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The Knight and the Princess

Chapter Text

Once again he has found himself in the forest. Outcast from yet another city – just because he sold some of the weapons he had rightfully found to the local riff-raff. But apparently the aristocrats didn’t like it when the likes of him were armed. Cowards.
Mercurio spit on the forest floor when he thought about the upper class and the guards who chased him out of the walls. Bastards, the lot of them.
He wandered along the forest trail, always ready to disappear into the groves just in case someone has send the guards after him. He had to make great haste if he wanted to cross the thickest part of the forest, before the sun set – it was already close to the horizon – and while he still had weapons on him Mercurio was not looking forward to fight against a wild boar or some wolfs. Both of which would likely end with his death.

Just as the light was dangerously fading and Mercurio started to look for a tree he to spent the night on, he saw a distant light.
It could be fire. Could be faeries, ghosts or witches. Could be a bunch of bandits who would take the last bit he got and his life.
But one thing the light surely wasn’t: a bundle of teeth and tusks.
Mercurio sighted heavy over the mistake he was about to make and started jogging towards the light. Maybe he could hide just in the area of the light to be safe.

When he came closer, he smelled a mixture of burning wood and the scent of horses. There were a couple of voices – all men. So it was bandits or travelers. Could he maybe just introduce himself? Ask for a safe place for the night?
But the coins he made in the last city could be to much of a temptation for the men. Mercurio knew that he would be tempted by a traveler with a purse.
Carefully Mercurio sneaked closer, one hand pressed on his purse to stop the coins from clashing, the other hand on the hilt of his sword.

Two men were standing next to the fire, a knight and his squire. The young man was busy opening up the armor of his lord and even if Mercurio would have stomped straight towards the fire, they wouldn’t have noticed him. Mercurio lowered his hands and sighed in relive. Not only weren’t they robber-knights - the armor alone looked like it was more worth than Mercurio had ever made in his life - the men also were so distracted, he could have defeated them here and now on his own.

“Stop pulling, boy! Do you want to tear me apart?”, the knight said with a hiss. Obediently his servant stopped and instead tried to wiggle the chest plate from his lord’s body. This tactic was little successful.
Amused Mercurio watched the two from the shadows. The knight was aging, in his fifties maybe, and clearly well fed. His armor never had been in a fight and while he maybe had fought before, he didn’t look like he could comfortable swing a sword two times.
The squire was still young. He probably was still new, given his clumsiness while helping the knight out of his armor. Mercurio would be surprised if he was twenty. He had dark hair, a round face and was just as well dressed as his lord. They both wouldn’t be a problem for Mercurio.
He looked around for the horses. He could smell them, but not see them in the dark, which hopefully meant they were opposite of the fire.

Finally the servant held the chest plate in his hands, but the knight still had no kind words for him:
“I hope tomorrow you will not embarrass me like this, boy! I want to make a good impression in front of the princess!”
Surprised Mercurio turned his full attention to the knight. Princess?
“It is an honor for my family to serve the princess in this dire times and I will not let my name be besmirched by some fool from a lower house.”
Mercurio almost let out a disgusted grunt. Sir knight was quite the charmer, wasn’t he? His squire was close to tears.
“I will get better, I promise!”
“Can’t be soon enough!”
Angrily the knight stomped to the fire.
“Get us the food, boy!”

The mention of food reminded Mercurio that he himself was wandering for a time on an empty stomach. The rations the knight and his servant were having were meager – dry meat and bread – but they were enough to make his guts grumble. If he had had more time when he was fleeing the city …
But it was senseless to think about that now. He could probably steal some of the meat when they were sleeping. So he waited patiently but not without pain till the knight was finished and got ready to sleep on the ground. His last words was for the servant to stand guard. Typical. Soon enough Sir knight was snoring and the squire looked anxiously through the forest. It wouldn’t be long till he would make out Mercurio between the treed.

Mercurio had made his decision. The knight needs to go. The squire… he would see. He drew his sword and sneaked around the boy in the shadows of the trees.
He reached the sleeping knight who lay on the forest floor, unprotected by his expensive armor which lay just a few feet away.
It would be quick.
Mercurio rammed the sword into the throat of the knight. His eyes flashed open and he let out a faint gurgle, blood streaming from the wound like a small, gruesome fountain until he fell silent and lay still.

