They were going to kill Baron John Reese.
Harold spared a second to feel annoyance at the oaf for blundering into the castle, and ruining his carefully made plans, before deciding to save him.
Stripped down to his pants and tied to a post, Baron Reese was forced to watch as his thick winter garments were laid before him in the snow; he could look at them as he froze to death.
Harold could see that there were more than a dozen men, circling and yelling insults. One of them spat upon the baron's face, laughing as he did so. Harold clenched his fists, looking closely. He'd remember who it was.
For his part, the baron appeared as if he couldn't care less, not even flinching. From his vantage point hiding behind a cart, Harold could see that he was doing a good job of pretending that he was somewhere, anywhere else.
'Fat lot of good that would do you when you're dead,' Harold grumbled, knowing himself well enough that he recognized the annoyance was a cover for fear. There was a chance that the men would succeed, and that the Baron would indeed die today.
Not that he looked like he was dying. He wasn't shivering or anything, not that Harold could see. Skin darkened by the sun was free from goosebumps, if scarred, and he wasn't even stomping his bare feet to keep away the cold, as the men in boots were doing.
Time passed, and the men grew tired of watching their captive, talking amongst themselves. Harold looked at him closely, waiting for the right moment to act. Baron John Reese was not the largest looking alpha Harold had seen, but there was something about the way he held himself, his stance, or the look on his face; it suggested that this was merely an inconvenience to him, and that the jeering men were beneath his notice.
In almost no time at all, the men began to leave the baron to his fate. Their voices carried in the wind to Harold's waiting ears,
"No point in freezing along with the bastard, eh?"
John didn't notice anything amiss until the hooded figure was standing almost directly in front of him.
'Stupid,' John berated himself, even as he braced himself for more punishment.
The figure stopped just outside the reach of his unbound legs to fish out a handkerchief and a knife. The figure pulled down their hood and, for a moment, John thought that his eyes were playing tricks on him, because in front of him stood the most beautiful man he'd ever seen.
"Don't make a sound," the vision said. John could only nod. "I'm going to untie you, and then we're going to walk to that doorway over there," he pointed, but John's gaze remained fixed on him, "It leads to the library, where no one will look for you. Do you understand?"
John found himself nodding again, this time with more purpose. His rescuer's voice was hypnotic, with an odd cadence John found enchanting, but it was when he stepped forward to wipe the spittle from John's face (softly, gently, handkerchief leaving a trail of sweet omega scent in its wake) that John was well and truly lost.
By the time John came back to himself, his rescuer was kneeling awkwardly, picking up John's garments from the snow. John rushed forward to help, but the omega was standing again before he could do more than take a step. Which worked out for the best, because John was a little unsteady. He looked down at his feet. He couldn't feel them.
"Lean on me," whispered his savior, draping John's arm around his shoulders. It wouldn't do a lot of good, the omega could probably only reach John's chin on tiptoe. but it gave John an excuse to lean close and breathe in more of the omega's intoxicating scent.
Part of John wanted to tell him that this was pointless, that even as they made their way slowly across the courtyard, John's soldiers were scaling the castle walls. But curiosity stayed his tongue. A soft whistle from the battlements signaled that the troops were in position, and John let more of his weight fall on the omega's shoulders to distract him, and to raise his other hand to reply in code.
He wanted to see the omega's plan to the end.
Harold didn't breath easy until they were in his quarters beside the castle library. It was a drafty place, and no fires were allowed to keep the books safe, but it had been a safe place for Harold in his time at Lord Greer's castle, and he would be sorry to see the last of it.
Currently though, Harold was cursing the lack of fire and warmth as he barred the door as quietly as he could. With luck, everyone would continue to assume that he was still ailing, and not come to look for him.
"What's your name?" came a voice from behind Harold.
Baron Reese was much larger up close and sitting on his pallet on the floor, Harold decided. He seemed to fill the room, and his gaze felt piercing, as if he already knew everything Harold could care to say, and was merely waiting for Harold to say it for politeness' sake.
"Harold," was all he said, then, "Put on your shirt."
The baron complied, putting on his hauberk as well, before Harold could question the wisdom of a supposed serf giving orders to nobility. By the time baron Reese's head was visible again, Harold had knelt beside him, blankets ready. One went around the baron's shoulders, and another Harold started wrapping around the baron's feet, before he got a good feel of the ice cold limbs.
Harold weighed his options carefully, aware of the baron's eyes on him. Before he could change his mind, Harold shifted so that he was kneeling at the baron's feet. In one swift move, Harold yanked up his own winter clothes and pressed the baron's feet to the warm skin of his soft belly.
Both of them gasped as soon as John's icy skin touched the omega's (Harold's).
It was the most unselfish act John had ever witnessed.
Harold seemed to draw the chill from John to himself, teeth starting to chatter as what felt like a thousand pins and needles stabbed the soles of John's feet.
"S-serves you r-right," blue eyes glared at John, "you're l-lucky to fe-feel anything at all."
Experience told John that they were past the most dangerous point, that blankets would suffice, now that the worst of the chill had been chased away, but when he tried to move his feet away, Harold clutched them tighter to himself.
"D-don't go t-trying to undo m-my hard w-work!" Came that enchanting voice again, this time sharp with annoyance.
John could only smile, thankful that Harold appeared too occupied trying to keep John from moving his feet away from his body to notice the grin. He didn't seem to mind when John wiggled his toes. A wonder, that. John himself tolerated a punch to the belly better than a soft touch, which rendered him hysterical with laughter.
"What were you thinking, walking into this castle alone." Harold said after a while. He seemed to have regained control of his voice.
John felt a small pang of regret as Harold wrapped his feet in blankets and started putting himself to rights. He was just starting to get comfortable.
"I have come to destroy this castle, leaving it in ruins." John said, opting for honesty as he put his boots back on, "And I have decided that you are coming with me."
John was not a man given to superstition, but he was fairly sure that, had curses been real, he would have been dead on the spot for a while now, for all that the little omega was suddenly glaring at him.
He didn't understand; many other servants and villeins had been grateful, for his offer of protection. It was widely known that he, Baron Reese, was a fair lord to his subjects, as opposed to other lords who worked their subjects to death when it suited them.
