” Matteo said, good-naturedly.
“Oh my,” Hans whispered. He glanced from Matteo to David, and seemed a little flustered himself now that he realized who else stood in his Apothecary.
“Please forgive Matteo’s rudeness,” David said.
“What? I’m not rude,” Matteo protested. It brought a little smile to Hans’ nervous face.
“You have yet to introduce me to your friend,” David reminded him.
“Oh, yes, I forgot all the pomp and circumstance,” Matteo said, rolling his eyes. “Would you like to go back onto the street and come back in? I’ll do a formal announcement.”
“Cheeky,” David said, but grinned.
“I don’t think you’re supposed to talk to His Highness like that,” Hans whispered to Matteo.
“This is what I tell him,” David said, nodding his head seriously, but a grin played on his mouth.
“You do not.” Matteo rolled his eyes again. “Hans, let me introduce you to Prince David. Prince David, this is Hans.”
“It is a pleasure to meet you,” David said.
Hans did a customary bow. “An honour, Your Highness.”
“Prince David is fine,” David said, waving his hand and trying to put Hans at ease. He had given up on dispensing with the official title of his name, save for Matteo and his friends. As he often appeared on behalf of his sister, Queen Laura, it was better to keep it to represent her properly. He only ever made corrections if anyone dare refer to him as Prince Schreibner.
“Of course, Prince David,” Hans.
“Would it be all right with you, Hans, if I left this raggamuffin in your care for the afternoon?”
“Pffft.” Matteo made a noise. “If he will not, I’ll wander off and find something to see, of course. There is no worry.”
“Not without a guard,” David said, a little too quickly, perhaps.
“Is there a concern?” Hans asked, sounding alarmed.
Matteo waved a hand. “Of course not, but Her Royal Highness Queen Laura and Prince David insists, and so it is ordered. I’m sure one of the very many who followed us here can stay.”
Sara stepped out from behind one of the shelves. Hans looked taken by surprised, though all Matteo did was gesture at her, as if his point was made.
“I have been here the whole time,” she said. “Before they even entered the shop.”
“What?” Hans said, sounding more alarmed than he looked.
“The back of the shop is not as secure as it should be,” Sara said.
“I’m sure it is, she’s just very good at being a rogue,” Matteo said, shrugging. Sara smirked at him.
“A rogue?” Hans said.
She was not a rogue in the sense that Matteo was playing at, yet David was not too happy to see Sara at the moment. Only because he had expected her to be taking days of rest after they arrived in the city. She and Leonie were on the guard that accompanied David and Matteo in the countryside. She was to be afforded a rest as well.
“She is not a rogue,” David said. He gave her a hard look, but also shot Matteo a glare for the joke. He looked entirely unrepentant. “She is a member of my guard, and a very good one at that.” If she was going to be here, she would be assigned a task. “And how lovely of her stay with Matteo today.”
“Joy,” Sara and Matteo said in unison, and with sarcasm.
They deserved each other in this moment. David beamed at them. “This partnership is perfection, do you see? Hans, please forgive me for my leave, but I do have places I must attend.”
“Of course, of course. I’m honoured you came to my shop,” Hans said.
“It is a fine shop,” David said, both formal but honest. He glanced around. “Matteo is right. It does remind me of his in Moabit.”
Hans beamed. “I will be honest, I was inspired by his shop. It is laid out to perfection, is it not?”
“Are you being kind about me?” Matteo asked.
“Oh, butterfly, stop,” Hans said, obviously avoiding the question. Matteo smirked, and David suspected he would hear about this in great detail later.
“I also heard that you have a beautiful garden out the back, do you not?” David asked.
Matteo lit up at this, and Hans laughed. David could not help but smile fondly at Matteo.
“One of the best in the city, if I do say so myself,” Hans said proudly. “I would be happy to show you, Matteo.”
“If you give me just one moment,” Matteo said.
Hans was quick, or perhaps it was the presence of a prince, but he nodded. “Of course. I will wait for you near the counter.” He made his way to the back of the shop. Sara had already faded away, unseen.