The squire heard him of course and jumped up from the floor with a horrified look on his face, watching his lord die. His face lost all color and he drew a tiny dagger from his belt. Tiny, beautiful and sharp. Mercurio lifted his sword. The lower half of it was red from blood and the fire was still light enough to so the boy could see it.
“Do you really want to do that?”, Mercurio asked in a low voice.
Tears streamed down the squire’s face and he started shaking, he almost lost his dagger.
Mercurio tried to tame his pity for him. The boy was weak and afraid, but he still could be dangerous if he decided to attack. Even if Mercurio killed him, a stabbing wound could mean his own death either way.
“Face it, he was an asshole. You really wanted to serve him the rest of your life?”
“I..I… my family gave me to him.”
“And do you want that?” Mercurio asked, not taking his eyes of the dagger.
“No.” The boy let his shoulder sack down and slowly lowered his weapon.
“Kill me if you want.”
“Well, I don’t want to.”
For a moment they looked each other in the eyes. The boy’s eyes were read from crying, the face looked even rounder up close and Mercurio corrected the estimation of his age further down.
“There is a town, not even half a days march through the forest in this direction”, he suggested, as gently as he could. “Go there and ask for work on the farms.”
He pointed with his sword to the body in front of him.
“No one needs to know that you let your lord die.”
He looked at Mercurio with round big eyes, slowly processing what Mercurio had just said. He was so afraid, he would not hopefully not blabber, at least not in the next day. That would be all he needed.
“Take your horse.”
Without saying another word, the boy ran in an impressive circle around him. Mercurio heard a neighing and not a minute later the boy on a brown horse galloped passed the light.

After he was sure that the boy really was gone, Mercurio first greedily ate from the rations the knight and his servant had left until he finally was full.
Then he packed the armor as tightly together as he could – no sense in trying putting it on alone – searched through the rest of the belongings and packed all he assumed would fit on one horse. Unfortunately, murdering the knight would mean he couldn’t sleep here in case the boy just alarmed the guards in the city he just left.
Carefully he walked towards the remaining horse. It was pure white, as if the knight had needed another proof for his snootiness.
“Calm boy...”, Mercurio whispered soothingly. “All is well… all is well.” The horse was clearly upset from the sudden departure of his friend, but it listened to Mercurio’s words. Slowly he reached for the neck of the horse and when he was sure it wouldn’t bite, he started petting it.
“You are a good boy…. Yes…”
Once the horse was calm, Mercurio started loading his new treasures. He was ready to saddle when he suddenly noticed a bleach piece of parchment in the saddle bag.
His curiosity was bigger than his sense of danger, so Mercurio took the parchment out of the bag and read it in the dying light of the fire.

“Ser Stronzo,

we humbly request your aid for the protection of Your Majesty The Princess Of Staricca.
These dire times of political mistrust have led us to believe that the life of the Princess might be in danger and only a cunning and loyal knight like you can protect her. Please meet us in the castle of Your Majesty immediately.

We hope that you will answer this request,

In Best Hopes,

Ser Canzo”

 

Mercurio slowly put the letter down. The Princess? She was really rich as he had heard. He looked at the armor and the horse. An idea started forming, an idea so stupid and bold and stupid and tempting.

He pushed the letter back in the saddle bag and mounted the horse. What Ser Stronzo can do, he, Mercurio, can do better.

Chapter Text

Mercurio arrived at the castle right before sundown.

He had deliberately prolonged his travel so he could entry the city in a dim light. It was a long time ago since he was in this city, but you never know who might recognize you.

After he had paid a farmhand to help him into the armor, Mercurio had spent a good part of the last day getting used to it. It was heavy, a little bit too big and rubbed uncomfortably on his shoulders, elbows, and tights. His movements were still awkward. He hoped that the long ride would be sufficient as an excuse, until he could change the armor to fit him better. Ser Stronzo had packed a formidable travel fund that might be enough till he gets in touch with the Princess… and if not he would improvise, as always.

The most important thing about bluffing was the first impression. If you can’t convince someone at first sight, they will never believe you. Mercurio hinged down the visor of his helmet so his face was barely visible and turned the Ser Stronzo’s signet ring up.

“Stop! Name and what is your business?”. The gate guard who blocked his way almost screamed.
“I am Ser Mercurio,” he began and pulled the letter out of the saddle bag, “I was sent by Ser Stronzo to aid with the protection of Your Majesty.” He showed the seal of the letter to the guard and made sure the ring on his hand was clearly visible.
The guard saw them both and exchanged looks with his colleague.
“What is it, boy?”, Mercurio barked harshly and bared his teeth, “are we sent for and then get looked out of the city? I didn’t rode through the night to get locked out by some mere guardsmen!”
Hastily the gate guard stepped out of the way and waved to his men behind the portcullis who started pulling it up. His colleague bowed nervously.
“Excuse us, Ser, these are dire times.”

The second most important thing about bluffing was to always appear how everybody is expecting you to be. And who would believe that there is a noble man who is polite to his commoners?
Mercurio grunted in understanding and rode through the gate without throwing a second glance at the guards.

