With My Eyes
There is only one thing I can focus on for the moment -- not falling flat on my face. Heavy chains bind my arms close to my waist, as if I would try something with four armed men herding me through the halls. I'm good, but not suicidal. Anyhow with no food and little water in the past few days, I'm certainly not at my best. It doesn't help that the idiot to the front of me continually jerks on the chain attached to a collar at my neck.
They will all pay. These fools who feel smug about toying around with a defenseless, weakened man. Those that had deserted me in battle, leaving me to whatever fate I'm walking towards. Though I have to admit, I may never get that chance. From the bits I've caught from the guards, it appears I'm the 'guest' to the king of these parts. Most likely I'm to be used as an example.
The man in front of me stops, though I notice the fact a bit too late and bump into him. He shoves me hard, causing me to stumble backwards until the chain snaps taunt. I refuse to wince at the feel of the metal collar edge digging into my neck.
Once satisfied I've been taught a lesson, the guard turns back around to knock sharply at the door. At a muffled reply, he opens the door and yanks on my leash. If given the chance, I'll wrap this chain around his neck and drag him to the nearest window for a hanging.
Strangely, I haven't been taken to a large room filled with nobles to point and stare at me. Instead, it appears a meeting room or perhaps a study. There is a long, rounded table with seating for a large number of people, but there also shelves of books and cushioned chairs. Despite the available space, only three men are in the room. This is hardly the way to make an example of a man if there is no one to watch.
I'm led harshly to the head of the table, but not too close. A couple of kicks to the back of my knees help me kneel to the only seated man. It doesn't take much thought to realize this must be the king of this realm.
"Now, now. No need to be so rough."
The man seems almost too … gentle to be the leader of a country. If my memory serves correctly, he should be at least into his forties. But his long brown hair with the barest hints of gray, warm eyes, and tender smile do not betray his age. He doesn't even seem the leader type, let alone king.
He smiles and half turns to the person to his side. "This is the one I was speaking about. They say he killed twenty men before he was captured."
The man he speaks to is dressed completely in black from boots to gloves to a high neckline shirt. More interesting is a metallic helmet he wears. It is a simple design that seems to only serve the purpose of hiding his features since I could not imagine the helmet withstanding any kind of blow. There are slots for his eyes, though they are obscured by shadows, and it opens at the bottom such that his lower lip and chin are the only pieces of skin I can see. The metal has a black tinge to it, certainly adding to the outfit. So, this must be my executioner.
A sigh. "This is foolish, Father."
This is the prince? That's rather amusing. Perhaps he is going through a 'black knight' phase.
"And it is foolish to have you wound half of my guardsmen. No matter now. He is yours to do as you wish, a birthing day gift since you refuse to let me do anything else."
I can feel his gaze on me like ice piercing through skin. Well, this is turning out grand. I get to become the beat toy for an angry little prince. I wonder which Spirit I angered exactly. It should have at least given me the chance to apologize.
"Bring him to my chambers."
At the command, the guards stand. I try to rise quickly, but apparently it wasn't fast enough. The man jerks up on the chain, only helping me to lose my balance and fall to the stone floor. Rising carefully back to my feet, a challenged with bound arms, I'm surprised to notice that the prince had moved and is currently holding the guard tightly by the neck.
"I don't need him damaged anymore," he hisses to the clearly frightened man. Perhaps he isn't the typical lazy brat of a prince to make a guardsman shake like that.
Again, the trip is a foggy one, my remaining energy only enough to stand and walk forward. At least there isn't the extra difficulty of harassment. The presence of the dark prince makes certain of that. We finally reach a large room with three doorways aside from the entrance. There are a few cushioned chairs and sofas surrounding a short table. Daylight shines through large windows behind the setup, almost blinding after being locked up in darkness for some time.
"The keys and then leave."
"Uh, my Prince, I hope you don't intend on remaining alone with him. He has killed experienced--"
"Do not make me repeat myself."
"Y, yes, my Prince."
I can't help a small smirk as the guard fumbles to release a set of keys from his belt. Quickly he hands them to the dark prince and leaves the room at a faster than normal pace. His fellow guards follow close behind.
Before the door closes, the man sets to work at unlocking my cuffs.
"So, what kind of fun are you planning for me?"
He pauses at his task but then resumes without a word.
"Surprised I can talk? It's a lot easier without someone smacking my back anytime I make a sound."