“My Lord,” David said, bowing his head.
Matteo’s nose scrunched. “I’m fairly certain etiquette dictates I’m to bow to you. And that is upon entering a room with you already in it. Does it not?”
It did. “It does not matter, between us,” David said.
Matteo only raised an eyebrow, but he bowed lower. “My Prince.” Then Matteo leaned in and kissed David softly. “Thank you. For bringing me here.”
“Have a pleasant afternoon,” David said. He kissed Matteo again. “Be safe.”
“I’m sure Sara will make it a top priority,” Matteo said dryly.
“Do not let her fool you,” David said. “She would not have come into this building to begin with if it was not her top priority. She knew she would be told to stay.”
Matteo blinked, surprised. He never understood what an effect he had on others, even serious members of David’s guard. David knew that both Sara and Leonie were now incredibly protective of Matteo as well, and not only because he was the Prince’s companion. They genuinely liked him, even if they were not forthcoming with that. Matteo shook his head, as if he did not quite believe it, but gave David a soft smile. “You be safe as well.” More lightly, he added, “I’m certain your entire battalion will make sure of it.”
“It is not a battalion,” David muttered as Matteo walked away with a chuckle.
David exited the shop to find three guards on the street. He knew there were several others strategically placed along the shops. Perhaps Matteo was not too far off.
He raised an eyebrow when he saw Leonie was one of the three. “Are you not to be resting today?”
“I rested yesterday,” Leonie answered.
“You are not tasked with shifts on the guard presently. She is not, is she?” he asked one of the other guard. He was newer to the station, David knew, and looked startled to be addressed by the prince. Matteo would have been delighted to see it.
“No, Your Highness.” He looked startled at the sharp look Leonie gave him. “But she and Guard Sara insisted…” He trailed off at her scowl but looked at David with wide-eyes, as if trying to figure out who would be worse to anger.
Leonie. The answer was definitely Leonie.
“Thank you,” he said to the guard. Then he turned his gaze back to Leonie. He could handle her just fine. “An explanation.”
“Sara and I wanted to become a bit more familiar with the city, for security reasons, Your Highness. Accompanying you and Lord Florenzi is the best way to do this.”
He saw her point, but she needed to see his. “Important events will be occuring in the upcoming days. It is imperative you and Sara are tasked for duty those evenings. I require you to be fully rested.”
She bowed her head. “Your Highness.”
“That said, as you have taken it upon yourself to join the guard for the day, you will be tasked with staying here with Sara at the shop and guarding over Lord Florenzi.” Leonie looked up sharply but knew better than to contradict the prince. “You will keep two others with you. The rest will accompany me on my audiences.”
“Of course, Your Highness.”
“Thank you,” he said. The young guards eyes went wide again, and the corner of Leonie’s mouth tilted up. He announced, “I will be on my way.” He stepped passed them to carry on with his duties, and had full confidence his rest of his guard would know what to do.
David’s afternoon was one of a familiar developing routine. It was like this in all the large cities and even smaller ones that he and Matteo made stop in. David made appearances to the local nobility, members of Queen Laura’s court. The ones who had not travelled to spend time in the Capital, or had already returned from the season. It was important to engage them, to gage how they felt under the new queen’s rule—not that they would make complaints directly to him, but David was becoming apt at discerning when they were there.
Luckily, as he had found previously, there was not too much trouble. Not as of yet, anyway, but he and others throughout the kingdom who devoutly supported Queen Laura would pay attention if the time ever came to play heavier politics.
As David and his guard moved from one estate to the next, he put an ear to the wind. It was more of a habit than anything, but word might come from Laura, though she usually commuted with him by water, their shared power.
Today, the wind spoke. It was not Laura, but it still brought a smile to David’s face.
Have fun at tea.
I’m brewing potions.
If Hans touches the cauldron one more time, I swear to the All Mother Above…
David’s heart melted. It had been a time since he heard Matteo’s voice on the wind, since they were so often together and Matteo need not communicate with him in such a manner.