The first hurdle was taken but he doubted that the castle guards would be intimidated by a signet and a little screaming. Then there was the Princess… But ones step after the other.
It was the same spiel. Ring, letter, doubt. This time Mercurio tried diplomacy.
“I am ready to wait to speak with Ser Canzo personally in the morning. If you fine men show me an inn where I can spent the night...”
Again the guards gave each other a surprised look. “Ser Canzo? You don’t know?”
Mercurio froze. This was not good. The gate was already closed and he was already off the horse, he wouldn’t be able to escape in time, if he was debunked now. A cold shudder went over his back and it cost him all his concentration to keep standing still.
“Do I know what?”
The guard bowed. “My deepest sympathy, Ser. Ser Canzo is dead.”
“Dead!” The word escaped Mercurio before he could think. This was very good – or very bad.
“Yes. Ser Sebastian LaCroix is Your Majesties regent now.”
Never heard of that guy. But then again, Mercurio also had never heard of Ser Canzo. He wasn’t even sure he knew who the princess was. He just faintly hoped she wasn’t too old. Although that would mean he could get rid of her fast… One step at a time.

“Can I speak to him then?”
“Yes, Ser.”
The guard that was closer to the castle gate ran inside. The other one showed Mercurio a nervous smile. It was the one who had expressed his condolences before.
“When did it happen?”, Mercurio asked.
“Only yesterday. The castle will be in mourning for the rest of the week.” The guard didn’t look like he was mourning, just very tired.
“Can you tell me how…?”
For a second he fell silent and threw another nervous look at Mercurio, who smiled reassuringly.
“Poison.”
Surprised Mercurio opened his mouth.
“Excuse me, Ser. Were you two close?”
“No… no. My father just told me about him.” Mercurio started to feel uneasy. He looked around.
The city was empty. Sure it was after sundown now, but there should be at least a couple of people still working, drinking, doing something. Was there a curfew? Slowly it dawned him why everybody has spoken about dire times.

The second guard came back with a servant and nodded towards his colleague. Together they held the heavy oak gates open and after the servant took away his horse, Mercurio finally entered the castle.

He had expected to be stood off and wait in a chamber, but Ser LaCroix was standing there in the hallway in front of a big door. He was a small man, lean and with blonde hair, dressed in a long dark coat. Mercurio couldn’t suppress thinking he was cute, until he looked into the regent’s sour face.
“Good evening”, LaCroix said in a stiff voice.
“Good evening”, Mercurio answered unsure. The man hadn’t lifted his eyes from him since he entered the castle.
“I am Sebastian LaCroix, Regent of Your Majesty The Princess Of Staricca. And you are Ser … Mercurio, I presume?”
“Um, yes...” Mercurio took the letter out of his pocket and handed it over. With a little luck LaCroix hadn’t noticed that he had cramped the parchment a bit.
“My father sent me in his place because he feels the protection he can provide in his age is not suitable anymore for Your Majesty.”
Without a word LaCroix took the letter and read it in silence. When he was done he looked up in Mercurio’s face again, not without throwing a quick glance at his ring, and smiled.

“We are glad about Ser Stronzos support by his honorable son. Follow me, Ser Mercurio.” This had been... easy. Mercurio wasn’t sure whether there were just more guards behind the next door who’d jump him while the strangely formal guy laughed.
But nothing happened and LaCroix lead him through the castle corridors, till they arrived at a room. LaCroix had grabbed a servant. “Ser Mercurio will be resting in the chambers that were reserved for Ser Stronzo. Prepare everything and help him as good as you can.”
He turned to Mercurio.
“Didn’t you bring your squire?”
Ah yes, that. He had been nervous about this detail. “We were assaulted in the forest by some bandits. He fell, doing his duty.”
LaCroix nodded knowingly. Mercurio doubted this man had ever seen a bandit or a real fight in his life.
“We will see for this in the morning. Good night, Ser Mercurio.”

Chapter Text

Loud and rhythmic knocking streamed through his dreams and woke Mercurio up.
He sat himself up and tried to orient himself. The bed was incredibly soft, too soft in fact, and the walls of the chamber was decorated with thick tapestry and wooden furniture. He was in the castle… he was a knight!
A fresh kick of adrenaline about the realization prompted him to jump out of the bed. Another sequence of knocks came from the door.

“Ser Mercurio?”

It must be the servant that had helped him with the armor. It was hanging neatly organized like the servant had left it. Mercurio looked around in panic. Was he supposed to dress up before opening the door? Should he open the door himself at all? Confused he threw over the tunic that belonged under the armor.

“Come in,” he finally answered.

