Chapter 1: Part One
I'll tell you a secret.
Something they don't teach you in your temple.
The Gods envy us.
They envy us because we're mortal, because any moment might be our last.
Everything is more beautiful because we're doomed.
You will never be lovelier than you are now.
We will never be here again.
Zeldris sips a cup of tea as he watches his victim. The man—what is left of the man—is contained in a crate just large enough for his body. The sound of quiet weeping comes from inside, but Zeldris is unmoved. He places his cup down before leaning forward, his elbows on his knees.
"Are you thirsty yet?" he asks.
"Yes!" The voice that answers is raspy, tinged with pain, as if there is glass in his throat. He can barely make out the words, knowing it is torturous to push the vocal cords in a nearly mummified state. The man's lips must be bleeding as well, stinging his skin, the taste of it too salty to bring any sort of relief. If Zeldris is lucky, the blood is hot and sears the man's tongue.
He considers a moment before saying, "You are then? You are ready for some water?"
There is silence, the air thick with dread. "Please," he cracks out. "I'm sorry—"
Zeldris stands, not interested in hearing any more. With a gesture two dark figures move in and open the cage. The demon finishes off the last of his tea as they pull the man—hardly a man anymore, really—out and stretch him on the ground. He pauses just long enough to ensure they have the funnel secure in his mouth before he turns away, heading back towards the Underworld.
Around him the moans of the dead fill his ears, nothing more than white noise. It is his duty as Piety to deliver punishment to those that defy the gods in their lifetime. It takes years, even decades according to how the humans measure time. For the Underworld, time is meaningless. Death is neverending.
Yet for the first time in his life, Zeldris is feeling the weight of time passing. It has been nearly four hundred human years since Gelda went into Paradise, and he has felt every day since then. Even though time does not exist in his kingdom, they too have their rituals of work, sleep, amusement. In this way he knows that the weeks and years are stretching onwards, feeling it like he never had before.
His work fills up the days, but now he is weary. The man in the cage had swore an oath to his god for water for his crops; when the god granted a bountiful rain that filled the rivers and streams, he worked to set up dams and divert it all to his own land. His neighbors were devastated by a drought of his making, and in doing so soiled the gift he had received. Now he is forced to drink water nonstop until it ruptures his stomach; then once drained, he slowly dies of dehydration, the cycle repeating as he nears death.
Zeldris stops in his walk as he spies his brother. "Estarossa!" he calls, pressing his lips together when the tall demon turns around. As his eyes trace over the blood spatters that decorate the front of his body Zeldris scolds him silently. Estarossa enjoys making a mess.
"I'm heading off to sleep," he continues. "I feel weary enough to drop."
"Are you sure?" laughs Estarossa. "This one here still has plenty left to carve."
There is a sound of whimpering panic behind him, but Zeldris cannot see the woman hidden behind his brother. Such methods of torture he finds tiresome, so he ignores the offer and says, "Two of my souls passed on into the darkness today."
Estarossa nods. "You have always been quite efficient at that."
Zeldris snorts at the lazy compliment. Without another word he heads directly towards the exit, which will lead him into the Great Hall of the Underworld. His oldest brother sits on the throne there and judges the souls that enter the afterlife, sorting them into Paradise or into Purgatory. Purgatory is the home of those who must atone for their sins. Zeldris of Piety takes those who sinned against the gods, while Estarossa of Love takes those who committed crimes against their fellow humans.
The door opens as he approaches, the black magic swirling until it disappears. He steps from Purgatory into the Underworld, his eyes sweeping around to see he is alone.
To the left is the throne, raised high on a dais. It too stands alone, as the king is the only one who can read the hearts of man and decide their fates. The king had been meant for an eternity of solitude, a curse and a privilege owned by his ultimate sacrifice—one which was thrown into chaos when he received a part of a goddess' heart. Once more Zeldris makes a face to think of the way she perches on the arm of the throne, or sits prettily on the steps between the king's hours of work, the two smiling and chatting and grazing palm to palm.
But Zeldris cannot begrudge them too much. He pauses opposite of the door to Paradise, the only sound his steady breathing. With deliberate steps he approaches the heavy wooden door. He raises his hand to trace a finger over the pattern carved into the wood, never touching, but reaching out with all his power to sense an energy that lay beyond. It is impossible, he knows this, but tries it all the same.
He feels the king enter before he hears the familiar footsteps. "Zeldris. I've been looking for you."
Meliodas' voice echoes a bit in the empty hall, and the demon turns to face him. "I've been in Purgatory. Some rather stubborn ones in their repentance lately."
The king nods as Zeldris continues, "Two more souls passed into darkness today."
He looks pleased at the news, his mouth curling a bit. "Good. It is an ease on my mind to hear another is released from their torture." Dark eyes that hint of green travel over to Purgatory's door. "Even though they are doomed to eternity of service, at least it is better than being in your hands."
"Or Estarossa's." Zeldris chuckles humorlessly. "He seemed to be involved very intricately in some method when I left."
Meliodas looks back at him, and Zeldris frowns, wondering what he is thinking. Finally the king says, "Just because his predilection is to physical punishment, that does not mean he is the more damaging out of the two of you."
"What do you mean?" demands Zeldris. "Speak plainly."
"What I mean is that I would take him over you any day."
His cheeks feel hot, anger and shame boiling up in his chest and throat. "You think he is better suited, is that it?" he snaps, demanding an explanation.
"Nothing of the sort," Meliodas laughs. "His punishments are efficient, but lack any imagination. His victims are horrified because they can see what is coming. But you?" The king tilts his head a bit, regarding him. "There is no way to tell what you will do. And that is more frightening than anything."
"Nonsense," Zeldris whispers to himself. He turns and gives the door a quick glance. "When will we be graced by the queen's presence?" he asks.
It is a selfish request, and he knows it, and he know Meliodas knows it, but the king still answers. "It is the middle of August now, so I imagine at least another two months. Summer is in full progress."
Zeldris nods, taking a last look. Elizabeth goes into Paradise when she is in the Underworld and brings him news of his love. When she is in Britannia, he must wait to hear anything.
"As I was saying," sighs the king, "you have an errand."
"An errand? For you?" he asks in complete confusion.
"No," replies Meliodas. "You've been summoned by Belios."
The demon frowns deeply. "The god of light?" he asks. "What does he want with me?"
"I couldn't say. But he is a powerful god. It would do well for us to have a friend in Britannia."
The two brothers exchange a look. They both know it to be true; in falling in love with creatures of the world above, they have in exchange made enemies of those who would protect or use them. In Meliodas' case, it is the goddess Elizabeth, whose father still curses him for stealing his precious daughter no matter how many times she refutes the story. For Zeldris, the princess Gelda was set to be used by Merlin, the daughter of Belialuin, the god of shadows; yet her plan went awry when he sought to protect her.
"Fine," Zeldris agrees. "I will hear his request. But I will promise nothing."
"Fair enough," replies the king.
He nods and takes his leave of his brother, heading towards his chambers to wash and change. Since Gelda is out of his reach in Paradise, it pains him to go to Britannia now. The taste of the air and the rich earth remind him of their time together in Paradise, and before that, how he had rescued her from the cliff of Edinburgh. Zeldris promises to himself to get this business over with as soon as possible, and return to his own realm where he belongs.
Belios, the god of light, is the bringer of the day; his brother, Belialuin, is god of shadows. They no longer speak to one another, their arguments whittling away at their relationship until there was nothing left but jealousy and bitterness. Their fights now are petty and leave victims across Britannia. Yet they are both so worshipped that their powers are far greater than most gods, so their antics are tolerated as long as they keep one another balanced.
It is with this knowledge that Zeldris cautiously approaches a castle in the northern part of Britannia. The summons has brought him here, which leaves the demon on edge. What would the powerful sun god want with a cold, wet castle set on a rock in the middle of nowhere? The air is cold and damp, a drizzle that seems neverending falling to the earth from clouds that are heavy and dark. This is the last place on earth Zeldris would have expected to find Belios.
It is nearing the evening, the wind whipping a bit faster now, and Zeldris decides to continue on foot. He lands on the ground less than a mile from the castle, his black wings folding in and disappearing without a word. He waits and observes, but the comings and goings seem very normal from his perspective. There are flags blowing in the breeze, guards on the parapets, the trellis raising and falling as carts and horses move in and out of the entrance. Is this truly the stronghold of Belios?
With his power Zeldris disguises himself as a simple traveller, pulling his hood up and his cloak tightly around himself to protect against the rain that is now falling sideways. He walks to the entrance, the shadows now growing significantly larger, pulling his energy inwards to not alert anyone of his true identity.
He is challenged at the gate, and Zeldris is amused to discover they are nothing but humans. "I have been summoned by your king," he calls to the doorkeeper. "Tell him Zeldris is here."
"We will inform King Escanor," the soldier replies. "You wait here."
Escanor? The demon laughs to himself. It seems as though they are all hiding something.
Minutes later the trellis opens, and a guard steps out. "This way," he says, and Zeldris is led through a courtyard of mud and supplies, horses being led to stables, men and women hurrying out of the rain to their errands. Once they are across he follows the soldier inside the building proper, up stairs and down a hallway until they reach the throne room.
It is a large hall, two gigantic hearths on either side with blazing fires. Despite the chilly weather the room is overly warm, and Zeldris can feel perspiration form on his neck. The ceiling is high, more flags draped downwards, but there are no other people in the room except for the figure clad in furs on the throne at the other end of the hall.
Zeldris' mouth twitches with the sight of it all. It is certainly convincing, this place looking like any other castle of an important king of Britannia. Once they are close enough, the king looks up and breaks into a wide smile. The demon regards him suspiciously, his eyes tracing over the figure that is smaller than he had expected, a large mustache covering his upper lip, his face wize but kind under a shock of ginger hair.
"My dear Zeldris! My good friend! How wonderful to see you!"
The king rises and steps down the three stairs of the small dais, walking forward with confident strides with his arms outstretched. Zeldris freezes in confusion as his escort steps to the side with a bow; moments later the king's sturdy hands clasp him by the arms, as if they are long-lost acquaintances. "You came! How splendid!" he booms.