The chains clang to the ground as my arms are completely freed. He straightens to release my collar. I can't really say why, but his silence is irritating. It's nice not to be harassed for once, but I don't like being ignored either.
"Right now I could take that blade from your side and kill you. Or at the least strangle you barehanded."
Unhurriedly, he takes the metal off my sore neck and drops it to the ground along with the keys. I have to give him credit. I'm taller and have a larger body frame, but he doesn't seem intimidated by me or my threats.
He points to one of the doors. "Go sit on the bed. I'll be there shortly."
"Is the princeling in need of a good lay?"
"Then you expect me to be a good, obedient slave that follows orders?"
"You are free to leave now if you desire. I have no wish for a slave. Judging by your appearance however, I assume you require some sleep and then food."
Before I can think of anything in reply, he turns and enters the opposite doorway. Just like that, I'm free to go. I could leave this place and return home. Instead, I go to the room he pointed at. His suggestion of rest somehow made my exhaustion increase twofold. I barely make it to the soft bed before my legs give out.
Just as my eyes are about to close and stay shut, the dark knight enters. He carries a bucket in one hand and a box in the other. Kneeling on the ground, he takes one of my hands and sets to work at cleaning the cuts caused by the shackles. There is silence for a time as I am stunned by the man's action. It's disturbing to have a prince wait on you.
"Th, that isn't necessary."
"Only if you want infection. Hold still."
"Don't you have a servant or someone to do that for you?"
"I don't trust another to treat you properly."
"Well, I am technically the enemy and all. Why do you care?"
He doesn't respond as he moves to my other wrist. I flex my free hand, surprised at the skillful bandaging. It makes me a little less worried that the princeling actually knows what he is doing. When he continues on to my neck, I find myself growing weary at the sight of metal.
"Do you always wear that ridiculous helmet?"
Glad he cleared that up for me. "Do you even have a reason for the thing, or do you just enjoy scaring the meager peasants with your sense of style?"
He pulls a touch too tightly on the bandages as he finishes, and then drops a stained cloth into the bucket. Without a word or glance, he picks up his items and stands.
"Hey, wait a moment. Uh…I don't normally say this, but thanks."
Hidden eyes stare at me, and then he nods.
"The name is Seifer. No offense intended, but I'm not from this region--"
With that word, he leaves the room. For the few moments before sleep overcomes me, I wonder if it was really his name or perhaps a vague warning about bad weather in this area.
My first thought as I wake is that something smells wonderful. Blinking sleep from my eyes, I slowly remember my situation. In hindsight, I was a fool last evening. The princeling said I was free to leave, and yet I stayed because I was too lazy to get my ass out of here. At the least he has had a night to reconsider the decision, and maybe longer depending on how long I slept. It's been a while since my last night spent in a real bed.
Pushing myself up from the mattress, I walk in front of the door and stand there a moment. I'm almost afraid to discover if he locked it in the night. Scoffing at my weakness, I pull at the handle a bit too roughly and I almost hit myself with the door. Smooth.
The touch of embarrassment is lost, however, when I get a stronger whiff of food. On the small table in the room is a large tray of covered dishes and two pitchers. I must have looked the fool rushing over to a chair and uncovering the nearest dish, but I don't care. I'm starving. With my mouth full of cooked eggs, I finally survey the room and notice my actions didn't matter. My dark prince isn't in view.
By the time I reach the third and final plate, the outer door opens. I start a little, feeling like a thief caught in the act. The princeling enters alone and closes the door. He seems to barely notice me as he strides to the door of what I assume is his sleeping quarters.
"Am I supposed to save some for you?" I ask, though I know there little left to share.
"I had it sent up for you." And then he enters the other room, never once looking at me.
My initial hunger sated, I can savor a piece of melon while thinking about the quiet man. He looked a bit more ragged than what I remember from yesterday. Perhaps he trains in the morning. I wonder if he does so with the absurd helmet on. It would create quite the handicap on his vision.
The door opens and the princeling walks out, dark stains on his shirt suggesting he washed up a little.
"I suggest you leave soon to get a decent day's travel."
I smile around a slice of melon that I had bitten into. He sounds almost desperate to be rid of me. As I chew the fruit, I reassess the situation. Once I had been placed into the care of this dark prince, nothing terrible has happened. More so, I've slept in a bed far softer and cleaner than anything I've experienced. There was excellent food waiting for me to wake. Overall I can't imagine a reason why not to remain here. This man seems set in assuring me my freedom, so I can leave whenever the situation turns sour.
