It was hot, and everything was gold. Major General Roy Mustang wasn't a fan of the great Kingdom of Xerxes so far.
Fuhrer Bradley was not fool, he knew the younger General's ambitions and this would be a good way to get rid of him for a few months. Roy was annoyed at this but had decided to turn this to his advantage maybe he could make a friend of Xerxes' young King and get an ally. At least Riza was in central, she always supported Roy's interests. Though he missed having his right hand woman. In fact he missed his entire team, and his office, and his desk, even paperwork. You could do paperwork without getting sand in awkward places.
Still, it left him stuck in the middle of the desert, in a wealthy but historically insular kingdom. That traded with Xing but had little to do with other countries. King Hohenheim had been the first King to leave Xerxes for centuries, and now his son reigned, who Roy knew nothing about, the son had to be fairly young though. He didn't speak a word of the language and almost no one spoke Amestrian. Unusually, the late Queen Regent Trisha had been an Amestrian woman, the Xerxesian Royals normally married into the same noble families so the King marrying an Amestrian commoner had been news, in Amestris and Xerxes. Roy had hoped that would mean a few of the elite at least spoke Amestrian but apparently Queen Trisha had spoken fluent Xerxesian.
To make things worse, some idiot had forgotten the Xerxesians write the date month first, day second the opposite way to the Amestrians and told the Xerxesians the wrong date, so Roy had turned up on the 3rd of February rather than the 2nd of March when the Xerxesians expected him. Great first impression. Very embarrassing for everybody.
So after an awkward hour or two of waiting by himself, Roy was finally ushered into the throne room, like much of the palace it was huge, imposing and gold was everywhere, they said gold was not worth much in Xerxes, to the extent houses were built of the stuff and indeed this was the case here the bricks making up the room were gold but the throne itself was made of more precious metals.
The King was young though Roy knew that. Queen Trisha had died young, in her mid twenties and she'd been 21 when she married Hoheheim, Queen Trisha's son, the King had to be a teenager at the oldest.
When he was lead into the throne room he was greeted by a tall young man with pale blond hair and amber gold eyes, he wore a long red tunic over gold trousers. Strangely he stood in front of the throne but did not sit on it.
"Your divine majesty" Roy said remembering the title he had learned and bowing.
"Oh no" the boy said in surprisingly fluent Amestrian but the King had probably learned from his mother "I'm not the King, I'm his younger brother Prince Rahim. You can call me Alphonse if you prefer, my mother gave me the Amestrian name Alphonse. The King is not here. I have sent word to him of your arrival but I don't know how long it will take to get to him."
Prince Alphonse is in his mid teens, if he is the King's younger brother the King is probably old enough to deal with directly.
"It seems there was a mix up with the schedule" Roy said "It's not his majesties fault."
Prince Alphonse smiles brightly and heads down the steps, "one of the side rooms would be more comfortable, according to Xerxesian law only the King may sit on the throne though a regent may stand in front of it on the dais. Being so high up isn't the most condusive to intelligent conversation"
The King's brother is sweet and proper but also very shy, though he is clearly an intelligent young man. Roy likes him well enough but doesn't find him particularly interesting company. Still he hopes King Sargon is like his brother, Alphonse seems to have a good temprement for a King, he asks questions about Amestris and listens with interest.
"Can I ask where the King is?" Roy asked.
"My brother has a habit of periodically dissapearing, he tells Lady Izumi, the chief advisor and I that he's going to do it. He believes he cannot be a good king if he doesn't understand the common people. So every so often he dissapears for a few weeks into the city incognito. He went four days ago so likely won't be back of his own accord for another week. Sometimes I go with him but I didn't feel like it this time. He does have some houses in the city he usually stays at one of them, so I've sent messages to all of them but contacting my brother will not be easy for a while. It may take weeks." Roy was surprised no one was worried about the King, he knew when the Fuhrer occassionally went AWOL his guards all panicked in case something had happened to him, and Fuhrer Bradley was an experienced soldier. King Sargon by contrast was a boy.