But this one, this omega, just said one word that John did not hear very often, due to his good looks, charm, or noble lineage. John had offered him safe haven from this hellish place, and the omega replied,
so, i just had a tooth taken out. it's weird; i've had it done before, so i know how much it hurt then, and I specifically remember thinking, remember how much this hurts, okay? but i'm still surprised by how much it hurts now.
i'm stupid, lol.
anyway, here's a new chapter, i wrote it to help me feel better :P
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Clearly, the cold had addled the baron's head. Harold felt a little bad for the baron; his annoyance at having his plans derailed fading. It was hardly Baron Reese's fault that Baron Greer, nobility of equal rank, had so little honor. It was a bit naive of him, perhaps, to go anywhere with no guard, especially in these troubled times, but perhaps this experience would leave him wiser.
It was quite the untimely inconvenience, though. After helping Baron Reese escape, Harold would need to remain here for weeks yet, instead of leaving today, to avoid suspicion. A servant leaving by himself, an unvalued one at that, would have been easy to forget. One that helped a baron escape the clutches of certain death would be infinitely more memorable, which is what Harold was trying to avoid. So he would have to wait it out.
But it was worth it, to save Baron Reese's life.
"There's no need to be angry," Harold said to the alpha, carefully modulating his tone, his voice losing its edge. "I'm nobody, I'll tell no one you were here, and you shall maintain your reputation."
That neither Baron Greer nor his men would say anything, lest they implicate themselves, didn't need to be said. Harold went on.
"I have a friend, he can get you as far as the border of Baron Greer's territory." He flashed a quick smile. "We'll do our best to get you home safe." 'And hopefully, you won't do something this foolish again,'
Instead of the thanks Harold expected, Baron Reese's face was... doing something... Harold didn't quite understand. What kind of expression was that?
'Oh dear,' Harold thought, 'Have I offended his pride by offering protection? Alphas are such fickle things, sometimes.'
Baron Reese opened his mouth to say something, but closed it again without having said anything. Harold waited. The prolonged silence, however, allowed the far away sounds of battle to reach them.
They both listened for a moment, then Baron Reese cursed.
"I told her to wait for me, damn it."
Harold didn't get the opportunity to ask who 'she' was, because the Baron was suddenly grabbing his hand, dragging him along. Moving much faster than they did going in, Harold and Baron Reese made their way back out to the courtyard, following the sound of shouts and clanging metal.
The sight that greeted them... Harold had read extensively on war, among other things, but he'd never seen it up close. Looking out into the courtyard, Harold wished that was still true. The battle looked like a scene out of hell.
There was so much blood.
Harold was so transfixed that he didn't notice the Baron walking him to a post, the kind people tied their horses to. He didn't notice anything, not even being tied up, until the baron took him by the chin, standing close enough to Harold that he occupied Harold's entire field of vision.
"Stay here, out of danger," Baron Reese said, soft voice a horrible contrast to the carnage Harold knew was happening behind him.
The Baron turned away and whistled, to Harold's confusion. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, a young boy ran up to them, bearing a sword nearly as long as he was. The boy gave Baron Reese the sword after a quickly whispered conversation that Harold couldn't hear. To Harold's dismay, Baron Reese left moments after, vanishing into the melee.
The young boy (Dark skin, short curly hair, lively face, Harold catalogued, brain on autopilot) kept guard over Harold for as long as he could. But before long, the draw of the battle proved too powerful. Then he too vanished, pulling out his own much shorter sword, and Harold found himself still tied to the post, alone now and unprotected, but calm enough to consider his options.
'Clearly,' Harold thought, 'Baron Reese does not-- did not need my help.'
He shivered a little, feeling a phantom coldness on his torso.
Maybe this battle was for the best. No one would notice if he slipped away during the fight, and it would be weeks before things became calm enough for someone to wonder where an aging omega was, and even then, everyone would assume he had perished in the fighting.
He looked around carefully, looking past the carnage. No one had disturbed the stables, and no one would notice a missing horse in this chaos. Excellent. The only complication right now was that he was currently tied-up. The remedy for it, the dagger he'd used to cut the baron free, was in his pocket, and currently quite inaccessible to him.
Before Harold could figure out how to get to it, he became aware of someone's gaze on him. He looked around.
Harold felt relief down to his bones. Lionel Fusco, a beta game-hunter for Baron Greer, was moving quickly towards him, skirting the edges of the battle. Lionel was the only friend Harold had made in the time he spent here in Baron Greer's keep, him and his son Lee. A good boy, sharp, and he liked listening to Harold's stories. Harold hoped he was safe, far away from this madness.
"You okay?" Lionel asked as soon as he reached Harold. Harold presented his tied hands in response, and Lionel wasted no time. He grabbed a dagger from his belt, cutting through Harold's bonds carefully. The omega felt a rush of gratitude, both for his help and the careful handling. While not tied tightly, the rope was rough against his wrists; It was meant for bridles, not human skin.
"Ready to go?" Lionel asked as he cut, hands shaking. He was putting on a brave face, Harold knew, despite his fear of the battle nearby.
"My things are in that cart, over there," Harold gestured with his chin, not that the hunter could see. "Where is Lee, is he safe?"
"Western gateway," grunted Lionel, "He's got the supplies and the horse. We're still leaving today?"
"The horses are unguarded," Harold said by way of explanation. No sooner had Lionel cut away the last of the ropes, than Harold took Lionel by the hand began to lead them to the stables. It was clear across the courtyard, and they'd have to be careful to avoid the soldiers as they crossed. Every instinct told Harold that they should head in the other direction, but no.
"We'll make much better time with three mounts between the three of us than just one, don't you think?" said the omega. Never mind that horses terrified Harold; he would do what was necessary, as he'd always done.
But they hadn't taken more than a dozen steps before the were intercepted by a woman in shining armor.
"Run." said the alpha.
Before Harold could process anything, Lionel pushed him to the side, drawing a long dagger as he did so. It looked laughable next to the knight's longsword, like a child's toy. But it did not waver in the beta's hand.
Lionel locked eyes with Harold for a quick moment before returning his gaze to the knight, clearly about to say something preposterous, like "Take care of my son," but Harold was having none of it. Calm as he could, Harold walked back to the beta's side, grabbing the hand that wasn't holding the dagger in his.
"What are you doing?" Lionel asked, voice low through gritted teeth, not taking his eyes off the alpha. Across from them, the knight removed her helmet. She was striking, Harold noted, and looking at them with respect.