Zeldris does not answer, but finds there is no need. "Come to my private room," the king says eagerly, turning him with an arm around his shoulders towards a door beside the throne. "We can speak in confidence and catch up on old times."
The demon suffers being led to an anteroom. Another huge hearth blazes with a roaring fire, thick rugs and cozy furniture decorating the room. The king gestures for him to sit as he moves to a table set with food and drink. "Will you take something? Does your kind eat?" he asks in a friendly tone.
"Are you Belios?" Zeldris asks, standing still in the center of the room.
The king or god or whatever he is glances upwards as he pops a piece of meat into his mouth. "That is one of my names, yes. Belios, Belenos, Helios… depends where you are in the world."
His nonchalant air grates on Zeldris' nerves. "The humans called you Escanor," he replies.
Escanor nods. "That is my name here. They think I'm human as well." He grins at Zeldris and gives a wink. "Isn't it fun to play at their games?"
"The humans are not my concern," answers Zeldris coldly. "I am a demon of the Underworld."
"But surely even you venture to the upstairs occasionally." Escanor smiles as he pours himself ale. "I've heard you even took a liking to a princess once. Saved her from a dragon?" Zeldris stiffens as he watches the god take a long drink of ale. "That doesn't sound like a god who deals only in death to me."
Truly agitated now, Zeldris asks through gritted teeth, "What do you want?"
"You demons could learn some enjoyment," Escanor chuckles. "But since you are so keen we will go to business. I was told you are the demon of Piety, and bring judgment to those humans who defy the gods."
"I am," Zeldris replies. "However I only deal with souls that are dead. The living are no interest to me."
"This one will be dead soon enough," laughs the king. "He is challenging my throne and bringing war to my doorstep. I want him taken care of. Without him the others will fall in line."
Zeldris folds his arms and snaps, "Did you not hear me? I don't care about the living, and I certainly don't care about any war of yours. Why do you even care yourself?" He looks around at the gloomy castle. "This place is fit for a human king, but you are the god of light. You have more power than most. Why debase yourself in this way?"
For the first time, Escanor looks uncomfortable; Zeldris watches him curiously as he makes a show of piling rich desserts onto a plate. "I am fulfilling a promise to someone. They have asked me to assume the kingship here. But this boy—"
"Who?" Zeldris demands. "If you don't start to speak the truth I will leave."
The name sends a shiver straight through his spine. At once his dark mark flares hotly against his skin, barely registering as it bleeds along his cheek and down his neck. "Merlin," echoes Zeldris, seething at hearing the hated word. "What does that bitch have to do with any of this?"
"I'd prefer it if you did not use such language about Merlin." Zeldris glares at Escanor, who regards him steadily. As the demon's powers pulse outwards, he finds it is met with Escanor's own, the light that now emanates from the god pressing back the dark. "I know of the… misunderstanding you had. Whatever your feelings are of her, I will not hear such talk."
Zeldris turns to go, but Escanor appears in front of him, blocking his way. The king seems to have grown, now a foot taller, broader, his face taking on the look of a warrior. He had heard tales of Belios growing more powerful with the sun; but it is nightfall now. How can this be?
He stares in confusion, but the god holds up his palms. "I don't wish to hear any denigration on Merlin, but I still need your help in stopping her."
That catches his attention. "What do you mean, stopping her?"
Escanor sighs. "The one challenging my throne is her protege, so to speak. If you deal with him, you will be taking something precious to her." He inclines his head, searching for a sign that Zeldris is interested. "Call it your payment for the favor."
The demon swallows thickly. Dealing a blow to Merlin is tempting. Very tempting. After all, she took Gelda from him, nearly took Elizabeth from Meliodas. Even Estarossa was caught in the mix of her treachery, and was gone for ages until the business was cleared. If this challenger is a favorite as Escanor or Belios or whatever he wishes to call himself claims, then his revenge will be worthwhile.
"Just one question, before I agree," Zeldris says. "What does this have to do with you? Why would the god of light put himself here, in the cold mountains of Britannia, to rule over a kingdom of measly humans?"
Escanor sighs. "He is the next ruler of Britannia. Or so she says. That's why I am here, to lose to him and make his claim legitimate."
Zeldris' brows go up in surprise. "You really are a fool then. Do you not know she is a liar?"
The god clears his throat uncomfortably. "Regardless, I don't want to give this kingdom to him. The people now worship me, but if he takes the throne I suspect Merlin will change their hearts towards my brother. And that cannot happen." He looks pointedly at Zeldris. "This boy has challenged a god to war. That is against our laws."
"Yes, but he doesn't know you are a god, does he?" Zeldris grits his teeth. Why do these gods play such games? Why can't they all just do what they are meant to do, and leave the humans to kill one another?
"Go and see him for yourself," Escanor says. He walks around the demon to settle on an overstuffed chair, steepling his fingers together as his elbows rest on the arms of the chair. "He may be human, but he could raise to the level of the gods. After all, weren't we all human once?"
Zeldris raises his chin, refusing to answer, and Escanor nods. "I see it is true for the Underworld as well. When I was called Beli Mawr, I was a great king. And now I am a god. It could be the same for the boy."
"If that is true," Zeldris says, "there is nothing you or I could do to stop it."
"Isn't there?" Escanor regards him carefully. "He has a sword that is the source of his magic. If it is taken—if he is slain by that sword—his time in this world is over." The god leans forward, his expression serious. "I do not want this boy to become a king. He could surpass the gods one day. What Merlin wants with him I do not know, but if the god of shadows is controlling him, then Britannia will fall into darkness. Perhaps he will even come for the Underworld."
Zeldris turns away, rolling this information in his mind. "I will go and see for myself," he says. "But I make no promises."
"Agreed." Escanor grins broadly, smoothing his hands on the curved armrests. "You'll find his band in the southern state of Britannia. He has a stronghold there he calls Camelot." He nods towards Zeldris and continues, "He is actively seeking recruits, so it should be easy enough to get near to him with your disguise. I'm sure your skill in combat will allow you to rise quickly through the ranks. Then you can see what the boy can do."
"And the boy's name?" asks Zeldris.
"King Arthur Pendragon."
Chapter 2: Part Two
you look at me
and I remember the day
at the riverbank
when we were gods
(never let me forget that)
you smile at me
and i feel warmth
(it consumes me)
you kiss me
and i forget all else
and remember that i
would follow you anywhere
(living or dying)
The camp of the humans under King Arthur is easy to find. It sprawls for acres in fact, land that has been cleared of trees and made into a nearly modern city. A wall of spiked wooden planks forms a secure fence around the settlement, with tall scouting towers for guards to keep watch on anyone approaching, the structure swarming with people. There are tracks in the ground that serve well enough for a road, and this is what Zeldris takes as he approaches Camelot warily.
He is challenged when he approaches, eyeing the two guards as they regard him in return. "State your business," one demands.
"I am here to join the army," Zeldris replies.
The soldiers exchange a glance, and then one guard says, "Take off your cloak. We need to check if you're a spy."
With a cold, unchanging look Zeldris removes the garment. Both men look at him with huge eyes, making him smirk internally. He had drawn in his power, keeping it tightly locked away in case any of the humans had skill themselves for reading the energy of others. He had heard of human knights in Britannia who could do such things. Yet despite the lack of dark magic Zeldris is still intimidating: dark clothing, powerful frame, and the curved sword at his side that is covered in jewels.
"Seen enough?" he finally asks.
They rouse themselves and let him through. Inside the gates more people working, talking, leading horses, checking supplies. He weaves his way around the bustling crowd and sets off for the training field as directed by the guards.
When he arrives, there is someone standing on a cart giving orders to three dozen or so men. "After we take your information, you'll be tested and then placed accordingly. Any skill you may have is useful, so be sure to tell your examiner all they need to know." He folds his large arms and gives the group a stern look. "Everyone works around here. Even our king. So don't go thinking because you're a soldier you get to lounge around until the fighting starts. No one is exempt from daily work. Anyone found not pulling his own weight will be tossed out."
"Now Gawain! Don't make it sound all bad!" The crowd's attention is taken by another who hops up onto the wagon, laughing as he slaps the begrudging man's arm before turning to grin down at the group. "You are all welcome here! As of today, you will join my army and become free men!"
A cheer goes up, but Zeldris can only stare at the beaming young man. This must be the King Arthur he seeks, but how? Escanor had said he was young, but this is barely a man out of puberty. His cherubic face and wild ginger hair sets him younger than twenty years, certainly, as well as the dusting of freckles and the shining violet eyes. He is dressed in leather and thick cloth, not unlike any other officer, but the demon notes there is no sign of the mysterious weapon.
Zeldris looks at his face to regard him closely and is again struck by his youthfulness. But what is more, there is a glow about him, as if the sun were to shine directly from the king, his subjects bathing in his light. He leans in to say something to Gawain, whose quip in response causes the king to throw his head back in a laugh that causes a stir of laughter among the crowd. Zeldris can see why this one has had such success in amassing an army to challenge a god. Men must flock to him like moths to a flame.
"You'll be broken into groups of two," Gawain says as the talk dies down. "Just a light spar to get a sense of your sword handling. Then we'll move on to other skills. No need to hurt your opponent."
Once more the men begin to chat among one another as they find partners. Zeldris remains silent, however, scanning the crowd to assess their levels. All are average for humans, a handful a bit higher with the potential to wield some magic; none come close to the demon.
He is so occupied with his assessment that he does not see the king approach until Arthur is practically on top of him. "Hello there," he says cheerily. The king stands with his hands on his hips and looks the demon up and down. "I've never seen you around before. What is your name?"
The friendliness is so unexpected that it takes the demon a moment to respond. "Zeldris," he replies, ensuring his voice is even.
Arthur arches an eyebrow. "You're a serious one. What brings you to my kingdom?"
Demons do not lie; it is against the nature of a god to debase himself in such a way. So Zeldris decides on a half-truth. "I'm looking for someone."
