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White as snow

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Hendrik had grown silent and pensive after the victory against Calasmos. The evil threatening the world was defeated, at last, though darkness remained in his heart. Many lives had been saved. But Jasper’s didn’t. He was left behind, near the heart of Yggdrasil, for being a traitor. Mordegon, through King Carnelian’s body, slashed him then ordered he’d remain here. The monsters around would take care of him. So they did as it seemed, as Hendrik found no trace of him when he went back there later. Not even a piece of armor. All he had was the necklace he discreetly picked up after Jasper’s death. His friend was gone. Forever. He didn’t even know why. Why did Jasper betray his own kingdom? Why did he sell his soul to the devil?
Hendrik asked that his bedroom was maintained. No one needed to use the room anyway. The knight would often go there to think. His heart ached at the sight of the empty desk. Open books were still resting on the wooden furniture. Sometimes he picked them up to read them, trying to understand the lines and so the thoughts of the blonde. He failed, as he failed to help him.
There was a book he didn’t dare to read. He looked over Jasper’s diary, on a table against the wall. He had some scruple to take it. It was the solution and his friend could no longer resent him for it, but it was still so intimate...
Instead, he kept travelling with the Luminary around the world. The boy loved to visit all the people he met during his quest. Occasionally, princess Jade would come along. The thief, Erik, was always there as he was now living with him and his sister Mia liked to follow them. Norberto, or more likely Sylvando, he twins Serena and Veronica, then lord Robert were sometimes there too. Hendrik couldn’t help but think he wanted someone else by his side…

He always carried few things when he travelled, to not be bothered by useless things. He took some of Jasper’s book though, to comfort him. Around his neck, he wear both their necklaces. The blonde was an important part of his life, if not everything. Yet he never confessed it, leaving many things unsaid and unbearable grief.
This time, the brunet wanted to visit Arborea. He insisted that Hendrik shouldn’t come, but the knight did.
Seeing the tree of life from so close hurt him more that he could say, and the Luminary knew so. However he meant to fulfill his promise to be his shield no matter what, and to him that would come to an end on the day he would have to put his sword down.
He preferred to sleep in a room in the inn. The citizens were welcoming and kind, but he liked to be alone. As he unpacked his belongings, he noticed a familiar cover, and retrieved Jasper’s diary from his bag. He sat on the bed, holding the object with both hands and staring at him. He obviously hadn’t paid attention to what he took when he grabbed the books. His stroked the cover carefully. He so badly wanted to read it. He wanted to know. Nevertheless, he was scared. He feared he wouldn’t find answers to his questions. Also, maybe he feared to find the truth. Maybe Jasper hated him.
Hendrik looked through the window. The Yggdrasil was still floating above the earth. It was a calming view, except for him. He then glanced back at the diary, now open in his hands. Without thinking, he started to read the beautifully written words.

“It is a month now since Hendrik returned from his training in Puerto Valor. In that short time, he has grown tall, and his bearing is now very much that of a knight. I asked that he spar with me, but I was no match for him. No longer is he merely physically stronger - his sword skills have been honed to an extraordinary degree. But it was not his blows that hurt me most. No, it was the way he reached out his hand with a smile to help me after he knocked me to the ground. Just as he did when we were children… While he was training, I was not idle. I threw myself into studies, devouring tome after tome on military strategy. But it is never enough. Yet again, he has surpassed me. We vowed to serve and protect this kingdom together. But perhaps he has forgotten this. Or does he view it as a childish promised, best consigned to the past with the memories of all we shared? But I have not forgotten. I still imagine us fighting alongside the King to defend the honour of Heliodor. I will not let that dream die - I will do all that I can to make it reality.”