'Good,' Harold thought. Lionel was small for a beta, smaller than Harold even, though a touch wider, and Harold often heard Baron Greer's knights speak ill of him. Harold thought that was unfair, and was glad to see his friend respected, even if it appeared from an unlikely source.
"I have heard that Baron Reese is a fair lord, dear friend, and that he treats all people with honor and mercy." Harold said, speaking to the alpha as much as he was to Lionel. "Today, we find out the truth together."
John had been fighting his way back to Harold the moment he saw the unfamiliar beta make his way towards the tied omega. It had been poor judgement on his part to tie the omega to a post, John decided. What had he been thinking? It served no purpose, except make sure that the omega would be unable to defend himself. Not that he was in any danger. John's soldiers knew better than to attack innocents, and why would Greer's men attack their own? Still, it was a relief to see Harold talk to the beta, indicating that they were at least acquaintances.
John watched the unfamiliar beta free Harold with approval, no doubt in his mind that they were about to make their way to a safer place to wait out the battle. But, to John's horror, Harold then proceeded to lead the two of them towards the fighting.
He fought with renewed vigor, dispatching enemy soldiers left and right. Many of Greer's soldiers were actually merely mercenaries, and they had begun to flee as soon as the tides of the battle had turned. They outnumbered John's soldiers three to one, yes, but the soldiers under John's training were unparalleled.
John breathed a sigh of relief as soon as he saw Carter intercept the two clearly daft men. He saw her make a threatening gesture with her sword.
Of course, Carter was just bluffing, trying to get the beta and the omega to run away from the fighting, not become part of it. John was familiar with her oft used tactic, so he wasn't alarmed when she drew her sweord. But he was marginally concerned the two men might hurt themselves, Harold mostly, trying to run away, and continued to make his way towards them.
To his surprise, Harold and the beta stood their ground. John was amazed to see the other servants of the keep come out of their hiding places to join the two of them standing against Carter.
By this time, John was almost there, the battle dying down. Most of Greer's soldiers had run, leaving the slow, the injured, and the servants to their fate. John was just within earshot when Harold announced to all that he planned on seeing whether John was a fair lord or not.
"Are you hearing this?" Carter asked umder her breath as John moved to stand beside her. She lowered her sword. With the fighting finished, John could feel the everyone's eyes on him, on them.
Harold must have felt the scrutiny as well, particularly from the people who had gathered to stand behind him and the beta.
"These are good people," He said, stepping forward. "Every person here has done their best to serve Baron Greer. Do we go from one cruel lord to another, Baron Reese, or are we now free?" Harold asked
John's voice was filled with authority as he answered. Yes, they were free. In addition, they were welcome to go to Blackstonbury Castle, in one of his territories to the north, where they would be given work for fair wages as free people, and be under his protection. John called for two of his knights, Lawrence and Michael Pope, to escort any who wished to take him up on his offer.
John wasn't surprised to see all of Greer's servants follow the two knights to wait near the gates, including Harold and the beta.
"Except you, Harold." John desperately wanted to say, "You stay with me." But that would be unfair. He'd wanted to keep the kind omega safe, and that was why he offered to take Harold away with him (his...attraction notwithstanding), and safe he woulde be at Blackstonbury. It made sense that the omega would prefer to remain with familiar faces, John reasoned.
The alpha told himself to calm down. Harold going to his lands in the north would be just as good, keep him just as safe, and if John found himself in that area soon after his business with Greer was concluded, well, it was time for him to visit Blackstonbury anyway.
Harold's mind raced, thinking, looking for a way to escape. He had to get back to Nathan, not go gallivanting across the countryside. He wondered if he should enlist Fusco's help in evading their escorts en route to Baron Reese's castle. Perhaps Harold wouldn't need to tell him why? No, of course not, he wouldn't do that to the beta. A much better life awaited Lionel and his son in Blackstonbury, which was the opposite direction of where Harold needed to go. Oh, curse Baron Reese anyway!
With the spectacle over, everyone turned to their own tasks. Some dragged (thankfully few, Harold noted) dead bodies to the side, to be buried later, while others tended to the wounded. Lionel left to fetch his son, relief pouring from every pore. Everyone was soon busy, and Harold almost missed it when Baron Reese spoke to the female alpha who appeared to be his second in command.
Harold's thoughts immediately derailed, focusing on the books. He made a run directly for the library, hoping to get some of the rarer books out before they set fire to the keep. The library was a separate building, connected only to the keep by a covered wooden walkway. It would catch fire not long after the keep was set on fire, but Harold was hoping that he'd be able to save the more important books before then.
Harold didn't make it very far before he was stopped by the baron.
"What are you doing?" Baron Reese asked, bewildered, as he held the omega back easily.
"You'll burn the library! The books!" Harold whirled around, a touch frantic.
"What about clothes, or do you want to wear your books on the journey?" Harold could see that Baron Reese was amused. Harold didn't appreciate that, and didn't bother telling the baron that his clothes were already packed, and in that cart over there.
They looked at each other for a long moment, before Baron Reese sighed, smiled, and easily agreed to spare the library. Harold didn't know what to do with that; He'd been expecting more resistance. Not a lot of the nobility valued books, aside from using them to broadcast excessive wealth. That Baron Reese thought the books valuable enough to spare was... pleasant information, Harold decided.
"How about we go get your clothes and things instead?" the alpha suggested, and Harold thought about it for a moment before deciding that the baron had proved himself trustworthy enough.
Harold made his way to the cart filled with hay where he'd left his things, thankfully getting there before the cart was emptied of its contents, to be used to transport the old and the injured. The baron watched with surprise as Harold fished his pack out of the hay.
"You were already planning on leaving." spoke Baron Reese. It was more statement than question, but Harold answered anyway.
"Yes, my lord." Harold made sure to be properly deferential. It was probably too late, but maybe the baron would dismiss his earlier behavior as stress-induced.
"Where were you going?" he asked, throwing Harold. He had been expecting the baron to ask why he was leaving, so he fumbled for an answer. Before Harold could make something up, though, the alpha continued.
"I only ask because I have a castle to the east, Caverson, which is where I'm going." Baron Reese said. "You're welcome to come with m- us."
Caverson Castle was much closer to Nathan's than Blackstonbury. Harold couldn't believe his luck. Weighing his options, Harold decided to push his luck a little further, asking if he could get some of his favorite books from the library. Seeing as Harold was the reason that the library would remain standing, surely that wouldn't be considered theft? Baron Reese agreed.