It was beautiful and refreshing, more so than a swim in a summer’s brook.
David flew gently, his guard with him as he moved through the narrow marble streets of the city, surrounded by tall buildings. He landed softly on the street outside the intended gate, his soled shoes making a little clicking noise. He had one more audience for the day, one that was expected of him, and may lean on the side of difficult.
But it was the next words on the wind that made him feel as though he could float to the sun.
David stepped out of the last noble estate he was to visit for the day.
He felt energized.
Afternoons like this always felt so right to David. He was born to do this, brushing wings with the nobility, charming them. For so long, when he was growing up, he had to pretend to be someone he was not and it made everything so difficult. But now he was who he was, and being Prince felt so right. He was becoming a master at being his true self.
Nonetheless, it was a relief to be done with his most princely duties for the day, and take his leave of nobility. The sun began to sink toward the horizon, and now all he wanted was to reunite with Matteo, with whom he could relinquish the Prince title and find comfort. It was rare they spent such time apart anymore.
Miss you, the wind told him. It only spurred David to take faster flight through the streets, his guard having to keep up.
“Your Highness!” Hans bowed when David entered the Apothecary for the second time that day.
“Good afternoon, Hans,” David said. He noted how happy Hans appeared that he was addressed by name. And while David did not wish to appear rude or like he was brushing Hans aside, there was one in particular David could hardly wait to see. “Is Lord Florenzi still present?”
“That he is, the lazy elf.” Hans’ eyes went wide. “I mean, not to speak negatively of him, Your Highness, but—”
David cut Hans off with a wave of his hand and a smile. “Is he taking a nap, by chance?”
Hans laughed brightly. “You know him well.”
“That I surely do,” David murmured.
“He is in the back garden,” Hans said. He looked awkward for one moment, but then smiled warmly and clapped his hands. “I can show you?”
“Please, just point the way. I would like a moment alone with him, if you do not mind.”
“Of course, of course,” Hans said. He did lead the way through the shop toward the back, where there was a door with a window set into it. “It is through there. Your members of the Guard have been keeping watch.”
David would bet the royal jewels that Leonie and Sara would be nowhere in sight when David approached Matteo, even while keeping a watchful eye. They knew to give David his privacy—or the illusion of it, at the very least, when they were away from private quarters.
He was not wrong. When David entered the back garden, the only elf he found was Matteo, napping on a wooden bench that had no back. He was face up, eyes closed to the remaining sun above, his wings lazily on either side of the bench, the tips of them brushing the grass beneath him, little flowers sprouting from those very spots.
The garden was bright and beautiful. David had the feeling it always had been, but he could spot Matteo’s magic. The rainbow flowers, the little mushrooms sprouting in the soil, the bright green of the leaves, long blades of grass growing in the pattern of footsteps.
There was a fountain off to the side. David twitched his fingers and drew a light mist from it, dragging it through the air and above Matteo’s face. His nose scrunched as felt lightly onto his face. He was used to this game by now though, so even if it woke him, he made no more than that small twitch.
David went to the bench, and leaned over. He poked at Matteo’s dewy cheek. In a low voice with a sing-song tilt, he said, “Matteo.”
Matteo immediately smiled, though he did not open his eyes or make a move. “This again, is it?”
“Are you going to tell me to go piss up a hill this time?”
Matteo chuckled. “No, I suppose I will not. Though perhaps I should.” He brushed his arm over his face, the sleeve soaking up the mist.
“Would you mind if I took a seat with you?”
“Never.” Matteo did not open his eyes, nor did he sit up to give David room. He only slid down the bench a little, and lifted his head.
David sat down and before he was even completely settled, Matteo’s head was dropping to his lap. David smiled down softly, and brushed his fingers through Matteo’s shaggy hair.
“Did you have a good afternoon?” he asked.
Matteo’s eyes were closed but he had a content smile on his face. “I did. I spruced up Hans’ garden.”
“I see. It looks beautiful.”