The door opened and Mercurio the guy coming in wasn’t a servant. He was dressed in fine clothes, lightly armored, a short sword hanging by his side. A squire then, a slightly more wealthy one than Ser Stronzo’s. He curtsied and a blond lock fell on his forehead which he hastily tuck away.

“My name is Knox,” he explained breathless and blushed. “Regent LaCroix recommended me to be your squire.”
He looked almost too old to be a squire, he surely must be in his twenties. “That is … surprising,” Mercurio remarked.
Knox’s face turned completely red now. “I didn’t obtain my knighthood yet. My old Ser thought I wasn’t ready. But I am! Regent LaCroix promised that Your Majesty the Princess knights me, when the current danger is overcome.”
“That’s fine by me.” At a loss of words Mercurio pointed to the armor. „Can you help me put it on?“
„Yes, Ser!“, Knox beamed at him and almost stumbled on his way to help Mercurio, who could barely oppress a laughter. The boy really was motivated and this so early in the morning. But maybe this was his chance.

„What can you tell me about the people living here?“, he asked with a tired voice while Knox strapped on the pieces of armor.
“In the castle? There are the court of Your Majesty‘ s court. The Princess herself and her maidens, naturally. You already met Lord Regent LaCroix. The council with its members Ser Bertram, Lady Therese, Ser Gary. The court magician. Their knights...“, Knox rambled happily on, but Mercurio already lost half of the names. He would have to ask again later.
“The Princess“, he interrupted his squire, “how is she?”.
“I don’t know. I haven’t met her yet.”
“You live here and haven’t met her?”
Knox nodded eagerly. “She and her maidens just arrived last week and since then they keep in the east tower until all the knights Lord Canzo and Regent LaCroix sent for arrived.”
Mercurio side eyed Knox who just strapped his breast plate. He searched in his memory what he knew about the royal family.
“Knox… what happened that Ser Canzo and LaCroix locked the Princess up in a tower? It’s not like she is the crown princess. She is not even next in line.”
“Oh you know. Her Majesty didn’t feel save after her father’s death. She is the heir of this princedom now.” He shrugged. “It is very prosperous.”
“Does this mean… that her brothers...”
Knox threw a nervous look at him. “This is not what I … it is not very honorable to say this, Ser.”
“Don’t worry, Knox. I won’t tell.” Mercurio grinned. The armor was finally on his body.
“Thanks, Ser. Besides, the princedom is also in a good strategic position. Everybody thought that the late King would wed his daughter to the Baron. No one knows why he didn’t do it. She is of age.”
A smile hushed over Mercurio’s face and he hoped that Knox didn’t see it. That was all he wanted to know for now.

 

After a quick breakfast Knox led him to the great hall, where they were greeted by the Lord Regent, who was accompanied by a black knight and another noble.
“Greetings, Ser Mercurio. I hope you are happy with our arrangement.” He looked at Knox.
“Ahm, yes. Thank you.”
LaCroix nodded and stepped aside, as if to reveal his two companions. Not that they could hide behind him. The Regent was even smaller than Mercurio, who was short himself, while the noble was huge and wide.
“This is my Sheriff, Asim. He is keeping order in our estate.” The Sheriff nodded, smiled shortly and then turned back to his stone face. Mercurio nodded confused back.
“He’s mute,” whispered Knox obnoxiously.
“No kidding.”
“That will be all,” said LaCroix to the Sheriff, who went on his way. Mercurio looked at the black knight, who still had his visor over his face.
Hastily he pushed it back. A young attractive man with black hair and a round face stared at Mercurio.
“Excuse me. My name is Romero. I am here to help protect the Your Majesty the Princess.” He held out his right hand and Mercurio took it.
“You will meet Your Majesty soon,” remarked LaCroix, “I suggest you get familiar with the castle in the meantime.” This seemed to be his way to get rid of them and Mercurio was glad about it. Even though he was pretty handsome and harmless looking, the Lord Regent made him nervous.
Romero also didn’t need to be asked twice.
“Come, brother, let’s inspect the defenses!” He marched ahead without even looking whether Mercurio followed.
Knox looked at him with a raised eyebrow and twitching corners of the mouth.
“Should we follow Ser Knight?”, Mercurio muttered and Knox could barely oppress a chuckle. The noise made Mercurio happier than the night in the warm bed. Eventually they followed.