Two trips later, the second one with Lionel along for help, everyone was ready to leave. Harold watched as the walkway attaching the library to the main keep was destroyed, so that the latter could be burned to the ground. Harold thought it was a pity, but the thought had no teeth; he had no love for the place.
"It's not Carthage," Baron Reese murmured under his breath, referring to the ancient Greek city that had been sown with salt.
"If only Alexandria had been as lucky," Harold replied. Baron Reese was well read, something else Harold did not expect. The alpha was full of pleasant surprises.
Soon enough, the only structure left standing was the library. Harold was under no illusions that it would remain standing for long, nor that the elements would be particularly kind to the books that remained inside. But, with luck, scavengers would come soon after Baron Reese's army left, and a few of the books would survive.
It was only as they were about to leave that Harold remembered that, to travel, he was expected to ride a horse. His earlier bravado in the face of danger fading, the omega cast his eyes around to look for an alternative. The cart caught his eye. Maybe...
John offered Harold a horse, one he had brought and not one of the sorry creatures that Greer kept, but the omega declined, saying he didn't know how to ride. Which, John granted, was entirely expected and he didn't know why he thought otherwise. Why would a servant know how to ride.
Lionel Fusco, the beta Harold had introduced to him a short while ago, could ride as part of his duties as a game-hunter, and offered to share his mount with Harold. John was extremely suspicious of the way that the beta had just assumed that Joh's offer extended to him also, but said nothing. Harold appeared to appreciate his company.
"It'll be fine," Fusco said, urging the omega to mount his horse.
John noted with not a little satisfaction that Harold was reluctant to share the beta's horse, still eyeing the cart where he had put his books with longing. The alpha assessed the cart, deciding that the omega would no longer fit upon it, not comfortably.
'It's getting late,' John observed.
Making a decision, John rode over and simply scooped Harold up onto his own steed, signalling Carter to begin moving everyone out.
"If I may be so bold as to ask," Harold said after a while on the trail. "Why did you attack Baron Greer?"
"Later," John grunted, tightening his hold on the omega.
Harold must have noticed that the topic was an unwelcome one to John, and proceeded to chatter about the ancient ruins they are passing by, to make John more comfortable.
It was at this moment that John knew, whatever happened, he wouldn't let this omega go without a fight.
Blackstonbury is totally a made up place/castle, and Caverson is just Caveziel and Emerson smooshed together, I am not planning on making a map for this silly fic. It's already becoming more involved than I though it would be, it was supposed to just be cutie fluff fluff, but it grew a plot on me T_T
I should be making a lesson plan, but I'm nooot.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
They rode through the night, stopping only to feed and water the horses. The pace was brutal, and Harold was so tired that he almost didn't notice the contingent of other servants who were formerly under Baron Greer's employ separate from the main bulk of Baron Reese and his knights. No doubt they were heading for Blackstonbury. The baron hadn't left them without protection or resources, which was good, because there was no telling what harm could have come to them without Baron Reese's protection.
Although they'd been riding non-stop, progress was slow, and the knights were well served by their shields, which protected them from branches and other vegetation.
Harold made a note of the roads' extreme disrepair, much more extensive than he would have thought.
More to tell Nathan.
By the end of the second day, even the horses needed rest, and so camp was set up. Harold was almost sick with hunger, and excused himself to a secluded area to eat while everyone put up the tents or cared for the horses. Unused to riding in the saddle, Harold had merely hidden away all of the food that the baron had given him, not wanting to delay their arrival at Caverson. The sooner they arrived at their destination, the sooner Harold could slip away unnoticed and begin heading back to Nathan.
(Never mind that the roads farther from the capital were in much worse shape than Harold or Nathan had imagined. He'd find a way; he had to.)
Darren found him some time later, ushering him back to camp. He saw to Harold and Fuscos needs, joking easily with Fusco and his gentle alpha son, Lee.
Harold listened to Lee tell the baron's squire how he had managed to hide in the woods nearby, running back to his father only after the battle, when it looked safe. When Darren began telling Lee about the battle he had missed, in more detail than Harold cared to remember, Harold wandered off, thinking.
Nathan's closest Holding should be only a few days west. Would he make it on his own? Probably not, if all roads in the area were as bad as this one (and they probably were, or worse. This was a main road.)
Still, Harold would have to try. Would Fusco and his son come with him? Between the three of them, they would probably make it to Nathan's, and Harold could make it worth Fusco's while, guarantee that they be treated fairly, and receive a hefty amount of monetary compensation besides.
They'd have to borrow a horse, of course; maybe steal some provisions. Would Baron Reese notice if they just disappeared? They were just servants, after all...
Bah, of course he would. Best plan would be to go alone, no need to drag Fusco with him when the beta was already assured a cushy life with Baron Reese (cushy compared to Greer's, at least)
What to do, what to do...
For two days, they had ridden. John had made sure keep Harold away from the worst of the brambles, using his shield, cloak, and own limbs, but he could do nothing about the relentless pace. Even now, John was keeping careful time. If the horses were rested enough by sun up the next day, then they'd have to continue riding.
Normally, the large number of soldiers, flying his banner, would be enough to dissuade even the most foolhardy of bandits, but who knew in these troubled times? He'd wanted to send more soldiers with the group going to Blackstonbury, but well, circumstances had forced his hand, and he had faith in the Pope brothers to keep their charges safe.
"Lawrence and the others must be moving twice as slow on this forsaken road." Joss remarked crossly as she hammered a wooden stake into the ground, for her tent.
John silently agreed, nodding as he hammered as well. The brothers would have to clear the road for the cart, not to mention the frequent stops that traveling with the elderly and with children demanded.
When they finished, John waved Darren over from where he, with the help of the game-hunter's son, was putting up the baron's own tent. He'd had his people bring Harold's things from the cart when the group had split, and he wished to return his personal effects without being.. unseemly.
It took Harold a while to remember that his things were in the cart. The one that was currently headed for Blackstonbury. That would have been a nightmare, to have to go to Blackstonbury before heading back to the capital. He couldn't be zigzagging across the countryside when he had urgent matters to attend to. But before he could get into a proper panic about it, Darren approached him, bag in hand. The squire told Harold that his books had been parceled out to the knights for easier transport, and that he'd make sure to get them all back once they made it to Caverson Keep. Harold was touched.