"Looking for someone?" Arthur chuckles and gestures to the crowd. "Did you find anyone you like?"
Zeldris does not reply, wondering what the point of this banter is. Never has he heard of a king so forward with his subjects. Certainly Meliodas is not that way, even with his own brothers. He decides it is a product of his young age and says, "Not yet."
At that Arthur gives a laugh. "Well I do wish you luck with your search! But you are welcome to my army in the meantime." Without breaking their gaze, he nods in the direction of the others. "It seems as though you are the odd one out. But I'll be happy to spar with you, if you'd like."
Zeldris looks over at the others; sure enough, they are already paired and beginning their exercises. "Fine," he mutters.
They step to the side where there is a bit more room. Zeldris removes his cloak and sets it aside as a page brings Arthur a sword. The weapon does not seem remarkable in any way, so the demon concludes it must not be the one Escanor had mentioned that is the source of his power. He does not draw his own as he watches Arthur test the grip and give a few swipes in the air, remaining stoic when the king smiles at him. "Ready then?"
Before he can nod the king moves in a flash, his sword glinting for just a moment as it is thrust at Zeldris. The demon has no trouble avoiding the blade with a step to the side, but marvels for a moment at the sheer speed on display. Their eyes connect for a second before Arthur swipes again, forcing Zeldris to take a step back. The parry goes wide, missing his chest by an inch.
"You're fast!" Arthur laughs, pausing to give the demon an appreciative look. "Will you draw your sword?"
There is something wrong here, but Zeldris cannot pinpoint it. Perhaps it is because he is not using his dark power and relying on his strength alone; perhaps it is because this king is so unconventional. Regardless, there is more to King Arthur than Escanor let on, and now Zeldris grows curious about why the gods have taken such an interest in him. Escanor had said that the king could rise to the level of deity, but the raw talent is still exceptional.
Arthur cocks an eyebrow, waiting for a reply, so Zeldris says, "I will draw when I need to."
The king does not laugh this time, but his mouth does quirk in a bit of a smile. He advances once more, dipping to the right in a feint that Zeldris sees coming, but then turns on his foot unexpectedly to force the demon to weave downwards to avoid the blade. Immediately Arthur counters again, moving around him with another quick slash. Once more Zeldris avoids him but grits his teeth in frustration as the sword grazes his shirt. He looks furiously at the king while jumping back; Arthur returns a knowing smile and takes a defensive stance.
Zeldris straightens, noticing that the men around them have stopped to watch. Internally he debates what to do: he feels confident that he can best the king, but would that do well for his task? Deciding on something in the middle, he draws his sword, watching with a bit of satisfaction as Arthur nods approvingly.
"Quite a weapon you have," the king jokes. "I've never seen a curved blade quite like that before."
An unwelcome and startling bit of heat surges in the back of Zeldris' throat. Arthur is getting under his skin, and he must stay focused on the task. He nods at the king and they both advance. Their swords strike in a blur, both concentrating fiercely to get the upper hand; but the demon is shocked to see that without the use of his dark magic, the two are nearly evenly matched. One swipe after another is countered, their footwork swift, one maneuver after another flying. Both move nearly in sync, as if they had done this time and again.
Arthur gives a breathless laugh as he dodges the demon's elbow, which nearly connected with his chest. "Not quite!" he teases, egging him on even more.
It is a bit difficult, if Zeldris is honest; defending against the unusual parrying and quick movements of the king takes some strategy. His muscles are burning in a delicious way, beads of perspiration forming on his skin, his mind racing as he tries to stay a step ahead of his opponent. The demon begins to forget why he is there, and simply enjoys the action. He has spent millenia in the Underworld doling out punishments to the unfaithful, with only his brief time with Gelda providing any respite. Is it any wonder that now, in the fresh air and under the warm Britannia sun, that he is savoring this bit of fun, sparring with the king?
The thought of Gelda, laid out on the grass under the sun, breaks his concentration and he stumbles. Arthur takes advantage, finally getting in a hit on his shoulder. It does not hurt, as the king did not intend to harm him; but it is enough, and Arthur pumps his fist in the air in triumph. "Finally!" he shouts, and the others watching begin clapping and cheering their king.
Zeldris glares at him, feeling foolish, but Arthur simply claps him on the back. "Back to work everyone!" calls the king, nodding at the group. "Gawain, I leave them in your hands."
Then Arthur turns to him and says, "Will you come with me? I'd like to speak in private."
His skin burning with exertion and discomfort, Zeldris nods. He follows Arthur through the training field and back towards the main buildings. The king replies to calls of greeting and pauses briefly, once, to admire a horse being taken for shoeing. But soon enough they are entering a stone building, the largest in the settlement by far, but not nearly as grand as Escanor's palace.
"This way," Arthur says, leading him up a staircase. They enter another room, and as the king moves to light the lamp Zeldris takes in his surroundings. It is obviously the king's quarters, but once again it lacks the lavishness of Escanor's private chambers. The small hearth is lit with a pot of water already warmed; the simple mattress has a modest blanket and a few pillows. There is a rug on the floor, two chairs at a small table, and another larger table covered with maps and papers and an inkwell.
This is the perfect opportunity to do away with the king. Zeldris had noted that he had given his sword back to the page before they went on their way; with no weapon, he is sure to take his head. He turns to do just that, but pulls up short to see the king peeling his shirt over his head and tossing it onto a stool. Arthur pours water into a basin, then splashes his face a few times. Zeldris watches with somewhat fascination as the drops run in tiny rivers down his neck and into the deep creases that carve his arms and torso. Another splash and Arthur pours some over his wild hair before smoothing his palms over his neck and arms.
He looks over at Zeldris as he shakes the last of the water from his hands. "You can put your sword away," he chuckles.
Zeldris swallows thickly and nods. He should slice through the king—but the nagging feeling returns, and he cannot help but think there is something more at play here. Anything that has to do with Merlin should be handled with care, he argues to himself, so as the king moves to the table he slides his weapon into its sheath at his side.
"Do you need to wash?" Arthur asks, gesturing towards him. "There is fresh water, and then we can have a drink. I'd like to hear more about you."
He begins to pour wine, so Zeldris uses the opportunity to rinse his own face and hands. The water is warm and refreshing, and he feels as though he is better able to handle the situation. Arthur gestures to a chair and slides a goblet forward.
Zeldris sits and takes the cup. The drink is rich and flavorful, helping to settle his nerves. A strange silence falls, still but not awkward. His cup make a thud as he places it back on the table.
"Where are you from, Zeldris?" asks the king.
He meets his eye. "Nowhere you have been."
"Probably. I have never left Britannia." Arthur tilts his head. "What are you really doing here?"
"I told you, I want to fight," answers Zeldris evenly.
"That may be true. But it is not the entire truth." The king leans forward, propping his elbows on the table. "Who are you really? You're not a common man, that is plain. Your fighting style is advanced, your strength more than anyone I have met. I have a feeling you were holding back, just as I was."
That surprises him, and Zeldris' brows jerk upwards in response. Arthur's mouth curls up at the edges. "That's what I thought. Are you a warrior? An assassin?" Zeldris does not respond, so Arthur continues, "Are you a prince?"
Again he hits a bit too close to the truth. "Does it make a difference?" Zeldris asks, in hope of changing the topic.
"It does if it means a threat to my person." He picks up his glass, but instead of taking a drink he turns it carefully on the table. "What do you know about King Escanor?"
"I've met him, actually," answers Zeldris.
The demon meets his eyes in challenge, gauging his reaction. Arthur stills, his friendly expression melting as his gaze hardens. "Then you know I am trying to… relieve him of his throne. Did he send you here?"
Zeldris lifts his chin. "I do not take orders from Escanor."
It is true enough, and to his relief, Arthur nods. "Will you fight with me then? Will you help me deliver Britannia from his rule?"
"Why do you want this?" the demon asks curiously. "What has Escanor done that is so bad?"
"Nothing, actually," Arthur says with a bit of a chuckle. "He is not any more cruel or indifferent than any other king. But he did not come into the throne by honorable means. The stories of him say that his power is unchecked. One such as he cannot be trusted to rule fairly. Only those graced by the gods can rule. He is a tyrant."
Zeldris frowns. This explanation makes no sense, based on what Escanor had told him. He wonders how much is Merlin's influence, and what is the truth. "What gods do you worship?" he asks.
"I praise the gods of men," he answers. "For men are my concern. I value the day and the night. The cold and the heat. I believe in the earth and the sea and the good inside all men."
"And war?" Zeldris challenges. "Do you believe in that too?"
"I despise war." The king sighs, his gaze going downwards. "If there was a way to do this quickly and painlessly I would. But Escanor will not give up, no matter how illegitimate his claim."
Arthur takes a long drink from his goblet. "What makes your claim legitimate?" asks Zeldris.
The king grins again as he sets his cup down. Zeldris wonders if there is anyone in this world or the other who smiles as much as this one. "I have Excalibur," he says quietly.
Hearing the name sends a cold shiver through Zeldris. He once more remembers the fabled sword, and without even realizing it he lays his palm on the round hilt of his own hanging on his hip. "Excalibur," he repeats.
Arthur nods, his expression growing serious for once. "It is a sword gifted by the gods. It slays evil and banishes darkness. The one who can wield it is destined to rule Britannia. If Excalibur should fall, then Britannia will fall into darkness."
Fall into darkness. Those are the same words that Escanor had used; if this boy does not follow the god of shadows, then what is he doing here?
Zeldris stands, determined to go back to Escanor and demand more answers. He strides towards the door, but with a shout Arthur hurries around him, standing in the way. "Where are you going?" he demands in confusion.
"I'm leaving," says the demon, moving to walk past him.
Arthur sidesteps to block him again. "Please, stay. I don't know what I said that you disapprove of, but…" He huffs and looks around before running a hand through the wild auburn hair, and for a moment Zeldris wonders what it feels like.
