Red was his favorite color.
It flowed through his veins, dripped from the ropes and the whips. It flooded the cellars and spilled across the lush valleys, soaking into the earth and feeding the soil unnatural strength. It shone in the eyes of the wild wolves and bears of the forest before more splashed across their muzzles during a feast. It blazed across the sky as the sun surrendered to the night and it roared over villages, drowning out screams that fueled madness.
Nothing, however, would compare to the red of a rose.
It was richer and purer than the red that was his blood, what came from his people and stained his kingdom's cobble streets. It sucked away at the rays from the sun and danced to and fro when the animals galloped around them, a safe distance away. It did not care of the burning towns and people, for the glory of fire paled in comparison to its soft and solid petals.
Red was his favorite color, and the rose was his symbol.
It was stamped on letters, pressed in armor, packaged and shipped out, embroidered into uniforms, made into perfumes and soaps, put in drinks with sugar, and it sat atop his head. The people never did see him take it off, that circlet of full blooming roses; actually, no one in any kingdom had seen him remove it. Of course he had to, roses were mere flowers after all, and eventually they died.
It was a faun who discovered the truth about the rose crown on his Rose King's head.
The king had been, naturally, surprised when he caught the faun in his personal garden, crouched down, munching on his prized flowers. The lazy half animal had merely cast him a sideways glance before resting his forearms on his bare thighs, hands dangling between his long and strong pelt covered legs. He towered over the Rose King when he was done with his meal, antlers of impressive size tangled with vines and moss and thorns.
Of course the king would have no mere half-breed infiltrating his private garden, eating his roses. He'd pulled out his sword, of course, and attacked the creature, that should have been living in the forests over the hills, in the bearded one's kingdom. Of course he felt bad when he wounded him, and it was only right to take him back to the castle. Of course, this is what the guards heard and the people were told.
The faun, with his ink stained arms, scarred, freckled chest, curly red hair and narrowed brown eyes had scoffed at the tiny man before him with flowers on his head. The sword did not scare him, not much did, so he had lowered his horns and taken the slash literally head on. With a mere flick of his chin and a tilt of his body the sword was gone and the king was down, stupid crown still attached to the black cap upon his brow, though how the faun did not know. He did not care. He'd stomped at the ground and leaned over the human, inspecting him closely before deeming him ultimately inferior once more. No more worth his time than he had been earlier.
He did not expect for the king to grab his arm when he went to leave, nor for the man to smile at him and welcome him to his kingdom with a soft laugh. He offered fruit, vegetables, an array of other tasty treats to eat instead of the roses. Of course he was hesitant, the man had pulled a sword on him, but now he was unarmed and smiling and vulnerable. They bickered at first, the faun quickly heating the air with curses that would make the Drunkard King's sailors blush. Accusations were thrown to the human, tales of trickery and hunting that turned the deer man's freckled face dark with rage. The Rose King was calm though, offering the faun shelter for the night and an explanation for the trespassing in the morning, as well as a safe passage home. The faun agreed when he ran out of anger and followed the Rose King into his castle begrudgingly.
The faun had wolfed down the feast the Rose King had prepared for him, no manners to be seen. He told tales of the dark oak forests where he lived, tales that consisted of wolves and thieves and, the faun's personal favorite, bears. He prided himself on slaying the bear ruler Mogar with the enchanted sword from the Mad King's vault in the deserts, which he had stolen in an entirely different adventure. That was only told once his belly was filled with wine and mead and his mouth smeared with the sticky remains of several Honey Nut treats. The Rose King had a large, plush room prepared for him after and the faun settled in well for the night.
He did not leave, as was expected.
No, it started as a week. He said he would leave. The week stretched to two, then three and four. Months were added, the faun packing his old things with new things, ready to go but never making it outside the castle's front gates. It was, at first, simply dinner and talking, which turned into the king and the faun taking walks in the garden. Then there were days reading in the library, which lapsed into lessons and teachings for the (protesting to be at the moment, miserable) faun. He ran beside the royal blood when he went out on hunts, showing his king firsthand how seriously he took the sport, putting his hunting party and their dogs and hawks to shame. His rage, the king would say later, could terrify mountains into moving and entire forests into migrating. The strange faun of the forest trampled over the gentle stereotypes set up for his people by the humans. He cracked horns with the best of the knights till he had beaten them all into the ground under his hooves. Slowly the creature wormed his way into the king's high court, after he had his life. He was given the title of head huntsman and personal knight to the Rose King. The faun had been happy with this. The king had been happy with this. There was friendship, and all had been pleased.
Until, of course, the faun grew curious.
