it is a royal privilege to do good and be ill spoken of.
the wolves of kaer morhen had been proud warriors, only to be chased and beaten from their home by the wickedly ruthless felines of the south.
the cats were notorious assassins, ruthless and merciless - they had slaughtered the wolves, with only a handful surviving the attack. they had tried to hide out in the ruins of kaer morhen, licking their wounds and burning their dead, but then winter came which threatened to wipe them out.
so, vesemir gathered up his suffering pups and led them to the nearest kingdom - lettenhove. the king had welcomed them warmly, eager to have these warriors join his army as fodder, to pad out his soldiers and make them look fierce.
then bratty prince julian wanders in during the negotiations and takes one look at these weary, broken men. there’s a tiny beat of silence as the wolves slowly register the sight of this young man - he’s dressed in silks, in mesh, with glittering jewellery decorating his body. his neck drips with gems, his ears sparkle brightly with piercings, his arms and legs tinkle with bangles and anklets, his fingers are covered in rings. his eyes are rimmed with kohl, his lips are dark with paint… bratty prince julian looks simply divine and his scent is spicy-sweet, like lemon cakes baked with cinnamon.
the bratty prince then snaps his fingers and demands that these poor creatures be released under his care - his father opens his mouth to argue, but then julian sighs and laments, “oh father - i suppose i could let you keep them, just like i could let you keep your secret wife hidden!”
and well, no further arguments are made and julian gets what he wants.
the wolves are instantly smitten.
but, vesemir doesn’t trust him for a second.
he’s seen brats like this before - they walk around with pretty faces and ugly souls, making demands and expecting everything from those around them. and now, this utter child owns his pups. and so he readies himself to protect his men, to bare his teeth and suffer whatever the boy has planned for them.
it comes as a bit of a surprise when the first thing julian does, is run them a bath. it’s a large communal tub made from shimmering tiles - the water is hot and julian pours in copious amounts of oil, petals and salts. he asks them to strip off their rags and to make themselves comfortable.
to make themselves at home.
his pups are grown men, and yet they still look to him for guidance. vesemir merely nods, however - eskel, lambert and geralt are tired and they deserve some rest. they could all do with a bath, too.
he still keeps his eye on the brat.
oddly though, prince julian does not undress. rather, he hands over the bundle of dirtied rags and requests for new clothes to be brought to them. then, he refocuses his attention on the wolves and asks a most peculiar question,
“may i wash your hair?” and he says it so earnestly, so sweetly and shyly - it’s almost as if he really wants to impress them and vesemir can’t scent anything untoward, so he inclines his head and says,
“no,” because he can wash his own hair, but, “you may do theirs, if they so wish it.”
and lambert and eskel instantly begin to bicker and argue, wanting julian to wash their hair first - they splash and try to drown each other, which has the bratty prince arching a brow as a little faint smile dances on his lips. vesemir sinks into the water and watches as julian sways towards geralt - the older wolf can feel his hackles raising as his white-haired wolf tenses up with wary eyes.
but julian merely asks if geralt would like a drink,
the prince must sense that physical touch is not on everyone’s agenda right now.
vesemir helpfully informs him that they haven’t eaten anything substantial for weeks and this odd little prince looks horrified. he calls for breads, berries and cheeses, and calls for fresh water too. eskel asks for ale, but julian shakes his head and tells them that they may indulge in his richer stocks once their stomachs aren’t so empty and their minds aren’t so exhausted.
he rises and informs eskel and lambert that he will happily wash their hair at a later date,
and then he leaves.
and the wolves are stunned when they’re presented with new clothes, fresh food and cold water.
“i like him,” eskel declares easily.
“you want to fuck him,” lambert snickers, splashing his fellow wolf teasingly.
“a blind man would hardly refuse him!” eskel shoots back, tackling lambert into the water.
geralt merely rolls his eyes, but even he cannot quite resist splashing them both, easily getting swept up into their antics as they laugh and play.
they all want the prince, vesemir can smell it - it’s thick in the air and clear in their eyes. the pretty prince has somehow wrapped them all around their fingers and truly, he despairs.