“Doesn’t it? I also helped Hans with a potion that’s proved difficult for him, but I think he will fair well now.”
“That is good. You said he taught you when you were in Moabit, yes?”
Matteo nodded, his head shifting slightly against David’s head. “Yes, he did, one summer as he travelled through. He was very helpful after my grandmother passed and I was learning to run the shop on my own. Our personalities do not always coincide well—or, I thought they hadn’t. I think we both have a lot more patience for each other now.”
“That is good,” David murmured. He loved when Matteo spoke like this, comfortable and relaxed, his words flowing like a beautiful waterfall. “I am glad you get along well.”
“Well enough.” Matteo’s eyes opened so he could look up at David. “If it is alright with you, I would like to return here from time to time during our stay.”
“Of course,” David said. He brushed a stray lock off Matteo’s forehead. “As you wish.”
“Thank you,” Matteo said. “For bringing me here.”
“Anything for you,” David murmured. He kissed Matteo’s forehead.
“And how was your afternoon?” Matteo asked. He reached for one of David’s hands so their fingers could link together.
“It was as many of my afternoons audiencing with the nobility,” David said.
“Boring,” Matteo said immediately. The corner of his mouth tilted up. “But maybe not for you.”
“It was an interesting time,” David allowed. “I am happy to say it seems that the feeling towards Laura and her reign is one of good-will in this city.”
“That’s good,” Matteo said.
“I did speak to one very interesting high elf. An elderly one. She is the matriarch of the family, but she has a bit of an iron fist.”
“And she likes Queen Laura?”
“She said she liked the changes that are sweeping across the kingdom, due to Laura’s progressive stances.”
“Huh. Well that’s good.”
“It is. Her name is Lady Hardenberg.”
“Hardenberg,” Matteo said, as if rolling the word around on his tongue. “Hardenberg.”
“She has a grandson she quite obviously adores, more than her own son and heir I would hazard. One called Lord Alexander.”
Matteo snapped his fingers. “Ah, yes. Lord Alexander. He almost died in Moabit. The curse got him good.”
“Yes, this is what she mentioned. I had met him a long time ago and had not talked to him since his travels to Moabit, but I had heard those stories in the Capital before I took my leave.”
“Before you ran away and hid in the woods,” Matteo amended for him. “And you did so even though you heard these stories.”
“I will never regret it,” David said, squeezing Matteo’s fingers tighter in his own.
“Nor I,” Matteo said softly. Then he said, “And Lady Hardenberg with the iron fist still likes you and your sister, despite her favourite grandson’s near death experience? She does not hate your family for it?”
“Oh, she made it clear—without saying outright, of course—that she did not like my father’s way of rule. That is what almost took Lord Alexander’s life, and it would seem she did not like the stripping of any high elf family titles and estates, nor the curses attached. She is in support of Queen Laura’s ratification of this.”
“I see,” Matteo said. “That is good to hear.”
“That it is. We have been extended an invitation to a ball at her estate.”
“In your honour, I am assuming? Like all the others we have attended?”
“Yes,” David said. “It is customary, when any royal comes for a stay in the city.”
Matteo nodded. “All right, then. I will put on my dancing shoes and hope I do not step on your feet again.”
“You are getting better at it.”
“Perhaps, but I may need private lessons again.”
David grinned. “I think that is a very good idea.” A good idea for spending time together, but maybe not for dancing. They always got distracted by each other and never seemed to get very much dancing done. “Would you like to invite Hans to the ball?”
“I think Hans would like to invite Hans, once he hears of this,” Matteo said, but he smiled. “I think that would be very good, both for him and his business. And also for me, while you are off charming the wings off the high elves. I will have someone to talk to other than Leonie and Sara.”
“This is true, though I do not think you lack from conversation partners.” David looked down at Matteo with a playful smile. “You will find yourself in the company of Lady Hardenberg at the very least. She was quite curious about the Lord Florenzi and the broken curse of Mitte, and I am sure will talk your adorably rounded ears off about that.”
“I am always more than happy to talk about home,” Matteo said, without any bitterness or regret, for which David was thankful.