Romero led them to the inner walls where they saw over the stables and the garden. Mercurio kept an eye out for his horse. He wondered whether he should go see it later.
“I am looking forward to meet the princess,” Romero said. “And her maidens, too. I hope they’re pretty.”
“Princesses usually are,” Knox mentioned absent-minded, while also looking over the horses.
“Why? Is it a requirement?”
Romero looked at Mercurio and grinned. “I just imagine maybe one of them is more open to share a bed. Don’t tell me you haven’t thought about that!”
Mercurio has excessively thought about that last night, but he didn’t want to admit it to Romero. Or his new squire, who also interjected: “We have to protect their honor, Ser Romero! You are talking about Your Majesty!”
His offense was almost endearing. With red cheeks he angrily stared at the black knight, who laughed. Mercurio put his hand on Knox’ shoulder and petted him gently. Knox blinked irritated, but got slightly calmer.
Romero didn’t even notice. “Well, we will see them today. Then we know.” He bumped his fist into Mercurio’s arm who slightly lost balance. “I will see you later then! LaCroix mentioned that we have dinner together.”
And with this words he went off.

Chapter Text

Mercurio spent the rest of the day getting a tour through the castle by Knox. The young man was very enthusiastic to share everything he knew with him, followed him to the stables to visit Mercurio’s new horse and they even took a short stroll over the market in front of the castle gates.
It was the perfect way to blend in. Knox was known as a squire and Mercurio hoped that just being seen with him would fortify his image as a knight. Besides that he really enjoyed Knox’ company and found himself quite drawn to him. He was easy to talk to and in a seemingly endless happy mood.

It was time for dinner, so they entered the great hall together, where they had met Romero in the morning. Servants prepared the food and the tables under the eyes of Regent LaCroix.
“Good Evening,” he greeted once the two approached him. “You are quite punctual.”
Mercurio, who was tired from wearing the armor the whole day, nodded weakly. “Wouldn’t dream of missing that.”
He saw the corner of LaCroix’s mouth twitching slightly before he turned his head.
“Your places are over there, two places from the head.”
Knox gasped faintly. When they were out of earshot he sputtered: “We will be sitting next to the princess and her maidens!”
This was working perfectly. Almost too perfectly Mercurio thought. And what did the regent find so funny before? Maybe Mercurio should try to be more formal.
But this noble ado was not his world. He felt much more comfortable around Knox and even Romero. How bad will it be with the princess, who was even from a higher stand than LaCroix?

The hall slowly filled up with people, but the seats of the princess and her maidens remained suspiciously empty. Mercurios’s whole body ached and he wished nothing more to go back to bed. He started to not care anymore about princesses and riches, as long as he could sink again into those comfortable pillows.
Knox didn’t help either. He blabbered excitedly, and what Mercurio found charming during the day, started to get on his nerves.
The wine got served and Mercurio needed all his strength to not down the first cup in one gulp. Not everybody showed the same restraint. He could see Romero on the other end of the table, drinking like his life depended on it.

Bards started playing and with all the chatting and drinking, the hall was filled with noise. Servants started to bring actual food, roasts, boiled potatoes, bread, cheese and fruit. Mercurio still didn’t drink much of the wine, but it got refilled endlessly, so he lost track how much he already drank. There still wasn’t a sign of the princess, but no one seemed to care. Even Knox had forgotten about her, he was bright red started to stagger in his chair. Mercurio has pulled enough cons to know what this meant. It was a distraction. The princess and her maidens would arrive and no one would care enough, because everybody was full and drunk.
He looked around. Not everyone was drinking shamelessly. There was the Lord Regent at the other end of the table, just carefully sipping his wine. When LaCroix saw him looking, his mouth curled up again. Mercurio smiled back. This guy was creepy. Next to him sat his sheriff. Asim DID drink, but he didn’t lash out like Romero, who sat a few seats away on LaCroix’s other side.
There was a prudish looking woman in dark flowing clothing and a bald man in a heavy red robe sitting between them. The bald man also wasn’t drunk, but the woman had a red nose and giggled in her cup.
“Knox, who are the two people sitting next to LaCroix?”
His squire needed a moment till he fully processed the question. He snickered.
“This is Max Strauss, our magus. The girl is his “apprentice”, hehe.”
With a raised eyebrow Mercurio looked at the odd couple again. The girl looked at least half is age. “That don’t seem right,” he murmured.