“be wary,” vesemir intones, yet he knows he won’t be listened to. for his pups, at the end of the day, are still pups. unruly little bastards who may respect him, but are still inclined towards disobeying his every order and ignoring his every warning.
still, they’re his.
and he will protect them with bared teeth and sharp claws.
they’re all rendered speechless when they see their new living quarters.
it’s all plush pillows and thick furs, with platters of food and drink scattered around them. it’s lit by sweet-smelling candles and has a balcony which overlooks the sprawling gardens behind the palace.
they’ve been helpfully informed that prince julian’s room is directly opposite theirs.
eskel throws himself bodily into a pile of lush blankets, revelling in the softness which greets him. lambert snorts and follows suit, landing on his fellow wolf with a barking laugh. they’re enjoying themselves, savouring this little moment of extravagance and decadence.
geralt wrinkles his nose at his bickering brothers and drifts over to a nearby platter - it’s only a matter of seconds before he starts pelting eskel and lambert with grapes.
despite the childlike joy his pups are presenting, vesemir can’t help but realise, with sinking horror, that instead of being fodder for an old man’s army.
his pups have become a harem to satisfy a young prince’s boredom.
“they are not your whores,” vesemir hisses, in the dead of night when his wolves are soundly sleeping.
prince julian blinks blearily up at him, his eyebrows knitting together with confusion, “darling, i believe a little context is warranted here,” he utters, stifling a yawn as he leans against the doorframe. he’s dressed in the loosest silk robe with his face coated in a sweet-smelling cream.
he looks alarmingly small and bare without the jewellery and makeup.
vesemir underestimates no one.
“that room you’ve given us,” vesemir states, “is more suited for whores, not wolves.”
then prince julian smiles, sharp and sweet, “my dear man,” he purrs, leaning towards his elder with glimmering eyes, “i have no such designs on them,” and then he bites at his lip and allows his eyes to drift past vesemir towards the harem’s door, “not until they wish for them.”
vesemir growls and bares his teeth, “you treat them well,” he states, “because you aren’t the first prince i’ve come across, and you won’t be the first prince i’ve had to dispatch.”
“what an elegant way to describe murder,” julian notes, his eyes lighting up, “it reminds me of why i had to have you all under my name. my father would have happily seen you all slaughtered on a battlefield, but i have bigger plans for you, my clever man. something more… delicate and subtle.”
vesemir arches a brow and says nothing about the possessive nature of julian’s words.
“subterfuge?” the wolf prompts instead, because it screams sneaky feline and this bratty prince would probably blend in perfectly amongst the sly assassins.
“it’s practically my second language,” the prince confirms, absently picking at a stray thread in his robe, “if i want whores, i’d go out and indulge myself in the many glorious brothels in my kingdom,” and then the prince stands straight and narrows his eyes, “what i see in you and your darling men, is something more. and i’m not just referencing your mutations, oh no, you’re more than weapons, than shields, than tools. i see loyal men who deserve more and can do more, if given the chance.”
and vesemir is silent for a moment as he registers the prince’s quietly passionate speech. julian pants lightly, his clear eyes burning with desperate yearning - his smell is oddly sweet, with no signs of malice appearing on his person. the older wolf has met many an actor and either this prince is the best of them all, or he is truly genuine.
it touches him to hear his pups being spoken of in such a manner.
with respect and awe and a touch of warmth.
“it seems it is you who needs a chance,” he utters, before he leans in close, “but should you do anything to break their trust, make no mistake - i will break your–”
“neck? back? face?” julian cuts in, a small smile on his face, “most protective fathers tend to choose cock, believe it or not,” and then his smile slips as a more serious expression shadows his face, “jests aside, i swear i have no unkind designs on your men; i only wish to protect them, so that one day, i earn their protections in return.”
vesemir eyes him steadily before he holds out a hand,
he intends julian to take it to shake,
instead, the prince ducks down, takes it in his own hand and kisses it firmly.
the wolf blinks and snorts, “careful little cat,” he says, “you’re not the only one with claws.”
and then he takes his hand back and steps away; prince julian watches him retreat with thinly-veiled amusement, “pleasant dreams, wolf,” he trills softly.
vesemir nods before he returns to his pups,
finds them curled up, sleeping peacefully, in a pile of pillows and furs and wayward limbs,
he dearly hopes that the prince doesn’t disappoint them.