The last pages were torn off. Hendrik vaguely remembered Jasper burning some papers once in a while, but it could be another things.
He closed the diary, overwhelmed. He still had no answer about why his friend betrayed him, yet he learned something. Jasper was unaware of his feelings. He didn’t know that this promise was what kept Hendrik moving in his life. He wanted nothing more than to honor it by his friend’s side. He brought him back to life after the destruction of Zwaardust, and so became his reason to live. Jasper was confident, smart, strong, and very kind, though he didn’t like to show it. There was so much more than meet the eyes.
Hendrik closed the diary. His vision was blurry and tears threatened to fall.
How he wished he had gathered the courage to confess his love to Jasper. The man would perhaps still be alive. Now he was gone forever.

“Come on, folks, have a look at this! Special sale! You won’t find this armor anywhere else! The story tells it belonged to a legendary knight of Heliodor!”
Hendrik turned his head. Sniflheim was as cold as ever, or maybe it was worse. He couldn’t tell anymore as he felt cold all the time. He frowned at the mention of Heliodor. If the item were from another kingdom, why sell it here and return it? He didn’t approve that behavior. He walked closer to get a look and scold the man but he froze before he could speak a word. The white plastron shined in the sun and the golden eagle with two heads carved in it couldn’t be mistaken.
“How dare you!” Hendrik walked toward the merchant and grabbed him by the collar. “This is the property of the Kingdom of Heliodor! How dare you try selling it!”
“I was allowed to!” The man was struggling to get away from the knight. “The new chamberlain sold it to me!”
“The new chamberlain? Who is he? What did he say?!” He was shaking the man as his eyes glowed with fury. A small hand rested on his shoulder. He turned to look at Eleven.
“Don’t mistreat him Hendrik. Let him go.” With a gruff, Hendrik took a step back. The merchant huffed and glared at them. The brunet proceeded to interrogate him.
“Please excuse my friend. This armor belongs to an old friend who disappeared. We’re surprised to find this here. Please tell us all you know about it.” The man hesitated but decided to answer.
“It is as I said. A new chamberlain has been hired by the queen and her witch. He sold to me various things he got from travelling merchants. You should ask him about it. But I wish you good luck. He barely leaves the castle and he’s always covered with many layers of clothes. I never even saw his face. You should ask the queen.”
Hendrik looked down at the breast plate. The golden eagle was shined in the sunlight. Eleven bought the armor, and he helped him to carry it to he inn. Mia tried the gloves but Erik scolded her. Now wasn’t the time to play. The black knight carefully put the pieces of armor in his room. His friends closed the door after them, giving him a moment of privacy. He studied the pieces. Looking closer, he could see on the breast plate a thin mark. He followed the line with the tip of his fingers. Jasper had been striked there, all over his chest. One needed to be aware of this to notice it as it had been obviously fixed and cleaned. Hendrik rested his forehead against the cold metal.
He had found Jasper’s armor, months later. Now he needed to know how he could have missed it.