"I'd rather stay."
"I gave you your freedom."
"And I appreciate it. With my renewed freedom, I have decided to stay. You do seem to have an extra room."
He stands in place silently, perhaps confused by the unexpected turn of events. Perhaps angry.
"So, I seem to recall your father mentioning that you enjoy beating up guards. Care to try me out?"
He straightens a little, pauses, and then turns to reenter his room. Strangely getting accustomed to his lack of words, I pop a couple grapes into my mouth and wait for him. Soon after, a small pile of clothes is tossed at me.
"See if these fit."
If anything, the clothes were surprisingly a bit too big, but nothing a belt couldn't solve. I pose for the dark prince, but he doesn't seem amused and heads directly for the outer door. I stride up behind him, following his silent lead. I don't mind the quiet air, instead enjoying the random sites in the hallway. Everything from gorgeous maids to equally beautiful artwork along the walls.
A rather short distance later, we reach a dirt courtyard. There are scattered pairs sparring, though I imagine most prefer to train in the morning hours without the heat of sun. At this point, many of the guardsmen are probably on some type of patrol.
"Pick a blade from the rack over there."
I take a random blade from the selection, as all are rather worn and not one stood out from the others. Turning to the dark prince, I'm in time to see him remove his helmet. Dark brown hair seems to bounce outwards in relief from its constraint. His skin isn't as pale as one would imagine, and it looks too soft for a man who considers himself a fighter. Most amazing are his eyes that have the color of a sea in the midst of a storm.
"You are staring," he states with an angry edge.
"Yes I am." I smirk at him, not bothering to end my examination.
His smooth brow creases as he scowls at me. Suddenly he pulls out his blade and holds it to his side. I guess he is done talking with me. Once I shake out arms and legs briefly to loosen up, I get into my own stance. As I wait for his move, I debate with myself if it'll take one or two minutes to defeat the princeling.
After his first attack, I have to quickly change my line of thought. The move was fast, accurate, and certainly nothing an amateur could pull off. Hell, I almost lost my arm. Unfortunately I now have to admit he drew first blood. He doesn't gloat the fact, however, and instead launches another attack. Prepared this time, I parry it easily. He may be quick, but I have strength on my side.
The match continues and time becomes meaningless. Thought could not be spared on such unimportant details. By now we bear minor cuts and dust streaked faces. Both of us refuse to show how tired we feel. Neither can keep the upper hand in the fight.
The smaller man abruptly sprints at me and swings back his sword. I raise my sword for the forward attack. The resulting sound of metal on metal isn't natural and his blade isn't stopping. Leaning backwards, the tip grazes my cheek just before I fall onto the ground.
Looking at my broken sword, I start to laugh. I toss the worthless thing to the side, then look up to the dark prince. His blade already sheathed, he holds a hand out to me.
"This is a draw until you get a better sword."
I smile at him as he helps me up. "Looks like I ruined the clothes you lent me."
He shrugs. "Father sent them for you. There are more."
Ah, that's right. The king expected the princeling to keep me around. Rather ironic I was the one to decide to stay. Glad I did. It's been a while since I've fought someone who knew the right end of a blade to hold.
The dark prince bends down to retrieve his helmet and puts it back on.
"Hey, can't you just leave that thing off? It's a shame to hide your face."
Eyes hidden in shadows once more, I feel more than see the blue orbs fixed angrily on me.
I raise my hands in surrender. "Just a suggestion."
His glare chills me for a few moments until he turns and strides to the courtyard entrance. Not really having a clue how we got here in the first place, I make sure to follow quickly behind.
I lay back in bed listening to the quiet sounds of night only because my damn body has decided without me that it doesn't feel like sleeping. With nothing keeping me distracted, of course my thoughts wander to the dark prince. It's been almost a fortnight since I first arrived here. Strange how it somehow seems longer.
Every morning I spar with the princeling, much to the distress of the guardsmen. The man even was able to locate my sword, Hyperion. With the familiar blade returned, I gained an edge on the prince, but I still have to keep a careful defense up. That guy has a fast counterattack. The rest of the day varies depending on the courtly activities a prince is required to attend. I've spent most of my time learning the grounds of the palace, again to the distress of the guards.