He watched his liege trim the flowers in the garden, put fresh bundles into the vases in both of their rooms, watched him tend to and water the fragile multicolored experimental ones he kept in the glass house, yet he never saw the king so much as touch the ones on his head. No matter how hard he knocked into his ruler, or how many fights they won side by side, the crown never seemed to shift. Only the gorgeous open petals of the red flowers were in view, whatever material wrapped around the king's head hidden by his black hair. The faun had never seen him take it off, put it on, so much as give the delicate looking crown a second glance. It was, as if to the king, it was simply not there.
So the faun waited for the night, when his friend was fast asleep, before trotting into his room on shaky legs. The hybrid was surprised to see the crown still atop the man's head, smashed against the downy pillows and crushed from the tossing the other had done before sleep took him. He moved silently to the beside, gently reaching to tug on the crown, so the king would not ruin it further. It did not budge at his soft touches, which grew more desperate as confusion painted his face. He shoved soft locks out of the way, pushing the black strands behind the human's ears so he could see what was keeping the crown to the king's head. Had he simply forgotten to take it off?
Thorns, long and sharp, imbedded themselves into the king. They fused with his scalp, the green of the vine slowly tapering off to a dark bruise purple at the thorn tips. The skin had adopted the same color around each little imbedded thorn. Slowly the faun turned his king, holding back the hair at the nape of his neck. There the stem of the rose vine had lodged itself into the base of his neck, like one large spike, the skin also a deep purple. It slowly become clear to him, under the light of the moon through the window, listening to the soft sounds of the Rose King sleep, that the crown had not actually imbedded itself into him.
No, it had forced its way out, the thick stem in his neck splitting in half above his ears, prickling around the rest of his head with thorns, pushing heavenly looking roses through his hair. It was a part of him, one with him.
The faun watched him the rest of the night, observing in sleepy awe as the flowers slowly wilted as the hours past, eventually dying and falling off, scattering around on the bed and in the covers. The king groaned and shifted minutely in his sleep around midnight, and his best warrior watched, horrified, as the stem pulsed. Little veins throbbed against the thick green vegetation, red lines flowing all through the crown of thorns as they filled. Small bulbs began to grow, filling with the life force of the high ruler, becoming fuller and fuller through the hours till they blossomed as the moon went down. The flowers sprang open, perfect roses, sparkling with the blood of the king on their smooth petals. It slid down their surface leisurely, reminding the faun of mornings spent watching the Rose King mist the flowers in the glass house.
The sheer smell of the roses over took the faun, so fresh and crisp it made his head spin. He leaned forward, sniffing at them slowly before opening his mouth, pupils blowing wide. He could not help himself, for the aroma was to strong, and he bit down, memories of their first meeting trickling through his head like sand through an house glass, slow and steady and in no rush, much like the guilt that followed. With a soft tug the rose snapped off of the crown and into his mouth.
Instantly blood began to gush from the wound and the Rose King woke with a cry. The faun gulped down his flower snack and backed away from the king, who rose and wobbled on his feet, scrambling to find something to wrap around his head. The rose did not settle well in the faun's stomach and he felt sick, sitting back on his haunches as he watched the human tie a scarf around his crown and the back of his neck. The king was shown no resistance as he grabbed the half deer by the arm, dragging him from the room. Not many were awake and, with a simple glare, the king stopped any words from coming out of the guards' mouths. The faun was dragged out to the glass house and, with rope and vines, tied to the stone wall by his wrists.
The guards attempted to ignore the screeching of the creature as it faintly reached their ears, tricking themselves to passing it off as sleep deprivation playing with them. The king smiled as he ran a hand up the faun's spine, feeling the thick vine climbing up it under his skin. The poor creature was flailing against his restraints and crying profusely, as if the vine was the worst part, before the stem burst from his neck. Like an enraged monster, the vines grew quickly, filling with blood and thickening as they wrapped around his head tightly, never to release their hold. They crawled up his antlers, cracking them and shaping them however they wished, squeezing then embedding their thorns into weakened cracks or stumps. The flowers broke open minutes later and the screaming stopped, the faun sagging limply, sapped of all strength. He gagged and coughed, shivering and dripping with his own blood, soft sniffles and quiet sobs reverberating across the glass.
The Rose King held his head where the new bud was growing to replace the one his loyal subject had eaten, slowly nodding at the sight before him. His anger was quickly dissipating as he gently tilted the faun's chin up, staring into his wild brown eyes. No, there was a kind of joy filling him in that moment as he unwrapped the impromptu bandage from his head, using it to gently clean the one he had called friend, hushing him gently and petting his soft curls.
Finally, someone would know his love for the flowers. Finally, someone would appreciate the velvet feel of the petals, the purple blush of their thorns, their delicacy and deadliness. Finally, someone would see the world in shades of red as he did.
Red was his favorite color, but he decided he especially liked it clashing with twisted, cracked antlers and feral brown eyes.