“That is good. She will try to hint about what yours and my relationship is, I am sure. She tried today, though of course did not ask outright.”
“No?” Matteo asked.
David shook his head. “That would be a breach of etiquette. Small talk is allowed. Answering questions and engaging in conversation I lead, of course. But this—” David kissed Matteo’s forehead again. “It would be a grave offence to ask me outright, even if she and all the others try their cunning way to obtain information. They would like to know if there is... an official status, if you will, to our relationship. But I will protect this with everything in me.”
“Will you, now?” Matteo asked softly.
“I do not want you to have any additional stress. I am sure you have quite enough, dealing with interested parties.”
Matteo said nothing. He sat up, coldness filling the space where his body against David’s had been.
There was a soft snort from behind one of the tall bushes. Both Matteo and David’s heads turned in the direction.
It could only be one of two that dared lurk so close. “Show yourself,” David demanded.
Sara stepped out from behind the bush. “Your Highness,” she said, bowing her head.
“Do you find what I said funny?” he asked crossly. He knew that not every word he and Matteo said was private, not when they were out of the privacy of their quarters, but he did not like being interrupted so.
“Of course not,” Sara said.
“I did not mean to make light of the situation,” Sara said. “But if only you knew, you would not dare say such a thing to him.”
“And you dare say such a thing to me?” David’s voice was tight and cold.
“David,” Matteo said. He put a light hand on his knee. The touch made David relax, if only minutely. Matteo did not continue though.
“Explain,” David said again, voice not nearly as chilled as before. But he demanded to know what Sara meant.
“I only meant to say,” Sara said, “that...” She trailed off for a moment. Perhaps she was rethinking about how she was going to make her point. “Your Highness, if only you knew how smitten you look when you are with him. Even when you are not, and his mere name is mentioned, one can read your face like a book. Your feelings are clear to anyone, even if you do not say anything outright.”
He did not wish to hide his feelings, but he certain did not intend to speak freely about them with anyone outside of those he loved.
“Go on,” he said.
“You may be protected by etiquette but that is not a privilege that is afforded to everyone.” Her eyes flitted to Matteo. He looked rather unhappy at the moment, but he did not say anything to deny what she said. Sara added, quickly and almost as though she should rethink saying it in the first place, “Why do you think he always get so tired by the end of a stay in the city?”
“Enough, Sara,” Matteo said. “Please.”
David stared at Matteo, who would not meet his eyes right now. So rare did this happen. Matteo only looked at his own feet.
“Sara, leave us,” David said. “Take Leonie with you.”
“She went back into the shop the moment you arrived,” Sara said. “And I’m certain the guard you returned with is positioned around the garden walls.” The garden had high stone walls. “You have your privacy, and protection.”
Her eyes flitted to Matteo once more, almost apologetically, but then she turned and exited the garden.
They were quiet for a moment. David did not know where to begin.
“She did that on purpose, you know,” Matteo said. “Revealed herself, just so she could be dismissed and let us have our moment in privacy.”
“Perhaps,” David allowed. “But she certainly left with a lot to be thought about.”
Matteo sighed. “She did not have to bring that up.”
“Bring up what, exactly?” David frowned. “Are you keeping something from me?”
Matteo shook his head. “No, not really.”
David knew about Matteo’s sadness. Matteo had told him, before they even left Mitte, about the heaviness that descended on him. The one that only made him want to stay in bed, and to sleep, and to smoke his now famous special leaf. David had seen it only but once in the time they’d travelled together. He was certain he could tell the tiredness of this heaviness against the exhaustion of royal engagements and extended city stays. There was a difference. He was certain of it.
But what if he had been wrong this entire time?
“I thought you got tired,” David said quietly, “because... because you missed life in the countryside. Because you needed to return to the woods, to the quiet and peacefulness.” This was why David made certain their trips included a mixture of city life and adventure in the countryside.
“This is true, I do need an escape from the city,” Matteo said. He turned to look at David, and took one of his hands, clasping it between his own. “You are always saying that you would do anything to protect me.”