He blinks the question away as Arthur continues, "I can see you are accomplished. If you are not here to kill me, and I'm sure you would have done so by now, then I could use your help." He smiles sheepishly. "I could use a fine swordsman, not only as a guard but as a leader. I want to make you an officer, and have you command—"
"No." Zeldris pushes past him, growling in frustration when once more Arthur stops him from leaving. His hand grips the doorknob as the king leans heavily on the door, and they glare at one another. "I'm not interested," he says finally.
"Let me make you a deal," Arthur says. "I will allow you to join my army and will make you a captain. You will work with Gawain and train my soldiers and assist with strategy. And in return, I will help you find who you are looking for."
For a moment Zeldris is confused, but then remembers the excuse that he had given the king. He opens his mouth to set him straight, but then Arthur says, "I know a powerful sorceress. She is descended from a god. I know that she can help you find your missing person."
Merlin. It must be her the king speaks of, and his hairs stand on end to think of the hated woman. But then, the idea intrigues him; if he gets close to Arthur, he will surely eventually encounter Merlin, and then find out what her game is and why he is involved in her schemes again. He imagines returning to Escanor will be futile anyway. If Arthur is a special interest for her, then Zeldris can use that to exact his revenge.
"Fine," he says. "I will stay, but only as long as it is useful to me."
Arthur laughs, shaking his head. "Of course, that is fair enough. Now come and look over my plans for our next movement. I could use a cunning set of eyes to find the errors in my strategy."
He moves back to the table, pouring more wine and rearranging the papers on the top. Zeldris watches with mixed feelings, unsure if this is the right course of action, but in the end decides to stay, at least for now.
the crowds of people scream my name
they say i will be remembered
that no one will forget
who i was.
yet all i can care for
is how to make you smile,
meet your next kiss—
return your next touch.
lest i die, and you forget.
The afternoon goes by with the two deep in talks, until the sun slips down the horizon. Arthur shares his plans for their continued march towards Escanor, pointing out the villages that are hiding supplies and explaining his strategies for the different squad bases along the route. Zeldris listens intently, never interrupting, until after each point—then he barrages the king with questions, pointing out the flaws and reviewing the scenarios from every angle until they are both satisfied.
But more interestingly, Arthur has an immense amount of fun. He is light-hearted and jovial by nature, a feature that had irritated his father to the point of being thrown out more than once for his jokes. Yet the king takes his role seriously, and uses his youth and his friendliness to take others by surprise and pull them off of their guard. It is an approach that has worked well for him for years… until Zeldris.
Perhaps that is why he is having such a good time. The man looks over his maps and notes intently, making his own occasional markings, his dark brows pulled sharply down in concentration. He seems like a wild thing, someone not of Britannia—he had said as much, but Arthur cannot help but wonder where exactly.
His knowledge of Britannia is impressive: the various types of soil and how it would affect their horses, or the best places to refill water and food. But his demeanor is something else, even otherwordly, almost. Zeldris was certainly raised among nobility, even if he no longer is a part of them. The only thing that is clear about him is that everything about him is a mystery.
Arthur takes dinner with his troops, as is his custom. He is distracted watching the dark-haired stranger, who sits alone and speaks to no one. The others talk and laugh and ask questions, which he only halfway follows, and his closest men notice. Afterwards he makes his way to one of the fires in the camp to think, warming his hands with the heat. The others seem to know not to approach, and he gazes at the orange glow, wondering why Zeldris is so on his mind.
"You are not yourself tonight, Your Grace."
Arthur looks up from the fire and sees Gawain standing with his arms folded. "Something troubling His Majesty?"
The young king snorts. "I must be in trouble for you to be so formal."
"Not at all." He sits on a log next to his own, and Arthur glances over as he tries to get comfortable. Gawain is taller, broader, and larger than the king, despite being only slightly older, and because of this often assumes a protective elder brother role. His first general and oldest friend, Arthur trusts him completely, and so cannot hide anything from him… which can prove to be a thorn in his side. "It's that new recruit, isn't it?" Arthur does not answer, so Gawain continues, "Interesting one, that."
"I suppose," he replies.
"Never saw a style quite like that. He's definitely been formally trained. Do you suppose he is some kind of mercenary?"
Arthur glances over. "You think he was sent to kill me?"
"Nah. Would have done it by now."
The king chuckles. "Glad to know you were concerned."
To his surprise, Gawain does not return his teasing. "There is something off about him. I can't put my finger on it." He folds his arms across his knees, and Arthur notices his movements have been stiff since his approach. Something is clearly on the general's mind.
"I thought you weren't concerned," Arthur prompts.
"I didn't say that," replies Gawain.
They sit in silence for several minutes, and then both speak at the same time. The two men laugh before Arthur says, "Go on, what were you saying?"
"Just that the recruits did well today," he replies. "We should be ready to move in three days. Our force will be large enough to start making some moves onto Escanor's land. The plan has not changed, I assume?"
Arthur feels a bit of heat on his ears, thinking of the subtle changes Zeldris had suggested, which included their route and the appropriate scouting measures. "Nothing much," he says, trying to sound nonchalant. "I went over a few things and adjusted some details. I can show you in the morning."
He risks a glance at his general, swallowing nervously when he sees the utter confusion on his face. But before Gawain can argue, the sight of Zeldris striding towards them catches his attention, and he scrambles to his feet.
The man looks absolutely furious, the flash in his eyes making his heart pound. "Arthur," he says, without any preamble, "there are raiders heading this way, and—"
"You dare!" shouts Gawain, jumping to his feet and stepping in front of him. "You dare address His Majesty in this way!"
Zeldris comes up only to Gawain's chin, but the height discrepancy makes no difference. He meets his fierceness with a scowl, and Arthur must pull on Gawain's arm to keep him back before the blows began. "It's all right," he tells his general, and then turns to Zeldris. "But perhaps you should use a bit more discretion when addressing me."
For a moment he sees something dark and dangerous flash across Zeldris' expression. Once more the idea that there is something uncanny about him comes to mind, but Arthur pushes it away. "Fine," Zeldris snaps. "There are raiders in the area, sir. Your guards are asleep on their feet. If you don't do something you'll find the thieves in your camp soon enough."
"We have three thousand men," Gawain scoffs. "I'd like to see them try."
"Three thousand men," echoes Zeldris. "And how many are actually ready to fight? How many have been in one at all?" He gives the general a look of disdain before turning back to the king. "They successfully hid from your scouts. It won't take much for them to get in: set a few fires, start a fight in one section to draw those who are still awake, and steal the horses and supplies in the confusion. It's what I would do."
Arthur peers at him closely. "How do you know all this?"
He watches as Zeldris works his jaw, his throat bobbing as he swallows. "I can go and gather information," he says in lieu of an answer. "I'll be back with their numbers and how they are armed so you can make an informed decision."
He turns to leave and Arthur scrambles to follow. "Wait! I'll come too!"
Zeldris throws a look over his shoulder just as Gawain protests, "Your Grace! You can't go alone. These raiders could be dangerous, let me—"
"I won't be alone, I'll be with Zeldris," he insists. "I need to learn these things first-hand. It's just a scouting mission, no fighting. You stay here and get the men ready to move and fight. I trust you to organize everything until I return."
His voice rings with authority, so Gawain has no choice but to nod at the orders. Arthur turns and strides towards the place the horses are kept, masking a smile when he sees Zeldris' expression. He looked almost impressed, and at the least surprised, and the king decides that is good enough for now.
"What do you see?" Arthur asks.
Zeldris presses his lips together as he peers through the darkness. "Fifty," he says quietly. "They are just standing around. There doesn't seem to be a leader, so they must be waiting for something."
He watches out the side of his eyes to see Arthur nod, his eyes squinting to look ahead. It would be impossible for the human to see what he sees—after all, the squad they are tracking is at least two miles off—but it is somehow charming for the king to try. "You have a keen eye," he says, grinning at the demon. "I can't make out anything in the dark."
Zeldris clears his throat, the compliment making him uncomfortable. "We should head back," he says. "There is still plenty of time before they would attack."
"No," answers Arthur. "Not until we know who the leader is."
It is the sort of rash decision a young, bold king would make. "It doesn't matter who the leader is," Zeldris argues. "What matters is the number, and that's what we have."
"Do you only care about strategy, Zeldris? After all, there is more to life than playing the odds."
The demon gives him a strange look, but the twist on Arthur's lips tells him that the king is teasing him. He opens his mouth to give a retort about the importance of information and that life is meaningless without it before promptly shutting it again. It has been a long time since Zeldris was around someone still fresh with the bloom into adulthood. If memory serves, lectures from elders do not often lead to the desired results.
So he turns to ignore him, deciding if Arthur wants to wait for the leader, so be it. It makes no difference to Zeldris anyway. If the king dies while they are scouting, all the better for him and this business can be done.
The air shifts suddenly, and before Zeldris can register something grazes his cheek. Heaving himself to the side, he hears Arthur shout, the two dismounting and drawing their weapons as more arrows sail through the air. "Get down!" Arthur cries, but the demon does not answer. He does not fear death, a servant of death himself; instead he stands upright, his brows drawing into a deep frown as he finds the source of the assault.
"Arthur," he hisses, "get on your horse and go."
"No!" The king looks at him, both confused and defiant. "I wouldn't leave a man behind."
Zeldris clenches his jaw. "I can handle this," he says, "Just go and-"
"No! I won't leave you!"
"You're surrounded!" A voice calls. Quickly Zeldris assesses the area, feeling ten in a careful formation. They are not completely encircled, but the fifty just out of range are now hurrying towards them. Without immediate action, he and Arthur will be trapped.
"What are you doing here?" the voice shouts. "Drop your weapons and any other valuables. You are trespassing on our territory."
He opens his mouth to answer, but before he can Arthur's voice calls out, "I am King Arthur Pendragon, the true king of Briannia and your lord. Put down your weapons and show yourselves."
Internally Zeldris groans. Why did he have to reveal who they were? Sure enough, the men in the shadows begin to laugh. "Nothing but a baby he is," laughs one. "Kings got gold though. Let's see what the brat has on him."
"Pretty too," says another. "I'll take 'im when you're done."
"Watch the dark one," warns a third.