"That was very considerate of you, Darren, thank you."
'What a lovely thing to do,' Harold thought to himself. The young alpha would make a fine knight one day.
"It was the baron's idea, Harold," Darren said, nodding before he went off to look for Lee. He couldn't recall the last time he'd had someone his age to horse around with, and was determined to make the most of the rest stop.
Darren left Harold standing there, bag in hand, a warm feeling making its way through him. Harold remembered the last time someone had cared about him this much, to remember the little details Harold often forgot. Nathan had not been someone Harold had expected to be friends with. A big, blond alpha with a big, effusive aura, and an even bigger ego. But the only heir to the Ingrams and their many holdings turned out to be splendid company, not to mention smarter than he seemed, and Harold missed him terribly, almost as much as his father, who was ailing and often did not notice that Harold was away.
'How maudlin!' The omega thought to himself, as he headed back into the nearby forest. 'Concentrate on the problem at hand! Go, splash some water on your face.'
Darren and Lee came to fetch him some time later, just as the sun was setting, to eat dinner and turn down for the evening. Harold spent the night sandwiched between the two children for warmth, with Fusco dozing nearby to keep them safe.
(And if John kept his tent open, to keep watch over them too, well, no one needed to know that.)
It was barely light out when John moved to wake up Harold. Exhausted as he was, the omega hadn't been awakened by his two sleeping companions leaving to play in the hours before dawn. With the camp slowly coming to life, John was loathe to wake Harold up, but it had to be done.
Looking down at the sleeping face, however, John found that he couldn't do it. So, as gently as possible, he carried the still sleeping Harold to his tent. He could put off packing up his tent to the last possible moment; there was so much else to be done before they could continue moving on. John knew that the ride hadn't been kind to Harold, and the omega could use as much sleep as he could. As long as he made himself visible in camp, to make clear that the omega had not spent the night with him, there would be no problems.
The inside of the tent was still dark as night, especially with the entrance closed to keep sunlight away from the sleeping Harold. John moved to lay him down as slowly as he could. He inhaled deeply. The air inside tent was already beginning to smell wonderfully like the omega.
John put him down on the warm furs, but before he could pull away, a pair of lips pressed softly against his. The touch sent a shiver down John's spine. Everything suddenly seemed covered in a haze, like the air was suddenly thick as water.
'Am I dreaming?' John thought, a bit dazed by the sensation.
But then Harold pulled away, and it took all of John's willpower not to pull him back and deepen the kiss. As it was, he couldn't help a sound of offense, at the soft touch being taken away, from coming out.
"I'm so sorry, my lord!"
'What?' John asked dimly in his head, but the thought moved slowly, sluggishly. The alpha felt intoxicated.
"For what?" he managed. Eventually.
"For taking advantage of you, my lord."
It took all of John's considerable willpower to keep a straight face.
'Don't you fucking laugh, Reese.' John said to himself, wanting nothing more than to sweep the other man up into a hug and just. hold him for a minute.
"It won't happen again, my lord." More ridiculousness.
Under the cover of darkness, John allowed a smile to slowly make its way across his face as he left.
'I think it will.'
I've had the outline for this chapter in the chamber for a while, and uni is stressing me out, so I went ahead and wrote it. :P
Also, I'm pissed that our congress just voted to give our Commission on Human Rights a budget of just P1000 ($20) for 2018. And I needed to write something inconsequential and fluffy to feel a little better.
I really hate our president.
Also, near the end, the night is cold, but not that cold. It would have been weirder / more unseemly for John to invite a random omega into his sleeping area than for Harold to just sleep outside. Most of Reese's soldiers were outside too; only the knights and the injured slept in tents.
P.S. Sleepy!Harold is Affectionate!Harold in this verse. :D tbf, he thought he was dreaming too.
This chapter is for Zaniida. :D
I got the chapter out on time, but i'm still working on the fanart :P
I decided that when addressing knights, since knights can be both male and female, they're ser blank. Like sir and her smooshed together.
Also, Greer here is young!Greer, from when he was still in MI6 or whatever it was. Maybe older than that, around Reese's age. Harold is also around their age, but because he's an omega, he's considered old. Sort of similar to how Hollywood consistently casts actresses twenty years younger than the main character as the love interest.
Also, TRIGGER WARNING, there will be mentions of rape in this chapter. Nothing explicit, and really more in passing, but if you're sensitive to that, this is a warning so you can prepare yourself.
Anyway, on with the fic!
Edit (22/4/2018): The publishing date changed because I've edited this chapter heavily since the first time I posted it yesterday.
There were a lot of typos, mistakes with the tense, and some small contradictions that could get in the way of the plot later. I also introduced a lot of new details that I hope will clear up some inconsistencies before they become questions.
All in all, I think it's a better chapter now than the one I posted previously. I wanted to get it done on time, you see
Anyway, happy reading!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Greer and his men were still half a day's ride away when they saw the smoke. Greer urged his mount to go faster, but he knew what had happened. Baron Reese had escaped.
Entering the ruined courtyard would have been devastating to another baron, ash in the air and dead bodies strewn about. But Greer had more ambition than keeping a small holding on the fringes of the kingdom. He felt nothing for the dead mercenaries, nothing but irritation at having his plans derailed yet again.
The moment he saw that the library remained standing, his mind jumped to the omega. The omega he'd had his eye on. Homeless and begging on the streets, the omega had been willing to work for scraps, and a place to sleep away from the wind. Most peasant omegas in that position were whores, omegas who mated for money, protection, but would never be bonded.
But Greer's more refined palate had sniffed out the omega's secret. Under the smell of unwashed skin, he had scented that the omega remained untouched. Greer had been saving him for later, had been planning on taking him, as soon as Baron Reese was out of the way.
Everything he was working for was in jeopardy. Baron Reese could expose his underhanded attacks, his dishonor to the Queen. That could not be allowed to happen. Close scrutiny would kill his plans.
Greer was considered a handsome man in court, but more importantly, he was powerful, a political force to be reckoned with. Known for having the queen's ear, he had the power to dismiss claims, petitions, almost anything, before they reached her ears.
That wasn't enough for him.
He wanted to be at the top.
So here he was, potting, trying to install a distant cousin of the current queen to the throne. A soft-headed puppet whose head he had filled with promises, who he could manipulate at will.