“I’m sorry, but Homeros is a quiet person… He does work alone in his office and he doesn’t want to meet people out of work.” Queen Frysabel apologized. She looked sincere but Hendrik didn’t accept her answer.
“I am deeply sorry to insist, your Majesty, but this is important. Your chamberlain was in possession of some Heliodor property that was lost a few months ago. I… We need to know how he found it. Please, allow us to talk with him.”
The young woman looked embarrassed. Thankfully, the witch decided to intervene.
“I’m going to have a talk with him. Please wait for my return.”
She exchanged a look with the queen then left. She was back less than ten minutes later.
“He’s in his office. Go back in the hall, and take the corridor on your left.”
They did as told. Hendrik felt strangely nervous. He was angry at the merchant, the mysterious chamberlain, but mostly himself. Now he was overcome with anticipation. It reminded him of the day before when he was reading Jasper’s diary.
hey were in the office sooner than he expected. His felt his heart race as the sight of a man sitting behind. He could barely be seen as large stacks of sheets were all over the surface of the furniture. He didn’t lift his head, covered by a dark hood. It hid half of his face, and a large scarf was over the other half. They could barely see his nose. He had a blue coat and black gloves.
“What do you want?”
His voice was cold as ice, quite deep though it was like he was forcing to make it sound that way. Hendrik gulped. That voice was familiar to him. Was he getting crazy? It was probably because of the stress.
“We heard that you sold an armour from Heliodor to a local merchant.” Eleven said.
“Is it illegal there? Many goods are sold across the world. You should not be so upset about it.”
“It was Jasper’s armor.” Hendrik blurted. There was a small silence.
“Who?” The chamberlain asked. He startled as the knight punched the desk.
“Do not play the idiot! He is well known, even here! He was a general of Heliodor and he had a white armor designed by him and made for him!”
“A friend of yours, I take?” Homeros’ voice wasn’t just cold, it sounded almost bitter.
“... He used to be. He is no longer… Alive. His body was never found, which is why I want to know how you found his armor when we could not find even the smallest remain of him!”
The chamberlain waved his left hand, as if he meant to push bangs out of his face, then he tugged at his hood.
“It was found around Arborea, for what I understood. I guess monsters scattered the different pieces, but a travelling merchant managed to gather them all. I cannot tell you more as I ignore what happened next.”
“But why did you buy this armor if it was to sell it anyway?” Erik asked, confused.
“Big brother, don’t be a dummy. It was for money, right?” Mia said. “Maybe the queen isn’t that rich, or she wants to be richer!”
“Don’t be disrespectful, little girl!” The chamberlain growled. “It was a personal purchase but I had no use for it so I sold it to a local merchant.”
“No doubt that, as a chamberlain, you know about every emblem of each kingdom.” Hendrik insisted. “It is quite a surprise that you never thought of sending it to the Heliodor kingdom. Once again, you should know about the most important people in Elrea. He died not so far from here and the news spread quickly. He was the best knight of Heliodor! The best tactician!”
“Well I will make research about him once I am done with all my paperworks, if this can put that hurting soul of yours.” Homeros mocked him. “Now, if you have nothing more to ask, I suggest that you leave. I am a busy man.”
Hendrik didn’t want to leave. An impossible thought was running through his mind. He looked at Eleven, who simply nodded. The Luminary left with Erik and Mia. Homeros sighed, clearly upset.
“Why aren’t leaving with your friends? Do you have trouble understanding my words? LEAVE.”
“I refuse to do such a thing.”
Before Homeros could say another word, Hendrik walked behind the desk and yanked him on his feet. With a quick move, he pulled the hood off. Angry golden eyes looked at him with rage as long blonde hair fell around his face.
“So it was you, Jasper.”
Jasper pushed him away, silently observing him for a moment.
“Are you happy now?”
Part of Hendrik was overcome with happiness, indeed. Jasper was alive. Jasper survived. That was why he couldn’t be found. He didn’t die. Yet, why was he hiding? Because he had been almost killed by the king while being treated as a traitor? He was perhaps afraid he would be executed once and for all shall he make himself noticed. Still...
“Why did you never try to contact me?”
“So you would have come to finish the job? Fufufu. Take a guess.Why did I not tell King Carnelian that I was still alive after he tried to murder me, when I was given an opportunity to start a new life and be useful and important here?”
“The king is no longer possessed by Mordegon. You would be safe.”
“Still as naive as ever. I did betray Heliodor nonetheless.”
“I hate you.”
The words pierced Hendrik’s heart like a dagger. So he was right about Jasper after all…
“Why? What have I done?”
“Oh, poor Hendrik, poor confused child. What have you done indeed? You, the great Hendrik, the savior of our king, our hero, my so called childhood friend, what have you done indeed? Why could I be mad at such a wonderful character?”
“Tell me! Why?!”
“Why, hm? TELL ME WHY!” Jasper snapped. Hendrik was growing more and more confused but also upset and worried. “Why is it that you always thought you were so much better than me? Why was it always you who was given the golden opportunities? Why is it always who got just what you wanted? Why, mh? TELL ME WHY!” The blonde took a breath then he spoke again. “Well, no more. I will be second best no longer.”
“I…” Hendrik gulped. “I never thought I was better than you. On the contrary I-”
“Really? Then tell me, why did you ignore me when I offered to shake hands on the day you became a knight? Why did you walk past me? Why did you deny my help in saving King Carnelian during the fall of Dundrasil? Why are you the hero of the kingdom when I am nothing better than your shadow at best?!”
“You are wrong!” The black knight protested. “You always have been so much more than that! I came this far because you were there to guide me! I never ignored you! I… I was not aware you were before me when I became a knight! I was told later! Jasper, I swear I never intended to hurt you so! I mourned your death along with many others!”
“Mourned for me?! YOU LEFT ME TO DIE, HENDRIK!”
Jasper’s words echoed in the room. They fell silent. The blonde’s expression kept changing, going from rage to despair and even guilt. Hendrik sometimes wondered what Jasper was thinking on the moment he “died”. Now he finally understood why he had betrayed the kingdom.
Jasper has been betrayed by Hendrik. He gave him many chances, but the black knight crushed them all and failed again and again. He was the worst friend ever.
“If we are done, please leave. I still have paperwork to do.”
Hendrik did.