He almost missed the door opening behind them. From the side of his eyes he saw four women walking in silently. Some heads were turning, but not nearly enough to cause a scene. He saw the magus straight up ignoring them, while LaCroix was able to look straightly at them from his seat, without turning his head. This was no coincidence.
Mercurio smiled, the trick had worked. He also tried to not turn his head and just slightly leered at the women.
They wore dark green floor long dresses with fine linen blouses, covering their whole arms, but leaving a gracious neckline, which Mercurio very much appreciated. All of their hair was black and they had similar cut round faces, so that Mercurio had problems telling them apart. He had the weird feeling that he was looking at uniforms.
Trying to find individual features in their faces distracted him so much, that he almost missed the guards walking in with a fifth woman, this one in a red dress. Knox gasped.
“The Princess!”, he said weakly. Apparently he wasn’t drunk enough to miss this.
She had similar facial features as her maidens and black short cut hair that she wore sideways with a golden tiara. A big golden necklace empathized her neckline. She was a little short, but well-endowed.
He no longer could hide that he was looking at her. When she met his eyes, she smiled shyly and nodded. Mercurio felt how his face flushed with heat. He quickly looked away and grabbed his cup of wine to hide his face behind it.
The Princess sat down between her maidens, her guards kept standing behind her. She began to eat and chatted happily with her girls. Mercurio tried keeping a straight face, but he caught himself again and again watching the princess from the side of his eyes. He smelled the perfumes of the maidens, felt that they were sitting next to him, but he didn’t dare say or do anything.

After what felt like an eternity the girls were finished eating and disappeared as discreetly as they came. Mercurio relaxed a little. He was suddenly very tired. The last two days of wearing the armor has taken a toll on him.
“Knox, come, I wanna get out of the armor.” He started to get up.
“Not yet”, a calm voice said suddenly from behind. Mercurio froze in the middle of his movement.
Lord Regent LaCroix had somehow managed to walk directly behind him completely unnoticed. Maybe when he watched the princess leave.
“You want to meet Your Majesty, do you?”

Chapter Text

Like in a dream Mercurio was led by LaCroix and his Sheriff through the east tower. They had to leave Knox behind who couldn’t manage to climb the stairs. LaCroix noticed this with an enraged face and Mercurio tried his best to play it down, but he worried that the Regent might do something cruel to him. He had only known him for a day, but Knox already had grown to him.
Being alone with LaCroix and his friend made him incredibly nervous. Not only did he usually make a point of avoiding the sheriffs of towns and castles, but as they walked through the castle, only with a torch in Asim’s hand, he also felt suspiciously like being brought to the scaffold.

“Her Majesty selected you from the attendant knights to be your guards.”, LaCroix said when they finished walking up the stairs. They had arrived in a corridor which was completely dressed in green and red drapes and carpet with fine embroideries. On every door there were standing to guards. This must be where the princess and her maidens lived.
The Regent continued: “Not only is the exceeding reputation of your father recommendation enough, Her Majesty was also confident when she saw your behavior at the table.”
Mercurio remarked this with a recognizing grumble. His behavior was merely to sit straight and sneak a peak whenever he felt secure enough. But then again, he didn’t wonder why the princess wasn’t picking someone like Romero who had started singing drunkenly with the bards. He couldn’t help to feel a little flattered.

LaCroix knocked at one of the doors and Mercurio tried to remember which. The second on the left after the stairs.
One of the maidens opened and nodded. Then both LaCroix and Asim stepped aside to let Mercurio pass. With weak knees he made his way into the chamber.
It was the room of a princess alright. His bed was already comfortable and elegant, but this one was huge, with heavy curtains and several blankets. There was a big vanity table at the wall and several comfortable looking chairs and a chaise longue.
The Princess sat in front of the vanity. She looked a little sad and distracted, he thought, but when he stepped closer she turned around and smiled at him with the same sincerity as in the hall.
Instinctively he stood still.

“I don’t believe we have been introduced,” the princess started, “I am Jasmin, Princess Of Staricca.”, she held up her hand. Mercurio reached for it and bowed down to kiss the signet ring.
“Your Majesty,” he said, trying to remember everything he ever saw about proper courtesies. This had been a bad idea. He would surely fail. He would blow his cover by saying the wrong thing and Asim would joyfully bring him to the gallows.
But when he looked up Jasmin still smiled at him and he forgot everything. “My name is Mercurio.”
She snickered. “You are Ser Stronzo’s son, correct? I have heard a lot of his deeds. I am glad to have a knight from such a noble family at my side.”
“He will be pleased to hear that.” Mercurio’s thoughts went to the angry and impossible knight in the woods who ow lay there naked and probably half eaten by the local wildlife. What great deed could such a ruffian possibly have done to impress everyone who only heard his name? But better for him.
Jasmin giggled again. “I am looking forward to step outside this chambers again. Now that you are here Ser Mercurio, I can finally walk around freely. I expect you tomorrow morning after breakfast. I want to inspect my new home.”
“Yes, Your Majesty.”
The Princess nodded at him and then looked at her maiden, who went to the door.
“This will be all, Ser Mercurio. I will see you in the morning.”
“Good night, Your Majesty.” He started to walk out.
“Good night.”
He turned around, surprised that she had answered, and saw Jasmin and the maiden grinning at each other, before the heavy oak door fell into the frame.
She was surprisingly nice, for a noble.