The only thing in the way of a successful coup was Baron John Reese. He was a dog of a man, ridiculously loyal to the current queen. And another powerful player, though hidden in the shadows, an alpha named Nathan Ingram.
Ingram, Greer could deal with, familiar as he was with the machinations of the court. He'd already found the leverage he needed. But Reese...
As his eyes wandered, Greer's thoughts returned to the omega. He'd found him at the side of the road, filthy, his delicious scent hidden underneath a layer of grime. He'd given the omega a few weeks to acclimate, he wasn't a monster, but the omega had managed to evade him for a while now, claiming illness.
So Greer had contented himself with watching as the omega slept, standing at the foot of his bed and breathing him in. It seemed a crime that such a lovely scent came from a lowly peasant.
What a wonder, that the omega had bothered to get the Baron to spare his beloved books. Peasants couldn't read, so he'd probably just been enamored of the illuminations in the manuscripts. Most of them were fanciful illustrations, of no use to Greer. What a strange creature.
Greer wondered if the omega had spread his legs for Reese, to spare the library.
Once Reese was out of the way, Greer had been planning on dosing the omega with this plant, the name of which he didn't bother to remember. It had been recommended to him by one of his favored vassals. Supposedly, it triggered heat.
No matter. Once everything was in order, Greer would take the omega as his property. And Greer looked forward to punishing him severely.
They were on their third day of endless riding. Harold was getting used to having John's squire wake him up, Darren's friendly face a welcome sight in the morning.
Until Harold remembered waking up in the Baron's tent, the world infused with a gentle softness, and the smell of alpha surrounding him. Harold can't wake up now without thinking of kissing John. Oh god.
No, he wouldn't think about it.
'Pull yourself together,' Harold told himself sternly. That kiss was never to be repeated.
John watched Harold with delight. He was tightly controlled, in all ways, except the eyes. John saw everything in there.
As a fighter, a soldier, John would go looking for what was important to people. It as a matter of survival, at a time of war. With Harold, he could tell there was something he couldn't quite put his finger on, something big that he didn't yet know, but that John could tell was there.
But Harold was not an enemy. In his case, John focused on what he could see, not what he couldn't. What John could see was that other people were important to Harold.
The omega made sure that John's squire and Fusco's son ate while the food was hot. For himself, John could see, he took little, and ate even less.
He helped put up the tents, chatting with the knights and soldiers alike as he did so. His questions were sharp, a welcome distraction from the hard labor that setting up and dismantling a campsite required.
He even kept Fusco company while the beta cleaned and dressed the animals he'd caught. He did this even though John could tell that Harold found all the blood distasteful
(John wasn't a fan of that last one, irrational jealousy coming to fore.)
This morning, John watched out of the corner of his eye as Harold wandered off into the forest. Likely, he was seeking out the nearby river. To clean up, no doubt (the omega was unusually fastidious, which John found adorable).
After a moment to consider it, John frowned. He'd be much happier once they got to Caverson, with the omega safely behind the walls of his fortress. Harold could wash as much as he liked once they were safe.
The sounds of the river told Harold where to go. He could hear the water rushing through the forest, and he spared a thought for Nathan. Nathan loved to swim, playing around in the water as a child would. They had done so many times, in their youth. Harold was filled with fond memories as he went to the river to wash. He was only going to wash his face, really, but the water was too tempting.
He took of all his clothes and swam. For a short amount of time, he felt as free as a bird.
Floating peacefully in the water, he considered his options. Now that he'd had some time to think, he decided on another plan. The first part of it was to find out why Baron Reese had attacked Baron Greer. Two of the queen most powerful vassals; why were they suddenly at war?
The balance at court was delicate. With invaders at the doorstep, why would they risk plunging the country into civil war? For that would be the end result. The other barons would make their allegiances known, the fighting would escalate...
Once he knew why, he was back to the original plan. Leave, as soon as the opportunity presented itself, and get back to Nathan with information.
Harold stilled, washing his face to collect himself. As much as he missed his dear friend and his father, the thought of leaving the Baron brought sadness into his heart. For the first time in months, he'd felt safe.
Masquerading as a serf was exhausting, accomplishing his task requiring all his facilities at any given moment. In the company of the baron, he was being lulled into a false sense of security, he knew. Baron Reese's reputation as a fair lord was an understatement, if anything, for he had not ordered Harold to do anything since they'd left Baron Greer's holdings.
Harold wondered what his tasks would be, once they arrived at Caverson. Given the baron's fondness for books, he wondered if perhaps the keep had a library that would need tending...
"Are you ready to leave?"
Harold jerked in surpised, getting a noseful of water for his trouble. The voice had come from directly in front of him.
It was Ser Carter.
Harold was suddenly extremely conscious of the fact that he was naked. He sank himself as deep into the water as he dared, crossing his arms and legs for good measure.
"Do you mind?" he sputtered. Maybe he was an aging omega, long past his prime, but he'd thank Ser Carter to give him a bit of courtesy!
Ser Carter seemed to realize her error, and turned around to give Harold some privacy. Her tone hadn't indicated that they were in any hurry, so Harold continued to swim, unwilling to let such a rare opportunity go to waste. In his travels, he'd have to dirty himself, let the dust and grime accumulate to give verisimilitude to his act as a homeless beggar.
But with the alpha so close, he couldn't quite get back the peace of mind he'd had before. He left the water soon enough, wondering what mistake the Baron's second-in-command had made, to be assigned such a lowly task. After all, guarding an omega servant certainly wasn't the most prestigious task.
After a few moments of silence, Harold decided to take a chance. That was what he was here for, after all.
"Yes, what is it?"
"Why did Baron Reese attack Baron Greer?"
Ser Carter turned to give him a considering look, but Harold squawked, turning red. He was still in just pants! Ser Carter whirled back around to give him more some more privacy, before answering his question. She made a considering sound.
"I had though the whole country knew, but it seems the news has yet to reach this far from the capital," she said.
"Greer is power hungry, everyone knows this, and everyone knows that Baron Reese is his only equal in power, second only to the queen. That is the part everyone knows." she began
Harold made a sound of agreement, nodding his head.
"It is also common enough knowledge that, as of late, Baron Greer has been attacking Reese's holdings. In the first attack, he pretended camaraderie long enough to enter one of our keeps, before slaughtering all the inhabitants."
Harold frowned. That wasn't common knowledge at all in the capital. It further cemented his position that it was a good idea, to come out here to gather information. The capital was good for social intrigue, but it was quite isolated, when it came to information like this.