and so it goes,
julian continues to pamper and spoil his wolves,
he mostly uses them to intimidate persistent suitors and potential enemies,
whether it’s in the village or in the ballroom,
the prince simply doesn’t ask them to do anything but stand by his side and pretend that everyone around them is a threat. vesemir supposes the prince doesn’t need to pretend, not really.
and though they are adamant they are not assassins, julian happily allows them to fulfil bounties and hunts, to stave off boredom and rusting skills - should one of those contracts involve a rival of julian’s…
well, that’s no one’s business but their own, really.
the prince continues to spoil them with clothes made from silks and lace,
continues to pamper them with exotic fruits and rich drinks,
continues to grant them freedoms such as access to his personal baths and training grounds.
there are no collars and chains,
just a vow of loyalty.
it’s strange - despite vesemir’s constant lectures to be alert, to be aware, to remain suspicious, he can sense that his men are falling deeper and deeper for the prince.
predictably, the first to fall under the prince’s spell is eskel.
he’s respectful and eager, happy to dance with the prince at balls to ensure that no one else can steal him away without his consent. he happily points out pretty ladies and handsome men for the prince to play with,
yet, he also indulges julian when he flirts and teases,
the first time it happens, eskel is startled. honestly, no one truly knows how to react when the prince remarks upon his ‘pretty face’. he’s washing eskel’s hair, tender and gentle as he brushes through the knots,
before he touches upon the thick, roping scar which mars eskel’s face. the prince looks softly pained, before he leans and presses a kiss against the tip of the mark against eskel’s temple.
“it’s unfair,” julian murmurs sweetly, “how you make a scar so vicious look so pretty.”
and silence reigns, but it’s strangely not awkward,
julian just continues cheerily washing eskel’s hair before he rises to his feet and leaves the wolves alone.
no one talks about it for days afterwards, though lambert had mercilessly teased his fellow warrior about it, with geralt sniffing that he’s still the prettiest wolf in the pack.
it comes to no one’s surprise when one evening,
eskel doesn’t return to their room until the morn.
he smells of lemons and cinnamon, his scent blissfully content - and whilst eskel wrestles his brothers into submission as revenge for their scathing comments, vesemir leaves to confront the prince.
“did he want it?”
“my darling man, i would never force– the whole idea, the mere notion– i enjoy bringing pleasure to those who are happily, freely joining me in my bed. i do not accept the touch of those who are forced to give it to me, it is distasteful and abhorrent.”
“good. they’ve had countless owners and employers, so don’t abuse such trust.”
“i may own their lives, but their bodies remain theirs - i don’t expect them to sleep with me, i just expect their respect.”
“you’ll be waiting for some time before you get either from me.”
geralt is the next one to fall for the prince’s charms.
he says it happened when he had been sparring by himself in the royal training grounds on evening.
the prince had come across him, going through the motions of defending himself against invisible attackers, and had requested to join in. he had proven to be a worthy opponent, who focused more on agility than strength,
still, geralt had won their spar,
and had been offered the reward of julian’s body, should he so wish to take it. instead, geralt had taken a chaste kiss before bidding the prince goodnight. his oddly romantic gesture had apparently left the prince so hopelessly endeared and touched.
vesemir can see it now, as the prince’s eyes track geralt’s every movement at the latest banquet the king is throwing. there’s a besotted expression on his face and his eyes sparkle with adoration. his scent remains sweetly innocent, but trust takes more than a pretty smell.
so, vesemir takes geralt aside and says, “you seem to have won the prince’s affections.”
and geralt blinks, before a faint smirk graces his lips, “if he behaves himself, he’ll also get to win something.” and then vesemir’s pup turns, and sends a blazing look to where the prince is perched on his throne,
vesemir arches a brow when julian visibly melts, yet throws an impish wink back.
the flush on geralt’s cheeks tells him all he needs to know.
“you will be careful with geralt’s heart.”
“naturally, he deserves nothing but the best.”
and of course, where geralt goes,
lambert is sure to follow.
vesemir walks in on prince julian massaging his pup’s shoulders - there is no look of greed or desire in the brat’s eye. rather, his gaze is softly reverent as he carefully works the tension free from lambert’s muscles. the surly wolf melts under his touch, a small smile on his lips and vesemir feels his heart soften at the sight.
he stays hidden as they share a private moment,
vesemir’s not entirely sure what julian says, but it has lambert turning and smacking the prince on the arm. in turn, the prince splashes him which has the surly pup dragging the laughing royal into the bath.
they fight and bicker, before they embrace and kiss,
and vesemir leaves them to it.