I have never been around a man like the dark prince…Squall. I tired calling him 'my Prince' once, but he quickly corrected me with his given name. I rarely say the name even in my thoughts, but somehow it feels better than the formal crap others obviously want me to use. It makes me wonder how he sees me. As a sparring partner? A friend? He isn't condescending enough to think of me as a slave.
And then there are my thoughts of him. He's gorgeous without a doubt, but I have had plenty of flings with beauties both female and male. This doesn't feel the same. Somehow it's the inane things that makes me attracted to him. I'm proud that he says five words more to me per day than anyone else. And the way he can make a man freeze with a glance is truly a site to behold.
I should probably leave this place soon before such a ridiculous crush becomes anything serious. Something that could be used against me. Just one night to have that luscious body beneath me and then I should leave.
The sound of a door opening outside brings me from my thoughts. Curious, I walk quietly to my door and open it slowly. No one appears to be in the main room, but the balcony door is open. Making certain I step lightly, I go to the doorway. With my first glance outside, I'm stunned into place.
The dark prince is balanced on top of the guardrail of the balcony. He only wears some black pants, even the damn helmet absent from view. Once the initial awe of his half bare moonlit body passes, panic creeps into my thoughts. All it would take is one decent gust for him to drop the three floors to the ground below.
"Squall…" and too late I realize a good scare could also ruin the man's tenuous equilibrium.
As should have been expected, he starts and turns reflexively towards me. Ever so slowly, he is leaning out past the balcony, unable to straighten back into a safe position. But by then I'm running to him. Giving up on recovering, he pushes off the ledge as to turn around and grab the railing by his hand. He loses his hold when the full weight of his body pulls on the one arm, but the delay in his drop gives me the extra second to catch him.
Both hands on his arm, I pull up as far as I can, expecting the princeling to grab onto the railing with his free hand. Instead, he hangs limply in the air.
"Just incase you didn't realize, this will take both of us to get you up safely."
He looks up at me, his face perfectly calm. "You should let go."
"Come on, it'll be easy to do if you help out. I just have a bad grip right now."
"There is no reason for you to bother."
A stare at him for a moment as some things become vividly clear. Not caring if I dislocate his arm or otherwise hurt him, I jerk him up and over the railing. He ends up sprawled on the floor, soundlessly clutching his most likely injured shoulder.
"You were using me for fucking suicide, weren't you? That's why you would let a prisoner of war walk freely in your chambers. Hell, you even got me my blade back. And what's this right now? Were you going to jump, or just hoping a bird would smack into you and knock you over? Are you that pathetic you can't even get the job done by yourself?"
For the first time since I've known the dark prince, he smiles. It's vague and bitter, but there. "He… Father made me promise not to."
"So you want me to do the deed for you? Do you really wish to have me hanged or worse for killing you?"
I sigh and take a moment to control my anger. "Could you at least tell me why?"
"Isn't it obvious?"
"No, princeling, it isn't. Otherwise I wouldn't ask. Is the high life just not good enough for you?"
He stands abruptly, his eyes lit with anger. "Why must you mock me even now?"
"And what exactly am I mocking?"
"Are you so eager to hear me say it? Fine. I'm a monster. Barely human. A freak. Satisfied?"
I blink at him a few times. "What in the fucking world are you talking about? Did you find a blemish this morning and decide it's not worth living through?"
He opens he mouth to say something, but instead turns and storms back inside.
I follow quickly behind. "Oh, no. You aren't running from this."
I grab a wrist and swing him around to face me. Any preplanned actions end there as I focus on a shining stream of wetness. Placing my palm against his cheek, I thumb the water from his eye. With his free hand, he knocks aside the contact.
"I don't need your pity."
I wanted to laugh at him, for who would pity a prince? I wanted to say something snide to make that point. But this close to him, I can see something odd in those eyes. Pain. Not from his shoulder or my hand gripping his arm, but honest long felt suffering.
Perhaps wishing to ease that hurt or maybe just from being too close to him, I lean forward and brush my lips against his. I have fraction of a moment to feel the warm softness before he jerks back as if I had punched him. Forgetting my hold on him, he stops short in his retreat and falls to the ground. His breath faster than normal, he looks at me with wide eyes.
"What, has the princeling never had another man interested in him?"
Eyes narrow into a familiar glare. "Let go of me."
"Nah, I'm enjoying this too much." I kneel down to be level with him. "Are you afraid of me now?"
Never saw the punch coming. Suddenly I'm on my side and my face throbbing from the impact. At least he didn't have enough leverage to do real damage. The dark prince looks down at me.