"Did Baron Reese not retaliate?"
"We are retaliating. We are hunting the rat, freeing his people as we go along. Before long, the queen shall know of Greer's treachery. My brother will ask for trial by combat, and rid the world of a snake."
The number of holdings Greer had, the number of serfs freed, who would be reluctant to become serfs once again... Harold tucked that piece of information away, to be examined at a later date.
'The timetable must change, now that there are more freemen in play.' Harold thought to himself. If they had not obtained this information before...
"What will happen if the queen sides with Baron Greer?" Harold asked instead. It was a reasonable question to ask, Harold decided. A serf would not know what Harold knew of the queen.
Ser Carter turned once again to give him a considering look. Harold, having just finished dressing himself, met her gaze calmly.
Ser Carter's voice was hard and cold when she spoke again.
"Greer signed his death warrant when he touched our family. With or without the queen's blessing, we will see justice done."
Harold felt a chill run down his spine.
"What do you mean?" he asked, voice quiet.
"Samantha." Ser Carter's reply was almost a whisper.
A pit formed at the bottom of Harold's stomach.
"Who is Samantha?" he asked. But knowing what he did about Greer, he was afraid he already knew the answer.
"Our omega sister. Greer raped her, beat her so brutally, that her mind is gone. It's a miracle she survived."
Harold suddenly felt ill, guilt clawing at him. He had been so focused on his mission. He'd been in Baron Greer's keep for weeks. Could he have prevented that?
"I'm so sorry, ser Carter."
The anguish in his voice must have surprised her, because while her eyes had wandered away during their conversation, they were back on him. He felt the weight of her gaze like a physical thing. Harold was sure that she was seeing his failure writ across his face.
"Joss. It's Joss."
There was a beat of silence.
Lionel crashed through the underbrush just then, interrupting them. He was oblivious to the weight of the atmosphere. Or perhaps, very aware, and trying to alleviate it with his presence. Harold felt a wave of fondness for Lionel. He would sorely miss the beta, when the time came.
For the weeks he'd been at Greer's castle, Lionel and his son had kept him company. The pace of their travels, and the game hunter's ongoing duties, had kept them from spending much time together as of late. Perhaps it was best, to keep distance now, so that leaving would be less difficult.
"We're packing up camp, they told me to come get you so we could go." the beta said, jerking a thumb back the way he came.
Harold moved towards him, placing his satchel in the hand the beta offered. Even unencumbered, he'd slow Lionel down as they made their way back to camp. Part of it was Lionel's fitness, hidden as it was beneath a layer of flesh, but part of it was certainly Harold's own lack of stamina. The omega tried not to dwell on it. Regardless, the best best course of action was to relinquish his belongings temporarily.
"Go ahead without me, I'll catch up." Carter waved them off, eyes in the distance.
Joss waited for Harold and Fusco's footsteps to fade into the distance before she spoke.
"John, come out of the underbrush."
Moments later, a sheepish John was beside her, having made no sound as he moved through the forest.
She'd felt him a while back, felt his aura flare when talk had turned to their sister. Then again when Harold was radiating distress, in that muted way of his. She'd been sure that Harold would notice, and had breathed a sigh of relief when it appeared that he hadn't. Perhaps the omega's weak aura meant he also lacked the ability to sense it in others.
Still, a weak aura was not a weak personality, any more than a frail body was a frail mind. Harold had met her eyes without hesitation.
Joss turned to her brother.
"That's not an omega born to serfdom, John. I don't know what he is, but he is no one's servant."
"He's going to make everything complicated."
John and Joss walked back to camp just in time to see Darren knock Harold to the ground while Lee watched. John was at his side in an instant, helping him up. Then John looked at his squire as if he'd gone mad, the alpha's aura barely kept in check.
From his place beside him, Harold patted John on the arm, trying to calm him down, no doubt.
"He was just showing Lee how to defend himself, Baron Reese. I asked him to show me as well. I'm used to being knocked around a bit, so don't fret. I'm quite all right."
John turned his head towards Harold slowly. He couldn't believe what he was hearing. Harold just looked at him.
"Don't be angry with Darren, my lord." Harold turned to the terrified pair of children. "Go find Lionel and help him prepare for the day's journey."
Darren and Lee went without question, not even confirming the command with the baron before they left.
John ignored the way Harold was giving orders in order to fixate on a specific part of Harold's statement. The part where Harold was used to getting knocked around. He didn't act that way, was the thing. In general, Harold acted nothing like a servant.
But the way he fell. That was the fall of someone who knew how to fall.
'I'm going to enjoy killing Greer even more than I thought I would,' John thought to himself. He was enraged.
To Harold, he simply nodded, and left to go get his things and Harold's things. He asked Harold to go get to his mount as he walked away, his voice a bit curt as he tried to contain his anger. He didn't want to be around the omega right now, afraid he wouldn't be able to keep his anger in check.
Harold sighed as he watched Reese go, then went to do as he'd been asked. Once at the place where the horses were kept, however, it was clear that the baron's steed refused to be led anywhere.
Harold retreated, considering his options. After a bit of thought, the obvious solution came to him. To get the horse to go anywhere, he'd have to ride it. Obviously.
He approached the horse once again, cautiously. It was a monster of a thing, more of a size with the draft horses that worked farms than with other destriers, as Harold knew him to be.
"You are a large thing, aren't you?" Harold said. For the first time since leaving the capitol, he let his aura out to play, hoping to settle the animal. He pushed soothing and calm, as hard as he dared to do in public.
He had been told in his youth, or rather, he'd overheard it from his peers, that it was unsettling (not the word that they had used, then), how Harold could just turn his aura on and off. Harold had been baffled at the time, for controlling his aura was easier to him than controlling the expression on his face. He hadn't known that others cpuldn't do the same before that day.
They hadn't even known that he couldn't just control the intensity. He could also decide what he wanted others to perceive of him, as easily as choosing what words he wished to say.
Over the years, he'd learned that the best course of action was to hide this. Keep his aura so low as to be almost negligible. And until Nathan, he'd never told anyone that he could...probe what others tried to keep hidden. He'd just...left it off, as if it were an unlit candle. There, but unused. To use it felt like a violation, sometimes. To go in a personal space where he was sure to be unwelcome. To look at what others tried to keep hidden. But he did so when the need arose.