All move at once. Zeldris is ready, his dark powers unneeded as he takes the heads of the first set to rush at him. His sword sings in the air, piercing, slashing, undeterred by the blows that land on him or the blood gushing from his body. A human cannot kill a god, so all of this is child's play; before it is done there is a pile of corpses on the ground whom he will meet back in the Underworld for their attack on a god.
He turns to see if the king is still alive, more than a little surprised that he is not only fine, he is winning. The young man has a face of a killer, which takes him aback for a moment. The violet eyes are flashing dark indigo as he thrusts his weapon, cutting through the men without hesitation or fear. Zeldris has seen violence daily since his sacrifice, but to watch this young man who has been nothing but radiant with life and promise kill so efficiently has him startled.
Soon the deed is done, with only a dozen or so men remaining. Those who were less skilled and hung back now shift nervously and look at one another, waiting for someone to call for the rally. Arthur holds his sword out and glares at them stonily. "You have a choice, so choose wisely," he says. "Join my army to reconcile your assault on my person. Otherwise, I will grant you a swift death."
They glance at one another as Zeldris surveys them before each takes a knee, one by one. He notes that Arthur's shoulders seem to relax, even as his tone remains authoritative. "Surrender your weapons first. Then head east for three miles. You will find my force there, organizing. Wait for my return."
The bandits get up and head east after dropping their weapons at the king's feet. Once they are gone, the forest returns to silence, and Arthur finally slumps a bit, glancing at Zeldris over his shoulder as he sheaths his sword. "For a minute there, I didn't know if they would take the offer," he chuckles.
The demon does not answer, but watches as he walks around, stopping briefly at each body. Most he stands and looks at sadly, bending once in a while to close a corpse's eyes, or to lay a hand on a head or chest. When he is finished, he draws his sword and plants it into the ground, kneeling before it.
"May the gods hear my prayer," he begins. "Guide these men's souls to the Underworld, where they can face judgment not by their deeds, but by their hearts. These men were good men, I believe it to be true. May they be granted the peace of Paradise."
Arthur pauses for a moment of silence, but Zeldris is simply stricken. He swallows uncomfortably as the king stands, once more putting away his weapon. "I do hate killing," he sighs.
"And yet you are exceeding efficient at it," Zeldris snaps. He is aggravated at the surprising way the human fought and then even more so by the ridiculous prayer. As if he could have any influence on Meliodas, could stop what was inevitable! "They may be good men but they have sinned," he continues. "And you have sealed them to their fate."
He expects Arthur to crumble a bit at the accusation, but instead he returns the demon's scowl with his own. "The fate of more than these are on my head," he answers. "And I too will face the king of the Underworld like all others. So what of it?"
Zeldris snorts a bit. "I thought you didn't believe in the gods."
"Believe, yes. Trust, no." Zeldris is taken aback but such a statement, but Arthur looks around with a sigh. "We must see that these men are properly buried. Otherwise their souls won't meet the far shore."
Another ridiculous claim. Where do these humans get these ideas? "I'll take care of it," Zeldris says, and Arthur looks at him in surprise. "You should find those men before Gawain does."
The king regards him for a long moment, and then nods. "Very well, if you're sure. I'll see you back at the camp." He moves to the horses and climbs on the saddle, picking his way carefully through the remains of the fight. "Will you come and see me when you return?" he asks. "For a debriefing?"
Zeldris nods, and then with a command Arthur is gone. The demon stands alone among the dead, and he wonders if they have arrived in the throne room yet, if the king has sent them right or left. He has little doubt most will go to the right, and that he himself will meet them again when he returns.
There is much work to be done still, so Zeldris shakes himself from his daydreaming. With a flick of his wrist he draws forth Purgatory fire, sending it to the ground. The flame quickly snakes among the bodies as the demon watches the clothes and flesh turn to ash. It matters not what happens to a body; once a man is dead, his soul leaves for its journey below. But it matters to Arthur, so he waits all the same to be sure that nothing remains.
Hours later Zeldris makes his way to the king's tent. The army had moved on from the fort once Arthur had returned, but he had had no trouble tracking them and joining the ranks once again. Gawain had regarded him with some suspicion, but Zeldris kept to himself, staying towards the back of the group. Ahead the new recruits were paired with one of the veteran soldiers, who had them walking in line with the others. It was well onto midnight by the time they had stopped and made camp, the soldiers quickly organizing supplies and animals and setting up their temporary living quarters.
The king's tent is in the center of the camp, and the largest. The two soldiers that guard it allow him in, so Zeldris knows he is expected. He expects to find the king readying for bed, but instead Arthur sits in a chair by a little table, filling a crude goblet with wine. A sweep of the room shows the rest, hastily assembled: a bed, trunks of weapons and clothing, another table for meetings, a toilette.
"Zeldris!" he calls with a smile. The demon frowns as he approaches. He can tell immediately that something is off, and by the ruddy cheeks of the king assumes it is the wine. "I'm glad you made it back. All went well, I suppose?"
He nods, stopping in front of the table. "You wished to debrief?"
"Have a drink first." Arthur gestures to the other chair, which Zeldris reluctantly takes. What is it with humans and their alcohol? It never led to anything good in his estimation.
Zeldris watches as he pours him a glass as well as tops off his own. "I would rather not," he replies.
"Nonsense. We must drink for the dead."
Arthur raises his glass, nodding to the demon. With a huff Zeldris snatches up his own and takes a sip as the king drinks deeply. "Their souls have moved on," he says sadly as the glass makes a thunk on the table.
"They were your enemy."
The king looks up sharply. "They were men with families. Men who were trying to survive."
"Men who threatened His Majesty's person."
Zeldris snorts at his joke, but Arthur tilts his head as he considers him. "Where are you from, Zeldris? Really?"
"I told you, I—"
"Am not from Britannia, yes, yes, I remember." Zeldris bristles a bit at being interrupted as Arthur leans forward, his elbows perching on his knees. "No one can fight the way you did," he continues quietly. "The way you move, the way you speak… there is something different about you."
His eyes drag up and down from head to toe, and Zeldris feels heat on his neck. "Believe what you want then," he says, standing quickly. "Is that all?"
"Are you even from this world?"
Zeldris pauses and looks down at the king suspiciously. "What are you talking about?"
Arthur takes his drink up again, draining it, and leans on the table to stand. He steadies himself with one hand as he steps around, moving to place himself directly in front of Zeldris. "I have been blessed, you know," he says. "All my life, I've been different. I don't know where I came from, who my parents are. The man who raised me was not my father—nor was he kind."
He sighs, and Zeldris asks, "Why are you telling me this?"
"I don't know," he chuckles tiredly. "I just feel that I can trust you."
His violet eyes are clear, despite the bit of hesitation in his words and the flush on his cheeks. "I've always been able to… read people. I can see a good heart, I can feel a threat. It's why I can fight. It's why Excalibur chose me. But you…" Arthur's gaze traces over his face. "I can't feel you, Zeldris."
The demon gazes back at him, and for a moment, he wonders what that would be like, being exposed and vulnerable to the king. If what he says is true, then it would explain the mourning over those they had slain; but how can he be sure?
"Then why do you trust me?" Zeldris asks quietly. "I could be anyone. I could be here to kill you."
"Will you kill me, Zeldris?" Arthur's hand reaches out, and he places it on his chest. The king smiles a bit and says, "I can feel how fast your heart is beating."
Electricity sparks from his touch, and Zeldris looks down in surprise. Arthur spreads his fingers and flattens his palm, spreading to cover his pectoral over his shirt. "Are you here to kill me?" he asks again, and slowly the demon's gaze raises to meet his. "Did someone send you here?"
He is getting too close to the truth. Yet he feels locked in by his gaze, something stirring that he has not felt in a long, long time. Zeldris lifts his foot to step back, but instead steps forward, his body pushing Arthur's hand back until it is trapped between them. "I won't kill you," he murmurs. "I can't tell you everything, but I am here to find someone. I am looking for the truth."
Arthur nods. His thumb caresses him lightly, and the corner of his mouth tugs up slightly. Zeldris can smell the wine that hangs about him, and he finds himself staring at the small smile the king wears, his lips parting slightly, as he feels the intensity of Arthur's gaze on him. His thumb is moving in small circles, each one sending a little flutter through his veins, making him confused. What is happening? Why is this so familiar, and yet so strange?
When he meets the violet eyes again, he remembers: blonde hair instead of auburn, soft curves instead of carved muscle, pomegranates in the grass instead of the heat of a tent. It is all different, yet the same, so when Arthur's mouth dips in towards his, all Zeldris has to do is close his eyes and surrender himself.
There are two people I must thank deeply and sincerely. Galfridus, you are absolutely incredible and I can't thank you enough for sticking with me. AndrogynousInk, your enthusiasm for this story pretty much single-handedly breathed life back into this fic. You are both amazing writers and even better friends.
Also, does anyone have source on this poem? I searched for ages and can't find it, and would like to give credit.
Chapter 4: Part Four
This is dedicated to AndrogynousInk, and she knows why.
For you my most beloved,
I would eat the world raw.
I would slay entire armies in your name.
Would you, my most handsome love,
He who puts the stars in the sky for me,
Do the same for me? Doth thou love run just as deep?
If so then do not bid me goodnight,
For it would kill me to part with you until tomorrow.
Arthur moves over Zeldris, their mouths working together in a rhythm that has him melting into the king's bed. His hands hold lightly on Arthur's waist, keeping his body still. Their chests are pressed together, Arthur braced against his forearms on either side of his head.
Zeldris wants more. He wants to feel them skin to skin, to taste more than just his mouth and tongue, to know what Arthur's tongue feels like trailing along his stomach. He wants to watch as Arthur's clothes are peeled away, to see if he is as strong as he feels, to count his scars, to gaze at the cock that is stiff and tenting in his trousers. He wants to feel Arthur's hand and mouth and body surrounding his own, wants to know how they would fit together, if it would feel—if he would feel. He wants to hear Arthur's heart pound in his chest and know the sounds he makes as he shudders at his touch.