In effort to entertain him, or more likely as Roy suspected keep him out of the way until they could find the King, Lady Izumi had arranged for him to get a tour of Xerxes, so far he had seen, irrigation fields, the main high street of the capital buzzing with shops full of strange things Roy had not seen before, been to several banquets held in his honor in which he had no idea what was said. Lady Izumi a terrifying woman of Amestrian and Xingese ancestry, like Roy though that didn't seem to endear him to her, she had a distaste of the military and had apparently been close to Queen Trisha, close enough to move across a desert for her, hadn't felt like enlightening him and though Prince Alphonse had made effort to include him the young prince was busy taking the King's role in the King's absence. At least today he was getting dragged to the alchemical university, a huge tower that loomed over even the palace. Xerxes was a centre of alchemy and they too had state alchemists, though they seemed to be seperate from the military. Roy had to admit, unlike the previous weeks events he was actually looking forward to this. Xerxes was legendary for its alchemy and the previous King Hohenheim had also been a gifted alchemist, Roy had seem arrays on some of Prince Alphonse's robes as well.
Unfortunately, he seems to have been assigned the most boring guide possible, though Roy eventually managed to loose him, his guide was an old alchemist who rambled on, which then had to be translated into Amestrian. It seemed Amestris was not regarded as an important country to the Xerxesian who when they spoke a foreign language at all, spoke Xingese. Which despite looking Xingese, due to his Xingese mother, Roy didn't speak a word of the language.
Roy hides in a side room, glad to be alone, until he hears a melodic voice speaking in Xingese. Which is very distinctly different from Xerxesian so while Roy doesn't understand the words he recognizes the languge.
He turns and sees a boy sitting surrounded by books, in what looks like a laborotory, arrays are scribbled on paper everywhere, books cover every available surface. The boy is beautiful, in his mid to late teens his hair is gold, most Xerxesians are described as having gold hair, when in actual fact it is blond, this boy though his hair is truly gold, as are his eyes. He wears a long red tunic and dark trousers.
"I don't understand you" Roy admits holding out his empty hands hoping the boy understands the gesture to mean he means him no harm.
"You're Amestrian" the boy says switching to Amestrian "sorry I assumed you were one of the Xingese alkahestrists. There are a few hanging around here somewhere."
"My mother was Xingese but I was born and raised in Amestris. I can't speak the language" Roy explains.
"That'll teach me to make assumptions. Are you the Amestrian General then? I thought you weren't supposed to be coming for another month?"
"Yes I am. I'm General Mustang, basically there was a mix up and the idiot arranging my diplomatic visit didn't realize Xerxesians and Amestrians write the date differently so I can unexpectedly early and now Prince Rahim and Lady Izumi are trying to find stuff to do with me until the King can be found...apparently he has a habit of going missing" Roy says bluntly.
The younger alchemist seemed to find this very funny given he was laughing at Roy's expense.
"Yes I know, very funny" Roy snapped.
"It is rather, I can see why you aren't happy though. Xerxes is an aquired taste. I love it here but it freaks out a lot of foreigners."
"It's more I've been made to look like an incompetant by turning up at the wrong time. Mind you your people seem to have misplaced their King so at least I'm not the only one."
The young alchemist seemed to find this funny too.
"Who do they have showing you around?" the boy asked.
"Erm...I think they called him the clouds alchemist."
"Ah yes, Hieronymus, he's a brilliant mind but he does tend to go on and on a bit doesn't he?" the boy smiled amused "you know what? I thought I was onto something here but I seem to have hit a dead end. Why don't I show you around instead?"
"Will that be OK? I know Lady Izumi, the King's advisor has been arranging my guides. I wouldn't want to offend her."
"I think it'll be fine" the boy said seeming amused by his question the boy smiles as if the world is a secret joke only he understands.
"Well if your sure" he's beautiful, he'll be a much more engaging companion the the clouds alchemist.
The golden boy, whose name Roy learns is Ed, Roy had thought him young but maybe he was just short, he didn't talk like a teenager. He was highly intelligent, Roy got the impression Ed was a lot more intelligent than he was, that irked him temporarily but it wasn't long before he realized that it wasn't just that Ed was more intelligent than him but Ed was more intelligent than most people.