Harold turned his attention back to the baron's steed, dismissing the memories from his mind. It really was a gorgeous thing, completely white from head to tail. Harold probed a bit, finding the animal eager to resume riding, wondering where his usual rider was.
"I'm not the baron, and I never learned the way of riding, so you must be patient with me." Harold went on speaking to the horse as if he could understand. The omega put a hand on the horse's flank, stroking softly. As he spoke to the horse, he kept his voice low and soothing.
"Yes, what a handsome and patient Horse you are. What a good Horse. You're going to let me mount you, aren't you, Horse? A big, strong Horse like you, you'd hardly feel me upon your back. That's it. Good Horse." Harold crooned.
John walked to where he'd tied off his horse, sure that Harold hadn't managed to budge the stubborn thing. He was feeling much calmer with every step he took. All of his things and Harold's satchel were in his hands, and he was looking forward to returning to Caverson. The moment he caught what Harold was doing, however, the calm feeling vanished and he almost dropped the items he was carrying.
Harold was trying to get on John's steed. Even worse, he was trying to mount from the wrong side.
John started to shout a warning, sure that his skittish horse would bolt, or throw Harold off, but no. Harold awkwardly clambered upon the horse. Once seated, he leaned down to pet the enormous animal, almost hugging the beast as the omega stroked a hand down the horse's flank.
John swallowed, and continued to make his way towards his horse and his omega, the alpha's long stride quickly eating up the distance between them. John didn't shout, didn't want to risk startling the horse, because even from a distance, he could see that Harold was seated wrong. One wrong move and he'd fall, maybe get trampled.
It didn't bear thinking about.
But even with his haste, he didn't move fast enough to intercept two troublesome boys. The two young alphas came over, laughing, and pretending to pull Harold down, so he could mount from the right side, properly.
As if time were moving in slow motion, John saw Harold lose his precarious balance and start to fall. John dropped everything and sprinted, making it just in time to catch Harold.
John turned to the kids, who looked like they were mere inches from death.
The thought of what could have happened terrified John. He'd seen knights, skilled riders, lose control of their horses and be trampled underfoot. He gave the two young alphas his worst "don't do that ever again" glare, unable to stop himself from flaring a little bit as he did so.
He was met with energetic nodding, nodding so vigorous it seemed as if their heads might leave their neck.
From his place in John's arms, Harold spoke.
"Don't scare them, they were just trying to help."
He wiggled until John got the idea and put him back down on the ground (with great reluctance). Without hesitation, Harold turned to the two boys.
"Perhaps you were only trying to help, but it was fortunate that my lord was there to keep me from being injured, so don't do that again. Now go."
They ran off, as if the devil himself was after them. John and Harold watched them, enjoying a moment of silence. Until John spoke.
"My name is John."
"Not my lord. John."
Harold spent the day feeling unusually tired for an unknown reason. He'd heard someone say that Caverson was close, and perhaps that had made the time stretch. He almost cried with relief to hear that they were finally in Baron Reese's territory.
Joss suggested they stop for a bit, to take care of some bodily functions before making the last leg of the journey. Harold could feel a need, not yet urgent, but he'd rather take care of it now.
He signaled his intentions to John, who quickly dismounted in order to assist Harold.
But to Harold's surpise, what John actually did was reach up and simply lift Harold down, as if he weighed nothing. It brought them much too close to each other, and Harold couldn't help but take a moment to appreciate Baron Reese's... person. Up close, it was impossible to ignore how strong the alpha was. and how handsome.
In the next moment however, Harold's body made its complaints known. Specifically, his rear end was protesting the abuse it had been subjected to, over the past few days. Harold made an involuntary sound, groaning in pain.
John fumbled right then, putting Harold down on the ground. Although 'put' might be too generous a word to describe what the baron did. If he were feeling less charitable, 'drop' might be the word the omega would use. Harold felt like he fell half the distance.
As soon as his feet hit the ground, Harold felt more body parts begin to protest their heavy use, because his knees chose this exact moment to fold under him. Harold pitched forward, would have fallen on his face, but for the presence of John. Specifically, John's chest. Which Harold was...really close to, right now.
Harold risked a glance up, to find that the was alpha staring down at him.
"Apologies, my lord,"
The moment dragged on.
As soon as Harold had his legs securely under him, he straightened, wishing the earth would just open up and swallow him whole.
Harold cleared his throat, maybe to apologize again, but found his head empty. He had absolutely nothing to say. So he just turned around and made his shaky way into the forest.
(In his haste, he didn't see the baron staring at his retreating derriere.)
Once he was in the forest, Harold did his business, eager to resume their journey. But as he was relieving himself, something caught his attention. He'd gone to pee at the edge of a cliff, a bit farther away from everybody to ensure his privacy. From his vantage point, he had a clear view of the surrounding area.
He looked closer, trying to get his eyes to focus at the unknown object in the distance. Was it a lake? What else would reflect light like that?
The bottom of his stomach dropped out as he realized what he was looking at. Light. It was sunlight, reflected by shields and armor.
Baron Greer had caught up to them, and he'd brought an army.
Everyone knows the Reeses are a mixed family. Both parents were male alphas, it was a love match, so some of their children were adopted, and some were sired upon favored omegas. Not rape, but then they weren't wives after either. Bottom line is that, while there was an imbalance of power, it wasn't rape, and all the children are considered legitimate heirs.
Although as Alpha Firstborn, John is the one who will inherit the titles and everything. It's up to him how much the rest of his siblings get.
Also, omegas are firmly at the bottom of the totem pole here. They're pretty rare, and that makes them valuable, but they also experience heats (which come more often than ruts) which makes them vulnerable. The most desirable thing about them is that an alpha mating with an omega is more likely to have an alpha child than an alpha mating with a beta. It's generally considered weird for alphas to mate with alphas, and omegas to omegas (betas to betas are okay). But it's not unheard of.
Anyway, It's a whole thing, I made the genetics of it years ago.
I'm not sure that it's completely relevant to the story, but it's there if you're curious.
In this case, Harold is an omega, so he's an XoYo. John is an XoYa because he had an alpha father and an omega mother.
Using a punnet square, we can determine that they may have a 2 out of 3 chance of having an omega daughter, and a 1 out of 3 chance of having an alpha son.
I'm rambling, I'll stop.
Can I just say, I did not expect this fic to be the one with the most words. Like, why does it have so many words?