Mercurio needed only three tries to find his chamber. Knox was sleeping in the side chamber, so he had to ask another servant to help him out of the armor again. Exhausted and anxious he fell into his pillows. He sunk into the mattress and rolled to the side.
Why had she smiled so much at him? Did he amuse her? Did he so obviously not fit into her court? But she had selected him, so there must be something she trusted.
Brooding he rolled onto his other side. He felt his heart beating like mad, despite his tiredness. The face of the princess kept popping up in his minds, her giggle and the dimples she got while laughing, Knox’s endless blabber, and unfortunately also LaCroix’s mysterious smile.
After a while he got up and walked to the window.

The fresh air woke him up completely and he stared over the city walls to the forest and the stars.
What had he gotten himself into? The princess was in danger by the hand of her own brother and what was he about to do against it? He was not made for politics and this noble stuff freaked him out. There were guards everywhere in the castle, and the Sheriff ran around with the Regent like he was some kind of overgrown dog. Hadn’t he something better to do?
Maybe these two stopped breathing down his neck when he was with the princess. There was also Knox, whose snoring echoed through the side chamber into his room. Mercurio smiled. This guy was worth knowing, Knox was the kind of guy to steal horses with. Well maybe not stealing, since he seems to be very eager to play the honorable man. But what about seducing a princess with?
Mercurio’s thoughts wandered to the east tower. What would he give to be there now. A warm feeling flooded through his stomach. Tomorrow he would spend the day with Jasmin and then it would decide whether what he was doing was worth it or suicide. He could still saddle the horse and flee from the city in the evening. With this in mind he finally calmed down and went to bed.

Chapter Text

Knox mood was drastically decreased the next morning. A servant woke them both up, knocking frantically on their door and the pale squire opened it after 10 minutes with dark circles under the eyes. Mercurio only barely could scrape himself up the mattress. The servant looked embarrassed at the sight of the two sour-looking men who couldn’t keep their eyes open and stuttered: “Your Majesty wanted me to remind you that she awaits you.” Mercurio waved from the bed. “Thank you, we are getting ready.”
The boy fled and Knox led the door fall into the angles.
“We are going to the princess?”, he said and burped. “I don’t feel too well.”
Mercurio nodded. He hasn’t been expecting anything else.
“Just help me into the armor and then you can sleep the rest of the morning. I can handle this alone.”
Knox looked at him as if he just made him a present.

He had learned from last night and asked a servant for help finding the chambers of the princess. Now that there was daylight and not just singular torches lighting up the halls it was a little easier to remember the way through the corridors. The servant left him at Jasmin’s chamber and Mercurio thanked him. As if this was a command, the door opened.
“Her Majesty waits for you.”, the maiden said in a reproachful voice.
Mercurio swallowed down his first reaction - making a crude joke - and answered:
“Please excuse me. It was a long night yesterday.”
Still pouting the girl stepped aside and Jasmin appeared in the door.
“Good Morning, Your Majesty,” Mercurio greeted her hastily and bowed down. The Princess giggled again.
“Good Morning, Ser Mercurio.” Princess Jasmin grabbed his arm and Mercurio led her to the stairs. He noticed that two of the maidens followed them. He inhaled deeply.
“You don’t believe that you can be alone with me, can you?” Jasmin winked and threw a glance over her shoulder. One of the maidens giggled.
Mercurio blushed. “I assume not.”
As if he had never been alone with a woman! Sometimes even without having relations with her. Nobles!

Mercurio thanked Knox in silence for the tour he had given him before. He only had to lead the princess to all the places they visited yesterday. Mostly it was not needed to give the same explanations that Knox did – Mercurio could remember only half of them anyway – since Princess Jasmin knew a lot about her new property already.
Much for Mercurio’s displeasure the guards had to join them during their walk through the market.
They shoved apart the civilians to make way for the Princess and her maidens. Mercurio had enough. “Ruffians. Can’t you fools introduce Her Majesty in a proper way?”
The men looked first defiant than worried when Mercurio sharply exhaled. “You are a disgrace for Her Majesty. Announce her properly or step down.”
He turned around in time to see the maidens and Jasmin share a look, but he forced himself not to think about it. Screaming at the guards was something he had wanted to do for a long time.