“This is true,” David said immediately.
“And I know this. But you know I feel the same. I would do the same. I would do anything to protect you, in any way I can. You do know this, don’t you?”
“Of course,” David said. “You do not need to worry, I have staff and guard and—”
“Yes, I know,” Matteo said, cutting him off gently. He was the only one who could ever do that, who would ever dare do that with the prince, aside from his sister. And David would allow it, always. “But the nobility and others, those who wish to get to you, to have some influence or sway... it is I they try to go through to get to you.” Matteo squeezed David’s hand. “And I will not let them. I am a stone wall. No one will get through me to you. Never.”
David stared at Matteo, mouth agape, and at a loss of words. He never thought about it, not in this way. He knew Matteo was strong, but he hadn’t realized how cunning he was becoming when dealing with certain aspects.
“You are incredible,” David said.
Matteo smirked. “About time you realized this.”
“I knew from the moment I met you,” David said, and it was not the first time he had.
Now Matteo’s cheeks flushed slightly. His hand pushed at David’s face, and David laughed. “You think flattery will get you anywhere,” Matteo said.
“I am the Prince, I know it does,” David said, but he could not stop grinning. A more serious thought crossed his mind that sobered him. “But you are... is it the heaviness that haunts you in our trips?”
Matteo’s face was relaxed, and he shook his head. “No. Sara was not wrong, dealing with all of this can be rather exhausting at times. But it is not the same. And it is not a trouble I mind facing.” He looked around the garden. “I think visiting here from time to time will do me good. It is why I asked.”
“I will build you a garden in every city,” David said immediately.
Matteo rolled his eyes. “I do not need a garden in every city. Besides, I have learned, all cities have gardens.”
“Then I will make sure we have access to a private one, just for you. And that you have the time to visit it, with or without me, anytime you need. Would that be a good compromise?”
“Our compromise is we spend a lot of time in the countryside and forests as it is,” Matteo said softly. “And I know this. I do not mind.”
“I visit the countryside and forests because I also want that. But I want you to be happy wherever we are. I know some of the royal engagements are boring or difficult for you. Let me make sure you have this to help ease your time.”
Matteo smiled. “Alright. I would appreciate that.”
David brought Matteo’s hand to his mouth and kissed his knuckles. “For you, anything.”
“Tell me,” Matteo said. “What would you refer to our relationship as?”
“You are my beloved,” David answered immediately. He knew, someday in the future, he wanted to change that. Make it a more permanent union. But he could wait until Matteo was ready. He would wait until he was old and greying and his wing-colour had faded away, just like Lady Hardenberg’s, as long as he had Matteo by his side.
“I like that,” Matteo said. “It sounds so much more honest than ‘travel companion’.”
David laughed. “Is this what you say?”
“Yes,” Matteo said. “It is the most anyone will say, since neither you nor I have officially confirmed anything other.”
“And no one dare repeat the gossip of a wandering minstrel,” David said with a cheeky grin.
“Jonas will feel so validated once they do,” Matteo said. But he smiled softly at David. “I would not mind being known as your beloved, if you do not mind my calling you the same.”
“I would be so honoured,” David said.
“Good.” Matteo stood, and pulled David up by the hand. “Then it is settled. Let us away back to our rooms for dinner and a private night in.”
“Why, dear Matteo, are you making advances on a prince?” David asked with a smirk.
“Damn right I am,” Matteo said, and David laughed. “Besides, it is getting late and I’m sure Hans would like to close up his shop.”
“Of course,” David said. He leaned in and kissed Matteo softly. “Thank you, for today.”
“Why? I did not even go with you on your engagements.”
“Perhaps not,” David said, “but I feel this was a very good day for us.”
“I agree,” Matteo said. He kissed David ever so sweetly. Then they left the beautiful garden, which had significantly more flowers than it did even when David had arrived.
The next morning, Prince David awoke, in bed next to his sleeping beloved.
His heart was light but incredibly full.