Instead, they kiss slowly, the king's tent quiet except for their breathing. This is at least the tenth kiss they have shared, maybe fifteenth—Zeldris lost count since their first two weeks prior. Each time he swears it is the last, just a bit too much wine or a bit too much sleep, or perhaps not enough. This can't be how it really feels, because he is already in love, and she is waiting for him in Paradise.
Because of this, all they have done is kiss. The king is as bold as he is sweet, and he tastes of honey, and the sun, and the freshness of spring even in the cold rains that have stalled their progress. Even when the air is frigid enough to see one's breath, Arthur is electric, his palms heated as they caress his face or slide along his arms, warm and wonderful. The king has tried to touch him, pushing up Zeldris' shirt or pulling their hips flush together, but the demon always pulls away.
It all seems so impossible, but the more this continues—each time he says not again, until the sound of his name on Arthur's lips makes that once more a foolish idea—the more he wants him. So this time, when Arthur wedges one of his legs between Zeldris' thighs, he shifts to allow him. It's just a little thing, he argues in his mind; but his own thoughts are soon dulled as the king's thigh, strong and muscular, presses upwards and against his own throbbing erection.
The pressure is unexpected, but welcome, and without thinking Zeldris grinds against him. There are layers of fabric between them but that does not stop the heat that rises through his body, and when Arthur gives a groan it flares into a heat in his core. Slowly Zeldris rocks his hips, dragging the very hard part of him up and down the muscled limb. He feels the king's body shift when he rocks as well in response.
Zeldris freezes as Arthur chuckles against his lips. "It's okay," the human whispers. "You feel good." To punctuate this, he rubs against him.
The demon takes a stuttered breath. "We should—we should stop—"
"Why?" Arthur's question is a whisper on his skin as his lips ghost over Zeldris' jaw.
Arthur is grinding on him slowly, gently, nuzzling Zeldris' neck. Zeldris swallows his excuse as his fingers clench against the king's trousers, wanting to pull him down and tighter against him and to push him away at the same time.
"If someone came in—"
"No one is disturbing us." Arthur's mouth suctions against his neck. Zeldris' eyes roll a bit as his lids close, fighting back a moan as he feels the king sucking gently on his skin. His teeth and tongue are like sparks that shoot through his veins, the demon's pants going uncomfortably tight as his length is squeezed against the fabric. Before Zeldris realizes it, his head falls back, his chin lifting to offer him more, and Arthur kisses his rapidly beating pulse.
The king grazes him with his teeth. "Your skin tastes so good," he murmurs. His mouth begins to trail across his throat. "I want to taste every inch of you."
In response Zeldris hooks one of his legs around Arthur, pulling him closer; now their midsections are flushed against one another, and Zeldris can clearly feel the outline of the king's rigid cock through his pants as it scrapes against his own. The demon's sex jerks in response, his arms moving slowly to his back to encircle him.
Arthur's mouth returns to him and they kiss fiercely; his tongue is insistent, possessive, the feel of him growing hotter and hotter as he tastes Zeldris at his leisure. Zeldris's mind spins at the pleasure of it all, craving the feel of the hard body covering his, when he feels Arthur's palm slide underneath his shirt.
The melting returns, Arthur's tongue like hot butter on his, the fingers gliding along his torso leaving tracks of spiking need. It makes no sense, Zeldris isn't supposed to want, he gave that up for power and only Gelda has the power to unlock that part of him. Isn't that how this works? Elizabeth had given Meliodas a heart; the king loves no other. Gelda allowed him to feel desire and emotion, so he had assumed that she would be the only. But now this boy who is not a boy, who is a man with a power and body to match his, who is carved and beautiful and golden like the sun with violet eyes just like her—
"Zeldris, you feel so good," Arthur groans, breaking him from the cycle of confusion.
It's terribly flattering, but makes all of this that much more complicated. The demon is supposed to be there to kill him. It's been two weeks and he has not returned to the Underworld; his absence will soon be noted, and if Zeldris does not decide soon whether to take this human's life as instructed or to defy the god of the sun then he will risk his own king becoming involved. He opens his eyes and stares at the ceiling of the tent, flapping a bit in the bustling winds outside. But inside is warm, here underneath the king and the covers of his bed.
The sweetness of the moment turns sour. "Why are you doing this?" asks Zeldris, trying another tactic.
The king pauses, his breath ghosting against the demon's cheek. Then he presses up on his arms, looking down at him with a frown. "Do you want to stop?"
Zeldris grits his teeth in annoyance at having the moment turned back onto him. "Just answer the question."
Arthur sighs as he cards his fingers through the god's hair. "Why do we do anything?" he whispers. "It feels right. This feels right to me. Don't you agree?"
Yes, he wants to say, but Zeldris closes his eyes and turns his face away. The king presses his forehead to his neck for a moment. Then his lips move to the demon's throat, and Arthur says against his skin, "Just feel, Zeldris. I want you to just feel."
Zeldris swallows nervously as the king's mouth continues downward. But that is the entire issue, isn't it? He can't feel, not pleasure or pain or desire or emotion. Only with Gelda. It is only with her that the god of death comes alive.
And yet the human's mouth moves downward as his hands trace along the ridges of his chest and stomach, and something is happening. His heart begins beating faster as Arthur moves between his legs, the protest dying in his mouth when he feels the fabric of his pants pulled down his hips. The need for more sharpens, going almost painful; Arthur plants a kiss on his pelvis, making Zeldris' eyes and mouth open wide.
The king gives a little noise in the back of his throat, which Zeldris has come to know almost as his trademark, the sound meaning that Arthur is hungry for more. Zeldris does not know what to expect next, his hands clenching into the fabric of the mattress beneath him so tightly his arms tremble. So when he feels the flat of Arthur's tongue—the tongue that had been so expertly weaving with his own moments before—Zeldris chokes back a gasp, his head pressing back into the pillow as his chin lifts.
Arthur drives him wild with need, first with his tongue: teasing, bathing him, unlike anything Zeldris had experienced. His time with Gelda had been so agonizingly brief, he can feel a swell of emotion as he wants more, wants it all from the man now pressing his thighs apart so he can settle between his legs and swallow his cock.
The abandon with which Arthur pleasures him drives him mad. Zeldris hits the back of his throat with a strangled noise of his own. Wet suction overwhelms his senses, the tongue and lips working painstakingly to pull him into his hot, wet, inviting mouth. The rush of sensation wars with the confusion Zeldris feels in this moment. How? How is this happening again? What does it mean?
Then Arthur moans around him, and Zeldris is nearly in a trance. All that exists is the sweet suction, the thick waves of hair that slide through the demon's fingers, the thick liquid that slips down his length for a moment before it is quickly cleaned away. Don't stop, don't stop, the refrain replays in his mind over and over—or is he saying it aloud? Is that his cry, or Arthur's? He melts as Arthur's hands roam his hips, grabbing him and yanking him forward. Every pass of his mouth is another jolt of pleasure, giving him what he wanted, what he aches for until finally, finally, he loses control.
Zeldris swells upwards with a gasp, the urgency to be inside Arthur's mouth demanding and undeniable. He comes with long, thick surges into his throat, every muscle twitching as Arthur rocks with him; gods he is swallowing around him, the very word losing meaning as it goes on and on until he collapses back with a hand pressing tightly to his eyes.
Zeldris barely registers when Arthur releases his cock, sliding back up his body to nuzzle into his neck. "You tasted amazing," the king whispers. His hand massages on the demon's thigh reassuringly. "Thank you."
A laugh escapes him, a mixture of leftover emotion and a sliver of embarrassment, and Zeldris turns his face towards him. Arthur smiles at him, his face and lips flushed but lighting up the dark tent with his loveliness. He weaves his fingers through the hand pressing his thigh before capturing Arthur in another kiss, and in that moment Zeldris knows his decision is made.
Arthur studies the lord across from the table. Rou is one of the most powerful landholders in Britannia, and his army will go a long way to securing their victory against Escanor. He does not need the man's support, but it will make all of this business easier, and hopefully much less deadly. Furthermore, he is sure there are several like Rou who are waiting in the wings, ready to try to snatch the throne once Arthur is done the business of relieving it from Escanor. If he can get ahead of the biggest contender now, all the better.
Rou seems agreeable at least. He welcomed their men onto their land, the army setting up camp at the base of a hill two miles from the small castle as the king and a dozen escorts headed to dine with the lord. Rou had greeted them himself, bowing respectfully to Arthur and arranging for a banquet for both sides featuring their finest meats and wines.
Now the lord speaks animatedly about the duties owed to Escanor, and how he wishes to escape from underneath his heavy thumb. "Independent Britannia is what is best for all," he says, raising his cup to the king.
"United," Gawain corrects him. His friend shifts next to him. "A united Britannia, under a true king."
Arthur catches the very miniscule twitch on the side of Rou's eye at being spoken to; however it is gone in a blink as the man snatches up his own glass. "To a united Britannia!" he calls, and everyone raises their own drinks in a toast.
He nods to Rou before sipping his drink, and then turns his head slightly to look over the room. His men are engaged in talks with their hosts, some polite, some enthusiastic. There is only one without a companion, which Arthur does not find surprising in the least. He chuckles to himself as he briefly catches Zeldris' eye. His dark gaze is as narrow and distrustful as ever. Does Zeldris ever enjoy?
His musings over the man are interrupted when Rou leans in closer. "Let us leave our men to their drink," he says. "We have much to discuss."
Arthur does not entirely trust his smile; but what could he do, with his men here, his army at the door? The king nods and waves off Gawain, who insists on coming, following Rou from the room. He can almost feel Zeldris' eyes following him, and gives the briefest of glances over his shoulder as they head into the next room. Yet Zeldris is no longer at his seat; Arthur frowns as they exit, wondering where he could have gone.
"There we are," Rou says cheerily. "Now we can have some quiet for our negotiation."
Arthur's mouth forms a thin line. "I wasn't aware there was anything to negotiate."
"Oh come now, there's always room for talk." Rou waves him to sit on one of the overstuffed chairs. A bearskin lays on the stone floor, the two sitting across from one another in front of the roaring fire in the hearth.