“he struck you, why didn’t you have him punished?”
“why would i? he’s a delight to play with and i shan’t admonish him for feeling comfortable with me.”
“you don’t want to scare him off.”
“i don’t want to scare any of you off.”
vesemir strives to resist being charmed.
he truly does, because the boy is not of his pack and though it warms his heart to see his pups laughing, with full stomachs and clean faces, he still doesn’t quite trust this prince. he’s lived a long life and has seen people take their time before they sink the sharp blade of betrayal into those who bequeath loyalty unto them.
and then the king of lettenhove throws another ball,
because he has more money than sense,
and somehow, a cat slips through the cracks. they must have caught wind of the pack of stray wolves, tamed at the hand of lettenhove’s feisty prince. the feline steps quick and silent, slipping through clusters of royalty with a hidden scent - they managed to drift close to the throne, where julian sits with his infamous harem gathered around him.
julian likes to spoil his wolves, likes to gift them pretty jewellery and soft clothes - lambert had lamented the thought of being considered soft, yet julian had emphasised the importance of being underestimated which had settled the prickled nerves of his wolves. so they sit and stand around the prince who had pampered and loved them so, proudly wearing silks, sashes and gems, completely unaware of the danger which approaches them.
prince julian, however, has his eye on every guest.
he personally oversees the invitation list, knows the name of every person, knows who their parents are, how many children they have, sends flowers when beloved pets pass away–
so, when he spies a dreadfully outfitted peon, coming towards him on nimble feet, julian finds his hackles immediately raise. he doesn’t spare a thought to warn his wolves, because it’s his wolves in danger, he just knows it.
no one dresses like death to kill a prince,
no one looks like a hunter, unless they’re coming to slay a beast.
and julian’s wolves are no beasts, but they’re still magnificent creatures who have somehow slipped into his heart, and no one shall take them away from him, not his father and certainly no distasteful killer.
without thinking, julian slips a dagger free from his sleeve,
and when the assassin pounces with a hiss,
julian pounces back.
there’s a chorus of cries, curses and shrieks as the prince bodily tackles the cretin to the ground,
“julian!” his father cries, calling for guards, for julian’s wolves, for medics and help, and fuck–
the prince’s dagger easily slides into an unguarded throat, but the feeling of victory is fleeting. he chokes when he finds a sharp pain bursting into his side, but it’s nothing compared to the pain when he registers the panicked, angry cries of his wolves.
he feels himself being pulled away, allows himself to be tucked into vesemir’s chest as geralt and eskel descend upon the assassin’s body, rifling through their clothes and finding a medallion around their neck.
lambert curses felines,
eskel swears to hunt them down,
geralt queries if julian is okay,
and vesemir immediately vows to never let blood stain this prince again, inwardly swears that this prince is under his care and nothing shall harm him once more. julian must sense his thoughts, for he reaches up and presses a hand to the older wolf’s bristled cheek.
“your wolves may kill for me,” julian states, with a hand pressed to his bleeding abdomen, “but i would die for any of you.”
and with that,
and scares the fuck out of vesemir.
it’s a lesson for all of them,
for prince julian could be a melodramatic fool at times, but he clearly hadn’t been lying about his own competency with a dagger; nor had he been lying about his feelings towards the wolves of kaer morhen.
they were his.
and just as they are loyal to him,
he too, is fiercely loyal to them.
as such, vesemir needs to apologise, for he feels he has been wrong about the prince. as a man of code and honour, he needs to face his mistakes and admit that there are still things he needs to learn.
yet, when he knocks upon the prince’s door, there is no answer. he presumes the boy needs rest, needs to recuperate and regain his strength,
and then vesemir wanders into his own room,
and finds the wounded prince curled around his slumbering pups - they’re tucked around him possessively, but anyone who personally knows them would know the truth of who truly protects who.
and vesemir finds that he is proud to be wrong once again,
for bratty prince julian is no cat; he is a wolf, through and through.
and he belongs to vesemir.