His friends left him alone with his thoughts that evening.

“Why are you back?” Jasper growled. “You want to take me with you for a trial? I fear you cannot do such a thing. I am under the protection of Queen Frysabel.”
“I wanted to bring you something belonging to you.”
He handed him his diary. Jasper’s face was once more hidden under his clothes but Hendrik knew he was surprised, to say the least.
“Were you carrying it with you? No need to ask you if you read it… I do hope it was funny.”
His tone said otherwise.
“I read it, indeed. Forgive me. I… Needed to know I missed when you were around.”
“Did you find your answer?”
“Partially. The rest came from you yesterday. Now I know why you joined the evil side.”
“Yes. We did not value you as we should have. On a personal level, I treated you poorly. No, I was the worst friend that ever loved.”
“Quit the drama. It never suited you. Are we done now? I wish to never see you again.”
His heart sank but he deserved those words, so he nodded.
“Allow me to tell you one last thing.”
“You may.”
“I want to thank you.”
Jasper looked at him, surprised, tugging his hood backward just enough so their eyes could meet.
“I always followed in your wake.” The black knight declared. I was robbed of my home, my family. I was alone. You were the one who spurred me on that place. The light that guided me.”
Jasper observed him during an instant then chuckled.
“You are the same sentimental fool as ever, I see. You do remember that I betrayed you?” The black knight smiled.
“How could I forget? I am indeed a fool. But not for that - for not seeing before it was too late. If I had spoken to you… If I had listened… Perhaps we would not be where we are today. We would have fought side by side instead of against each other.”
“You knew.” Jasper stated. “You always knew. We were born two very different souls, but it is that difference that brought us together. As you light grew brighter, mine could only blacken in response. And before I knew it, I felt more kinship with the denizens of the dark you battled so righteously than I did with my own kind. The lure of evil grew, and before I knew it I had passed the point of no return. I saw what Mordegon saw - the beauty in the blackness.” He then confessed. He stood up and walked closer to Hendrik, taking his hood and his scarf off. The taller man studied the face of his old friend. How he missed those shining eyes… “Do answer a question of mine. Do you still... ? Do you still consider me your comrade and companion?”
They both took a step closer. Jasper looked so hopeful, his cold mask shattered, revealing his true thoughts. His pain. Hendrik smiled down at him.
“...Always… Friend.” He honestly answered. The blonde smiled before he closed his eyes.
“How long I waited to hear those words…” He whispered. The black knight rested his hands on his shoulders, carefully so the other man could pull away if he wanted.
“I am deeply sorry it took me so long to tell you so.” Hendrik said softly. “I thought for so long that you knew what I thought of you, but you could not know since I never expressed it. I never forgot about our promise to protect our kingdom together and I still wish to honor it.”
The chamberlain looked back at him.
“It will most likely never happen. I am a traitor to our kingdom as I joined Mordegon on purpose.”
“I can talk to the king. You are a victim of Mordegon too. Let me help you. Please.”
Jasper shrugged.
“Suit yourself.”
He looked away. Hendrik slowly wrapped him in his arms and rested his head in the crook of his friend’s neck.
“I am so happy that you are alive.”
Jasper hugged him back tightly.