"So are you a state alchemist?" Roy asked.
"Fullmetal" the boy said, "or that is a rough translation. Not all titles translate easily."
"I was surprised you spoke Amestrian" Roy said "it seems most Xerxesians don't. So far only Lady Izumi and a few translators."
"My mother was Amestrian. You think Edward is a Xerxesian name? I have a Xerxesian name too, but my mother called me Edward. I figured it would be easier for you to pronounce."
"Amestrian like the late Queen?"
"Queen Trisha wasn't royal born she was a simple girl, but she was so beautiful and sweet the King fell in love with her anyway, but few girls in her position had much of a future, she brought several girls from her village with her when she came to marry the King. My mother was one, Lady Izumi was one too, though she has Xingese ancestry she was born in Amestris."
"I thought the Xerxesians didn't like foreigners that much" Roy said "but Lady Izumi seems to have real power."
"Lady Izumi adapted. She was an alchemist already and we like alchemists, the late King's marriage was scandalous but both her sons had Xerxesian colouring so no one really cared. She worked hard to respect our cultures. When she died, her best friend Lady Izumi stepped into an advisorial role though really she was being a surrogate mother to an eight year old King."
"How old is the King now?" Roy asked "is he of age?"
"The King is 16" Ed said "but he's been ruling independantly since he was 12."
"How? If he keeps going missing?"
"He usually returns when anything important happens" Ed said not sounding worried, "I'm sure your offended but remember Amestris needs Xerxes not the other way round. While I'm sure you are on the King's priority list I doubt you are at the top. The King won't wait around in case Amestrian bueracrats mix up the dates. As for going missing, well how better to stay in touch with your subjects than to walk among them. If he did it as himself how much of the truth would he get? Just empty flattery."
"You speak as if you know him."
Ed made a face "vaguely" he said, "the children on the Queen and her Amestrian ladies often played together. We're the same age."
"You don't sound as if you like him."
"Oh no. I'm not giving you any information you sneaky bastard" Ed retorted.
The Xerxesian alchemist is easy to talk to. He tells Roy about the customs and traditions of his culture and they have some interesting conversations about alchemical differences. Roy learns a lot, probably not the sort of information the Fuhrer is hoping he learns but he now has some ideas to try and make his array more efficent. He isn't sure he should be so easy with a Xerxesian state alchemist, and Ed said his mother was one of the late queen's ladies so he was probably part of the court too. He isn't on Roy's side, he isn't even on Amestris' side. Yet, it was so easy to forget.
Ed takes Roy to the bustling markets next, feeding him Xerxesian street food and pointing out some of the games the children that just run around underfoot are playing. Telling him the rules. These were the poor of Xerxes clearly, but still they were relatively propserous compared to the poor of Amestris no one was in rags, no one looked underfed.
They they see the sights, the great alchemical architectural monuments, to better transport clean water through the desert by running it through carved arrays to purify as it goes around. The water gardens children play in naked, the great library open to all citizens on order of the King, it is larger than the state alchemist's library in Central and some of the texts...well Roy could happily spend weeks here alone. If Lady Izumi wanted rid of him until they found the King she should have just dumped him there.
He really should be getting back to the palace, he doesn't know what Lady Izumi will think, he voices this "don't worry about it" Ed said "I told Micha, the translator that you were going with me" Roy did remember Ed yelling something in Xerxesian over his shoulder as Roy followed. Hopefully Ed, was important enough for it to be OK, he certainly seemed to have a lot of confidence, but he was probably noble born. So Roy lets Ed take him to his home, a decent sized townhouse which he describes as his base in the city. If he is noble born as Roy suspects he probably had a country estate then. Servants are fussing over them as soon as they arrive bowing to Ed. Ed who had been perfectly at ease in the markets among the common people turned into a much more dignified figure. Though it only lasted until he and Roy were alone.