"I don't fear you. I loath you."
With that, he leaves to his own room. I stay on the floor, laughing quietly to myself. Well, damn. That's just going to make it a bit difficult to get him into bed.
Not entirely unexpected, the dark prince made himself scarce in the morning. With no motivation to spar some pathetic guard, I wander to a further section of the palace. Maybe I can find where they stash some alcohol besides under the noses of the kitchen workers.
"Got on the wrong side of a horse?"
The lightly accented voice startles me. Turning to the side, I notice the personal advisor to the king leaning against a pillar. Kiros, I believe the name was. He was the other man in the room that first day here. I've only run into him a couple times since then, mainly because he is too busy caring for the absentminded king.
Gently touching the bruise under my eye, I smile. "Nah, a skittish creature by the name of Squall."
The dark skinned man frowns out me. "I understand you are jesting, but be careful of how you describe the young prince."
"Oh, come on. Don't tell me you support him in this 'monster' crap. He's just a pretty boy princeling who must be obsessed with his looks. And here I thought he was a decent guy."
Kiros is silent for several moments until he pushes up from the pillar. "Follow me."
With no reason not to, I trail the graceful man. I wonder if it was from this man that the dark prince learned how to hold himself. I'm a bit surprised when Kiros leads me into the hall that has the king's personal rooms. The guards are certainly uneasy about a stranger being let through.
He enters one room that appears to be a study with all but one wall covered by shelves filled with books. The remaining wall has scattered portraits of what I can only assume to be the royal family of past and present. Kiros walks to that wall but says nothing as he stands there.
Shrugging, I stand next to him and look at the portraits. I recognize the one of King Laguna, but I would have to assume the painter must have added the glint of wisdom in the blue-green eyes. Next to that was the image of who had to be Squall's mother. There is softness to her face that the dark prince has though he tries to hide it. On the other side of the king was a second picture of a lovely woman, and beneath the two was a painting of a young boy.
"That's not Squall, is it? It doesn't seem quite right."
"No. That is Forrest, the son of Laguna's second wife. Just before you came, they left down south for the winter. The queen's body doesn't handle the cold very well, and the prince went with her since she couldn't leave her child behind."
"Then where is the princeling's picture? Did you manage to pry that helmet off his head for it?"
"There is no painting of him. He forbid it."
I shake my head. "Pathetic."
The dark skinned man walks over to a bookshelf. "But the king did manage to have a sketch done of him without the prince's knowledge. He wanted something to remind him of his son while the prince was away at battle."
Kiros takes out a large book and opens it easily to the correct page, the binding probably worn out from frequent bending at that spot. After a brief look himself, he hands it to me. One glance, and I can't help a bark of laughter.
"What kind of joke is this? Did that kid, Tree or whatever, do this?"
Kiros shakes his head. "It was done years ago, but it is still fairly accurate."
Though I don't believe a word of it, I examine the rough sketch. It almost appeared that of an old man, skin sagging at random points and dark blotches covering areas. A visible ear was drooping, almost looking about to fall off. The lips were cracked with the upper lip split. While one eye was partially covered by overhanging skin, the other was perfect as if its single purpose was to make everything else that much uglier by comparison. My breath catches as I focus on that area. In my mind I can rebuild the face outward and form the image of Squall.
"You see him differently." More so a statement than a question.
"This...is some kind of joke. Right?"
"I have no reason to joke about this. You, on the other hand, are technically a prisoner of war. Do you expect some kind of gain by befriending the prince? By pretending that he doesn't look like this."
I can only glare at him. Sure I want something from Squall, but I would desire that gorgeous body whether he were a servant or god spirit. 'Gorgeous'? Looking back at the sketch, I wonder what the hell is wrong with my vision.
"I do not know what your game is, nor do I really care. If you leave now, no action will be taken against you."
Smirking, I toss the sketch book at Kiros. "I don't remember you having that authority. Only the princeling can tell me such things, and even then I may decide to not follow his command. I assume we are finished here."
Without bothering to wait for a possible response, I stride out of the room. Letting my feet choose the direction, I think over the convoluted situation. No wonder the princeling was always easy to anger whenever I commented on his looks. Though I haven't a clue as to why I had the great honor to be the only person able to see his beauty. I want to talk with the dark prince, but more than likely he doesn't feel like meeting with me today. Smirking, I decide that I may just have to press the matter.