Rou offers him a glass of whiskey, which he declines. "Your negotiation," Arthur prompts.
Nodding, the man takes a sip of his own drink before answering, "You are asking for my men and my army. Surely I am due for some reward."
"Your land and your army belong to Britannia, which is mine by birthright," replies the king. "For your efforts you will be allowed to keep them and pass them to your heirs."
"That seems hardly fair," Rou laughs. "I put out effort for you, my men die for you, and in return I get what I already have?"
Arthur looks at him sharply, watching as the drink is once more lifted to his lips. "Make no mistake, I will be king of Britannia," he warns. "And when I am on the throne, I will remember my friends."
The man regards him closely. "You'll need a wife," he says. "I have three daughters, you can have your choosing."
"Agreed," replies Arthur. "Anything else?"
Rou tilts back his head and laughs. "Didn't even stop to think about it!" he cries. "What sort of man does that? For all you know, they could be pock-marked and dull."
"I'll take my chances," he replies smoothly.
Once more Rou snorts a laugh before finishing off his drink. "No taxes once you are king."
"Impossible," says Arthur. "But I pledge they will be fair. I'm not interested in riches."
He notices Rou's brow jerk in surprise. Leaning forward, the man's eyes go up and down, observing him closely, and Arthur can smell the alcohol on his breath. "You are a strange one," he says quietly. "Most young princes want fortune and blood and a tight young pussy to ram at the end of the day."
"I am not a prince," says Arthur. "I am a king."
They stare at one another for a long moment. Something pricks the back of his neck—danger?—but no, that's impossible.
He turns his face towards the door anyway, listening, as Rou says, "You aren't king yet."
Arthur is up at once, the knife in Rou's hand flashing as it cuts into the leather of the chair where he was sitting. But the alcohol as proved his undoing, the man stumbling over when he fails to reach his target. Arthur kicks him in the back to send him sprawling on the rug, then stomps on his hand to release the knife, Rou crying out as several bones break. "You fool," he hisses, pushing him to his back with the toe of his boot.
Rou holds his hand, cursing as he presses it against his chest. "No more than you," he spits back at the king. "You want to defy the gods themselves for your own pride!"
"What are you talking about?" he hisses.
The door bangs open, and Arthur looks up sharply, drawing his sword. But it is Zeldris, who stands glowering in the open doorway at the man still clutching his broken hand tightly. "There is treachery here," he announces.
"Yes, I know," Arthur laughs, but Zeldris shakes his head.
"The others are dead."
"What!" Without thinking, he runs from the room, nearly stumbling back into the dining hall.
Just as Zeldris had said, all of his men are dead, their faces frozen, their bodies slumped over the table. Panic grips his heart as he rushes to Gawain, his hands shaking as he pushes back his friend's hair. Gawain's eyes stare blankly ahead, his lips purple and his skin waxy; Arthur swallows thickly against the sick that wallows up in his throat, closing Gawain's eyes before looking away.
His hand covers his face, and Arthur fights off the urge to scream. There could still be more of the enemy… but his eyes go wide as he takes in the rest.
Rou's men are dead as well, each one on the ground, the same red streak on each chest, blood pooling beneath each corpse. It is obvious they had been dispatched of quickly and succinctly; the wounds are all exact and precise. Yet his own men are still at the table, as if they had been eating. If not them, then who?
Footsteps sound behind him, and Arthur turns to see Zeldris entering the room. "They were poisoned," he says in answer to his unasked question. "Probably the ale."
"Did you do this?" he hisses, his eyes wide with fear. "Did you kill the rest of them?"
Zeldris only gazes back, his eyes dark and unforgiving. Yet they hold no lie, and Arthur nods, swallowing thickly. "I need to deal with Rou."
"There's no need," Zeldris says.
Arthur bristles, striding across the room and poking him in the chest. "You have no right!" he shouts. "You had no right! You think you can kill whoever you want?"
"He was a traitor," he answers darkly. "He tried to kill you." His chin jerks over the king's shoulder. "He killed the rest. He deserved to die."
Heat prickles the inside of Arthur's throat, making his eyes and his cheeks sting. "How can you be so cold?" he whispers. "How can you see this death and act as if… as if it doesn't bother you at all?"
Zeldris looks taken aback for a moment before his eyes fall away. Arthur lowers his head, his body betraying him as a few tears slip down his nose. For the first time since he began his campaign, the first time since he first held the grip of Excalibur in his palm, Arthur does not know what to do. The weight of this failure—of Gawain's death—hangs on him like a shroud, and he fears he will fall apart into pieces.
Two strong arms wrap around him, and their strength allows him to do just that. Arthur clings to Zeldris as he cries, mourning his friends, knowing this is only the first test of many. Yet despair does not enter while the body against his is warm and steady. Zeldris' embrace comforts him until his cries cease and they stand holding one another, their heartbeats in sync.
Chapter 5: Part Five
in those few moments of silence
when the wrath is smothered
by a blanket of remorse,
I swear I can still hear your voice,
because I was born to love my title,
not to love you.
so now I welcome death—
stop my heart, silence my war cries,
defy the gods and, damn it,
pierce my skin until my life leaks through,
because life is for the living
and I cannot live
when my heart is already burned
and confined within the nameless urn
The resiliency of humans is something Zeldris had never given much thought to before. Yet he must admit they are remarkable. Even as devastating a blow as Rou's betrayal is no match to Arthur's spirit. The first days were somber, uncomfortable, and Arthur had gotten well and fully drunk as he spoke of Gawain into the night. Yet that was all he had needed, and with a solemn burial of the dead the king had turned an even more determined eye towards Escanor.
Zeldris offers what comfort he can. The irony is sharp as Arthur holds him tightly, whispering memories of his friends, his shirt growing damp as he cries out the last of his misery. The lovemaking that follows is at least more familiar; they undress one another, kissing and caressing each other the way they had grown accustomed. Zeldris tastes him for the first time, their movements deliberate, the rush of pleasure cathartic. Thoughts of Gelda tease on the edges of his mind, keeping him from surrendering himself completely to emotion. Thoughts of the Underworld disappear completely.
That is, until the king himself arrives at their camp.
Meliodas' presence is immediate. It had been weeks since the campaign had continued, Arthur and his men securing nearly all of Britannia behind them. All that remains is to remove Escanor from his seat, a battle that is inevitable within a week's time. The camp is busy with preparations, stockpiling food and water as they repair weapons and reinforce armor, when a shadow seems to cross the area. The animals stir and the forge pauses, everyone feeling the same coldness in their hearts.
Then it passes as quickly as it came, life resuming as normal. But Zeldris knows what it means, and he leaves the discussion with the horsemaster and heads towards his own tent, sending out a signature so Meliodas can easily find him.
When he enters the king is there already, sitting in a chair and eating fruit from a plate. "There you are," says Meliodas without looking up.
Zeldris swallows nervously. "I know that I was due back—"
"Ages ago, yes. Estarossa has had some fun covering your duties, but the work builds up." Meliodas stands and rubs his hands together. "Shall we go?"
He looks at the entrance to the tent, and then back to Meliodas. "I can't, I—"
"Having too good a time? Enjoying fighting a war? Playing at loyalty and politics?" Meliodas' tone is dangerous, his eyes darkening while his smile remains passive. "Or is it this boy who wants to be king that has kept you from the Underworld?"
Zeldris bristles, despite being so close to the truth. "I was sent here on an errand by Belios. A favor you asked me to do, if you recall."
With a laugh the king shakes his head. "How shocking. Had I known Belios would send you off to be a cocksucker for the human, I wouldn't have bothered."
He knows he must show deference to the king, but the accusation is so shocking that Zeldris' power whips outwards with his fury. "You don't know what the hell you're talking about!"
I will have his heart for this, Zeldris thinks: the disgusting heart given to him by a goddess. Meliodas dares to rebuke him when this all started because of him and hisperversions for a goddess! His anger turns into knives that aim for the king, and Zeldris is ready to sacrifice everything for revenge. First Gelda, and now this… his pride can only take so much.
The dark power is rebuffed with a wave of the king's hand, and Zeldris remembers himself, pulling his magic back sharply in humiliation. Defeating Meliodas would be impossible; breaking an oath would be the end of him. With deep gasps of air Zeldris tries to settle, until finally a hand is placed on his shoulder. "You've broken our commandments," says Meliodas quietly.
Zeldris snaps up to look into his face. "It is not against our law to be with a human. Estarossa—"
"You interfered with fate," Meliodas replies. His voice softens, and his eyes nearly seem kind, and somehow that is worse. "Arthur was meant to die, and you saved his life. You have interfered with Death's work. His death should have come to pass, but you saved him."
"What?" Zeldris whispers. "No, I—I didn't—"
"I've been watching you," says the king quietly. "You didn't kill him when you arrived. You saved him from the bandits. You killed that human who poisoned the rest of his men." The blood drains from Zeldris' face as it burns with shame. "We cannot interfere in the lives of humans. It is our place to give judgment, but not change their fate."
"You should destroy me then," he whispers harshly. "As you say, I have broken our laws."
Meliodas sighs. "That isn't necessary. Come back with me now, and this whole thing will be settled."
Zeldris clenches his hands into fists, his eyes squeezing shut. Leave, now? Without a word to Arthur? It would have to be this way, of course; no explanation would satisfy him. But not only can he not tell him the truth, he cannot say with any certainty he would leave on his own without Meliodas' presence.
"I can't," Zeldris says. "I know I must but—"
"He is going to battle and I have to stop him!" He looks at Meliodas in fear. "He doesn't know Escanor is really Belios. He doesn't know the trap Merlin has set."
Meliodas growls, "It isn't your concern."
"Merlin has betrayed him, and I've been here, helping him instead of getting my revenge."
The king lifts his chin. "So that's what this is. Revenge for Gelda. You are hoping to draw her out by using her pawn?"
"Yes. No. I don't know." Zeldris shakes his head as if to ward off the impending panic. "I can't go with you. Not this moment. Let me explain to Arthur what is to be done—"
"You don't get it, do you?" Meliodas seizes him by the collar of his coat and gives him a hard shake. "That king is going to die! That is his fate. You have interfered three times and cannot again. Even giving him a warning could change things once again."