Hendrik wrote to King Carnelian and sent the letter quickly. He asked Queen Frysabel to allow him to work for her and to help Jasper in his work. She agreed. The blonde knight was no longer hiding himself and accepted the help of his old friend without complaining. In fact, he admitted he was glad to spend time with him and talk. Despite growing together, they had years to catch up. Hendrik was lent a room to sleep in, and at night, he would write down topics he wanted to talk with Jasper the next day.
It was perhaps the happiest time of his life. The blonde would teach him about paperwork, reminding him of their younger days when they studied together. They laughed and smiled. His old friend looked relaxed, yet he confessed one day that he wished he could have some vacation in Puerto Valor. Now Hendrik shared his wish.

No answer came from King Carnelian. Instead, he went to visit Sniflheim. It was a way to meet with Queen Frysabel and talk about business, but he was mostly there for Jasper.
The blonde was nervous. That was understandable. He had a large scar over his torso from their last meeting - he showed it to Hendrik at some point. The black knight was sad at that view, but his friend comforted him. They shared looks that meant there was more than they would admit yet between them, than friendship.
Hendrik was by Jasper’s side when King Carnelian walked into the office. It was only the three of them. The old man looked at them silently. Jasper’s hand found Hendrik’s, and the black knight squeezed it gently. He would not leave him alone anymore. The blonde was quietly putting his pride away, his friend would honor that.
“How are the both of you?” The king asked. They bowed.
“We are doing well, your Majesty.” Hendrik answered.
“Good.” The royal man gazed at Jasper. “How is your… Injury? Did it heal well? I hope it is no longer painful…”
“I… I am fine, your Majesty. Thank you for your concern.”
“Excellent. Yet… I came to apologize to you. I am deeply sorry for the way I treated you. Even before Mordegon, I privileged Hendrik over you, for he survived the fall of Zwaardust and needed care. I chose you to support him, but as you grew I did nothing to support you too.”
He knelt down in front of them. The knights looked at each other, surprised, then knelt down too.
“Please stand up your Majesty. I was the one who sold vowed to serve the lord of darkness.” The blonde told him.
“Your Majesty, I am the one who failed him. I did. I should have listened to him since I was the closest to him.”
“Hendrik, you could have not known, I refused to share my thoughts with anyone. Pride was more important than friendship… I was wrong and jealous.”
“I could yet have seen it. I could have -”
The king hugged them both, taking them by surprise.
“I am sorry my boys.” He said. “I lost years with Jade after the fall of Dundrasil, but also with you. I consider you two as my sons. You are part of my family and I vow to protect you as such. Jade agrees with me. Heliodor will always be on your side, even if you never intend to come back there.”
Hendrik felt Jasper’s body shake lightly, and he gently stroked his back. He had no idea how long the three of them hold each other. The king eventually retired for the day.

That evening, before he went to bed, Hendrik heard someone knocking gently on the door. He opened and Jasper entered. The blonde was staring at the blue carpet. He was rubbing his arms as if he was feeling cold. The black knight wrapped a blanket around him.
“Are you alright?” His hands were resting on his shoulders. His friend sighed.
“I… I guess I wanted not to be alone tonight.”
Hendrik blushed. He guided him to a couch and they sat on it.
“Are you worried about what King Carnelian said?” The chamberlain nodded.
“I guess… I am unsure of what I should do. After what I have done… Can I really be forgiven so easily?”
“If the king says so then I trust him. More than once, you proved your worth. I do believe that you deserve a second chance. You were stopped before you could really do any major damage, and you already are going carry this for the rest of your life, as it is in your skin. If anyone has anything to say, I will go to them to have a talk. I want to support you and to be by your side as long as you allow me to.”
Jasper’s cheeks became bright red and he plays with his blonde bangs.
“This… I… I guess…”
Hendrik gave him some space and made them tea. He handed his friend a cup, that the other man accepted. They drank silently. The black knight felt the blonde lean against him so he instinctively brought an arm around him, holding him close. He stroked his shoulder slowly.
“I want you to stay.”
Jasper’s voice was so small, so shy...
“Then I will. No matter where you want to go.”
He nodded.