At some point Roy realizeds Xerxesian wine is a lot stronger than what he was used to, he rarely lets himself get drunk, especially around strangers because sometimes when he does he starts rambling about Ishval.
Ed listens silently no judgement in his eyes. Not the disgust Roy exempts
"Aren't you going to say something?" Roy asks waiting for the anger, the horror, the condemnation.
"What do you want me to say? Nothing I say can make it better, or even give you peace. You're already doing the only thing you can, moving forward, trying to be better" Ed said "your not the only one with regrets. I too have done things I regret."
"I thought you said Xerxesian alchemists weren't military?"
"No, but we're still alchemists and alchemists will always be tempted to push the boundaries....alchemists and Kings, the closest things to gods there are on earth, it can also make us the greatest monsters there are. There are three great alchemical taboos, gold is common in Xerxes. So common we don't use it for money what's the point in transmuting it from lead? Chimeras have not been taboo in Xerxes for 300 years not since the method was perfected so what does that leave?"
"You didn't..." Roy breathed then he frowned "you look alright for someone that did that, you're upright and seem to have all your appendages."
"Automail" Ed sighed, "my entire left arm to the shoulder, most of my left leg too...you're wearing gloves but they aren't common attire in Xerxes because of the heat. I wear them to cover my right hand, it attracts too much attention when people see the metal. Derision I can deal with, even the hostility which is a common reaction when faced with something different. But I can't bare pity..I don't know why I told you that."
Roy had noticed Ed's gloves, gloves aren't weird on an Amestrian alchemist, Roy himself wears them so he didn't think much of them but it was a good point, he hadn't seen other Xerxesians wear them.
"You committed genocide and I in my arrogance destroyed my brother's childhood. I pressured him to join me, he's good but not as good as me and he owes me obedience. I'm the elder brother, the head of the family and he is so good and loyal. He did what I said without a word, and lost his body for it. I bound his soul to armour."
"So..he's stuck in a suit of armour?" Roy asked not even sure that was possible.
"Oh no, he's fine now. I fixed it, it took a long time though even for a...someone with my resources" Ed said it seemed like he was going to say something else but changed his mind last minute. Instead Ed leaned forward poured himself another glass of wine and topped up Roy's then he downed his own goblet in a few seconds. Then he looked Roy up and down as if considering something.
"Do you want to fuck me?" Ed offers casually as if he was offering Roy a cup of tea.
Roy chokes on the wine he had been drinking.
"Right, I forgot Amestrians are more bashful than Xerxesians. You aren't married are you?"
"No I'm not married."
"How old are you?" he asks Ed, if Ed is around the King's age he won't be of age
"It's not legal then."
"What's the age of consent in Amestris?" Ed asks curiously.
"In Xerxes it's 16, I'm 16 and I'm not a virgin. I understand consent if I've misread your interest just tell me and I'll drop the matter. But if you are interested and are just holding back because of my age. It's perfectly legal for you to fuck me and no one will care" then he seemed to consider this in more detail "maybe don't tell your Fuhrer but no Xerxesian will care."
Roy is interested, he prefers women but he isn't unmoved by men and Ed is particularly beautiful. He pulls the smaller young man into a kiss.
Roy returns to the palace the next morning in a car arranged by Ed who is gone by the time he wakes up having left a note saying he had a great time and there was breakfast waiting, then he'd be taken back to the palace. He is wandering later, followed by his minder, Micha he thinks Ed called him, who is watching him more closely after yesterday. He spends time in the cool water gardens simply to escape the sweltering heat but as he finally comes inside he walks through a corridor covered in portraits, "the Kings of Xerxes?" he asked.
"Yes" his minder said "all the way from the first king all the way to his divine majesty King Sargon at the very end.
Roy walks down the corridor, all of the Kings look similar same gold or blond hair, and eyes. All looking super dignified. He notes King Hohenheim who he vaguely remembers seeing pictures of before, then Hohenheim's son. He is dressed smartly in gold and red embroidered Xerxesian robes, his golden hair braided elaborately, but Roy knows those eyes and that knowing grin.
Oh Fuck. It's Ed.