Zeldris shakes in the king's grip, pressing his hands on his arm to try to get free. "Then I'll do it myself!" he cries, finally wrenching himself away. "If Arthur is so certain to die, I'll kill him myself and fulfill my promise to Belios. You'll have your favor and at least he won't be tortured to death or die in the mud of the battlefield."
Meliodas studies him, pressing his lips into a fine line. "Very well," he finally says. "You will make sure he dies. I expect your return soon."
The air shifts and the king is swallowed by shadows until nothing remains. Zeldris moves slowly to sit in the chair once occupied by his brother, staring across the tent at the dagger that sits on the top of his trunk.
Arthur is standing and looking over a table of maps when Zeldris enters his tent, well after dark. "There you are," the king says cheerfully without turning around. "Did you get something? I didn't see you at dinner."
"No," he replies.
Zeldris notes the shift in his stance and the slight way his back tenses. "Is this it then?"
"What?" he bites out with a frown.
"Is this it. Are you leaving?" Arthur's face turns slightly, still not looking back at him. "Or did you decide to kill me?"
Heat flushes his neck, his hand moving to the hilt of the dagger now on his hip. His pulse beats wildly as sweat breaks out on his brow. "What do you want from me?" Zeldris hisses.
The king is quiet for a moment before replying, "Just the truth." He turns and looks Zeldris in the eyes. "That's all I ever wanted."
Zeldris scoffs. "All you ever wanted? Is that it, when you were in my bed and you—" He swallows thickly, embarrassed at how unaffected Arthur is. "You don't know anything."
"So tell me." Arthur remains unmoving, stoic, so unlike the man he normally is that Zeldris feels himself reeling. "We both know you aren't here looking for someone. You aren't some sword for hire or a soldier or whatever you pretend to be. You sure as hell didn't join me to help me take my place as king. So why not tell me the damn truth for once, since I've been in your bed?"
His knife is drawn in a flash, and Zeldris has the king by a grip on the front of his shirt. He slams Arthur back against the table, the blade poised at his neck. Arthur does not move, but places his palms on his shoulders to brace himself. Every muscle is tensed, his neck straining, breath coming in short bursts. "So you were sent to kill me," Arthur murmurs.
"You don't know anything," Zeldris replies. "You don't know anything!"
"You're right," Arthur replies.
He closes his eyes, relaxing in Zeldris' grip. Zeldris' eyes go wide as he watches him accept his fate. "What's wrong with you?" he growls. "Do you want to die? Fight me!" Arthur does not answer, so he presses the tip into his skin. "I will kill you!"
"I just want the truth."
Zeldris trembles as he gazes down at him. His eyes search his face, desperate for some clue what to say or do; anything to make him stop feeling again. This whole thing is because of him, his violet eyes and the feel of his skin and the sound of his groans, that for some reason the demon can feel. He's not supposed to feel such things! Zeldris' fist that is pressed on his chest and keeps Arthur pinned to the table tightens. It is his fault this happened: his stupid ambition, his charm, his heart. Doesn't he know there is no place for him in the Underworld?
He bows his head, trying to take a breath. This is not the Underworld; it is Britannia, where men live and die by their own hearts. It is Zeldris who is out of place here, Zeldris' choices that have pushed them both to this moment. As Meliodas had pointed out, his own actions that kept Arthur here instead of going there. All he has to do is push the knife into his throat; so why does he hesitate?
"It's okay," Arthur whispers. Zeldris winces when Arthur presses his palms onto his cheeks. "Did Escanor send you himself?"
"Yes," Zeldris bites out. "But it's not what you think. I'm not—"
"I understand." Then, incredibly, he pulls Zeldris closer, and Arthur brushes his nose along his. "We all must act according to our heart. I thought I had understood yours, even though I couldn't feel it."
"You don't know anything." He can't bear to look at Arthur's face and see those familiar eyes staring back at him, knowing that he will die.
"I know that I love you," Arthur says.
The knife clatters on the table as their arms go around one another. Zeldris opens his mouth under Arthur's, and the kiss is deep, searing, as every inch of their bodies press against one another. He pours the agony that has supplanted his heart into the way his tongue rolls into Arthur's mouth, moaning when Arthur's lungs stutter for breath. "The bed—"
They are there in an instant, Zeldris climbing over him, their mouths remaining connected until Arthur pulls his shirt up and over his head. The rest of their clothes are discarded as hands move over sculpted muscle. Zeldris grips Arthur's thighs as the king slides his palms down Zeldris' chest, reaching in between them to take his cock, now hard and straining, in his hand.
Zeldris lets go a moan as he drags his mouth to Arthur's neck. He tastes the bronzed skin eagerly, kissing down the broad shoulders, his chest, lapping at one stiff nipple. Arthur bucks against him, his own sex grazing Zeldris' as he pumps his hips steadily to fuck into his palm. The king's hand is well coated in moments from the droplets that weep from the tip, allowing him to glide along the slippery length with an easy twisting motion.
They are moving so fast now; too fast, and Zeldris cannot stop himself, even if he wished to. The hand on his sex and the hand in his hair are pulling him closer and closer to ecstacy, and he wants to slow down, to savor and enjoy, the way they had the other times they were like this. From that night when Arthur had gone down on him, each time since has been slow, and tentative, Arthur assuring him he wanted it. He had shown him how to give oral pleasure and how to touch him, and excitement flutters down Zeldris' spine when he thinks of the look on Arthur's face when he had orgasmed in his fist, and once in his mouth, understanding his body's reactions and making him want to do it again and again.
Arthur pushes him over, and he slides down his body to take the demon into his mouth. This is becoming a familiar move, and the king seems insatiable for it. Arthur had told him he tasted unlike anyone else, which had made him almost unbearably embarrassed; but the king's lovely smile and his lips on his neck had swept away those feelings as he brought him release again. That unbearable itch deep inside his core takes hold, and Zeldris plants his heels in the bed to thrust upwards as he grips the amber locks in his fingers.
But there is something else he wants; their argument and Meliodas' demands and this entire doomed campaign weigh heavily on him, and no matter how clever Arthur is with his mouth, the relief he needs stays at bay. His eyes close when Arthur lets him fall away to move over him and cover him with his body. "What is it?" he whispers, brushing Zeldris' hair back from his damp forehead.
Zeldris hates it, hates the easy affection and how it makes him feel safe and treasured, but turns to nuzzle Arthur's cheek. "I'm sorry," he gasps.
Arthur holds him as his arms go around the king's shoulders. He holds himself up on his elbows, their legs entwined as he finds a comfortable position between Zeldris' thighs. "I just want you," Arthur murmurs. "I want you so badly, and I know it's selfish… I don't think I can bear you going away, I can't."
The confession makes his heart twist, so Zeldris presses his palms on the king's lower back, rocking slightly so their cocks slide together. Arthur hums in pleasure, sending his head spinning. The two turn their faces at the same time, meeting in a kiss that is slow and luscious, letting Zeldris forget the rest. Their bodies work to grind against one another, and this time the passion builds in a gradual but steady climb, until Zeldris feels as though he will burst.
"Zeldris, I need to be inside you," Arthur whispers.
Arthur's mouth suctions on his neck as his eyes fly open. Inside him? Possess him that way, take his body for his own? The protest dies on his lips as Arthur's teeth graze his throat, and then the king moves his hand down the firm muscle of his backside to tease along the seam. Zeldris' cock twitches at the sensation, his arms going tighter as Arthur pants against him. He seems to be enjoying this even more than Zeldris, who tilts his knees to allow Arthur's fingers to slip inside and graze against his entrance.
Methodically Arthur kisses him as he strokes him, until there is a sensation that exists inside Zeldris that he had never felt before: he wants to be filled, to be possessed, to belong to another. With Gelda it had been the opposite—he wanted to take her as his own, to hold her and make her his, forever and ever. But with Arthur, he longs to give himself to the king, to leave himself behind and surrender to the pleasure that he senses just beyond his vision.
Then Arthur presses his finger inside of him, and Zeldris arches his back with a long, low moan. "Yes… yes, just like that…" Arthur murmurs, teasing him slowly, stretching his body as Zeldris slowly adjusts to the feeling and relaxes. They kiss again, sloppy this time, both of them distracted by Zeldris' reaction; as if outside of him, Zeldris can feel Arthur's cock wet and hot as it ruts against his backside, and all he can think of is more.
Zeldris is aching now, another finger added, and as Arthur moves deeper he hits a spot inside of him that has Zeldris crying out in surprise. It is as shocking as it is electric, his fingers digging into Arthur's shoulders as he gasps away from the kiss. He sees Arthur smile down at him and whisper something before the king removes his fingers and take hold of his thighs, spreading him wide and pushing the head of his cock inside him.
The king looks breathtaking, beautiful almost, a vision of youth and light as he sinks inside Zeldris. Slowly, slowly, he rocks in and out, his mouth dropping open in pleasure as he presses deeper with each pass. "So good…" he moans, "so tight…" But Zeldris is mesmerized by the way Arthur looks over him, the muscles in his arms and neck straining, the violet eyes that had haunted him locked on his. He is beautiful, Zeldris decides, as the king enters him fully and holds himself there a moment, cursing softly when he slides back.
The pace is deep and hard, but nothing but pleasure. Zeldris twists, holding onto Arthur tightly, not knowing what to do; but the king bites his lips as he thrusts, the friction between them building until Zeldris takes hold of his cock and starts to fist himself quickly. He is burning, everything inside of him strained and reaching for Arthur, and when the king leans up with a quick snap of his hips, Zeldris takes hold of his hair and pulls him down into another kiss. He feels the thick, searing liquid filling him, but he refuses to let go, even when Arthur is whimpering into his mouth, even when his own peak bursts through him like lightning, his seed shooting between them and coating his stomach and hand as Arthur's cock twitches the last of his orgasm. They lay panting together, lips sliding on one another, kissing as two lovers who may never meet again.