Hendrik didn’t remember falling asleep. He blinked a few times. He was wrapped around a large pillow. He glanced down to discover that Jasper was actually in his arms. He looked peaceful. Gently, the man bent to kiss his forehead. The other man slowly opened his eyes before smiling at him.
“Good day.”
Hendrik smiled back.
“Good day to you too.”
The blonde stretched. He went back to his room to put on fresh clothes. They joined again later, as they walked through the town. Jasper talked with merchants, ordering various supplies for the castle. The two friends then walked freely around town. They stopped by the fountain to look at it as they ate some food they bought. The view was relaxing. Hendrik lifted his head. He could see the Yggdrasil in the distance from here. A few days ago, the silhouette of the tree would have hurt him even if it looked so far away, but now he felt better. He knew guilt would never leave him though, yet he had a life to make amend. Eleven had told him he didn’t have to be his shield anymore and that he should stay with Jasper. Himself wanted to spend time with his lover, Erik.
Hendrik felt fingers curling around his owns. He smiled at Jasper.
“You looked hurting.” Jasper said. “What is it?”
“Nothing. I simply…” He sighed. “Seeing the Yggdrasil is rather unpleasant for me now. Way less now that I found you but…”
“I forgive you Hendrik.”
The black knight stared at him in shock.
“I forgive you for what happened. You are not responsible for my behavior nor my resentment. Though you clearly could have made some efforts… I, too, had to do some.”
“Jasper… I… Then you should forgive yourself too. You are human and the blackness is very tempting. Even I considered it sometimes. I simply had been lucky you were by my side.”
They were looking at each other, cheeks red with embarrassment. Then Jasper took a step forward and Hendrik welcomed him in his arms. He held him tightly against his chest, unwilling to let him go.
“I think you have something more to say.” The blonde commented.
“Do I? You are right. Shall I say it here or would you rather seek more intimacy to hear my words?”
“Tell me here.”
“I love you Jasper. You mean everything to me. You made me want to live again after I lost everyone meaningful to me. I am forever grateful that you survived. I still have no idea how this miracle could happen though.”
“I managed to cast enough healing spells, one by one, until I could walk to the closest goddess' statue. I stayed there and ate some fruits. After that I walked to Sniflheim and asked for protection. They treated my injury though I knew I would keep a scar.”
“I see… I swear nothing like this will ever happen again on my watch.”
“Thank you Hendrik. I have no doubt you will.”
Hendrik kissed Jasper’s forehead. The blonde wrapped his arms around his neck, pulling him into a hug.
“I love you too, by the way.” He whispered in his ear. Hendrik beamed.

Jasper left the Sniflheim kingdom a month later, once done with his paperwork. The queen thanked him for everything and let him go. A party was organized in Heliodor for him. The blonde was given his armor back by his lover, so he wore it for their return. The twin eagles were back and working together, at last.
Their first mission was to supervise the new recruits at Puerto Valor. They knew it was an excuse to offer the blonde some vacation and let him rest. The same went for Hendrik.
Sylvando greeted them happily and congratulated them loudly about their new relationship. He gave representations at night with his circus team, though he would help his father to train the young soldiers. Hendrik and Jasper were given a lot of time to chill and have fun. They were almost forbidden to work.
Jasper didn’t protest. He liked to sunbathe and eat fruit sandwiches. Hendrik learned how to prepare them but also to make small cakes. They swam when they felt like it. They would sometimes even race. The black knight lost often, spending more time watching Jasper’s form as he moved. On the evening, they would go the circus, rarely at the casino, and mostly lied down on the sand. The long blonde hair was amazingly soft. Hendrik loved to run his fingers through it. He looked at Jasper’s soft smile and he leaned it to kiss his lips.
He was happy and, more importantly, allowed to be.