After the market, the quiet gardens were a welcome change. Mercurio used the chance to sit down on a bench, while the Princess identified the herbs and vegetables with the help of a gardener. The maidens kept somewhere at the entrance.
Mercurio watched Jasmin strolling through the plants and smiled. She appeared much more relaxed and happy than before on the market. He sighed. When he made his plan he didn’t expect the Princess to be so damn nice.
Suddenly she waved him over. With an aching sound, Mercurio got up the bench and walked to them. Jasmin presented him a small basket the gardener just had given her.
“These are raspberries we just harvested,” he explained. “We already made enough jam, you can have them.”
“Thank you,” Mercurio slightly bowed his head and hold the basket a little bit puzzled.
The gardener nodded and disappeared between the crops again.
“I want to sit at the fountain.”, Jasmin demanded and pulled his other arm to lead him to a stone trough with a little spring coming out of the stone wall.
Mercurio had never tried raspberries. They were not very filling compared to bread and meat and just weren’t a thing that was available for him. He tried to take some berries with his gloves, but he crushed them. The princess laughed, while Mercurio watched fascinated how the red juice ran down his fingers. She then grabbed one of the berries and held it in front of his face and ordered: “Open up!”
Amused Mercurio obeyed and she pushed the fruit between his lips, gently touching them when he closed his mouth. She giggled again and blushed. “Maybe it is easier if you take off the gloves,” she said. Mercurio nodded and obediently took them off while tasting the sweet-bitter juice of the berry.
They sat in silence for a while, sharing the berries they had just received and the only sound was the birds and the water bubbling carelessly out of the wall.
“It’s an act, isn’t it?” Jasmin said suddenly while shoving a raspberry in her mouth.
Mercurio’s stomach cramped and the serenity he had felt before turned into screaming.
“What….?” This was the only word he managed to say. His heart beat so loud, he was afraid she must hear it.
“The guards. You ordered them around and belittled them. You want to appear grim and unforgiving, but I don’t think you are. When you talked to my maiden, you apologized, even though she was impolite. You didn’t scream at my servant for waking you up. And you let your squire sleep out his hangover for no reason other than doing him a favor. Not many knights would do this.”
Not many knights … ? That meant she still thought he was one. The voice that screamed at him on the inside got a little bit more quiet and the blood didn’t rush through his ears quite as fast.
He looked at her, trying to hide his excitement, but she only smiled encouragingly.
“Is this bad?”, he asked quietly.
“No. I think it’s endearing.” She lay her hand on his and he relaxed a bit. He didn’t even notice that he had made a fist. His thoughts were running wildly in different directions. She had looked through him on the first day. But not in a way he thought she would. Was this just because of her perspective? What did the other nobles think of him? He also felt her hand on his, which was still laying on his tight of all places and his stomach jumped up wildly around.
Mercurio looked at her smile. He thought about how she had touched his lips before. She had said he was endearing. She was holding his hand. He slowly turned it and closed his fingers around hers. They were so warm.
In this moment the maidens appeared seemingly out of nowhere. Mercurio pulled his hand back like someone hit him and put on his gloves again. He had forgotten that there were with them. The Princess laughed again her joyful laughter and joined her girls. Maybe it sounded a little insecure this time.

Chapter Text

Princess Jasmin and her maidens withdrew for the afternoon and Mercurio tried to fetch a servant in the hall to bring him something for lunch.
There he found Knox, sitting by himself at the table with a big jug of water in front of him.
“Headache?” he smirked.
Knox pouted and nodded.
“How was the princess?”, he asked after a while.
Mercurio poured some of the water for himself and thought about how they were sitting at the well, holding hands.
“She’s... nice.”, he answered and sighted.
His squire stared at him for a long time. Mercurio slew the water around in his cup, watched how it whirled along the sides and tried not to think too much about raspberries.
“That was fast.”, Knox finally remarked.
Defeated Mercurio closed his eyes and let his head fall on the table. “This is not what I had planned.”
He felt a hand slightly touching his hair a few times. “It rarely is.”
Mercurio just lifted his head enough to threw a disapproving glance at Knox who grinned sheepishly.
“So, what IS your plan?”
Again Mercurio sighted, got his head off the table and drank from the cup. “I don’t know. Protect her, I guess.”
“I’m sure she will appreciate being alive.” Knox leaned over the table, his face was near Mercurio’s, the eyes sparkling and a wide enthusiastic grin on the lips.
The sudden closeness caused Mercurio’s cheeks to heat up again.
“I mean,” Knox said, “I don’t see why she wouldn’t reciprocate. You’re quite handsome and admirable.”
Was his face warm before, it was now burning.
Knox continued as if he didn’t notice: “I can help you, you know.”

The heavy door crushed into the frame and their heads shot apart. Guiltily Mercurio looked at who entered the hall – it was Romero, with two other knights coat-tailing him, another one in a black armor and red one.
“Aaah, you’re here.”, he yelled in a good mood.
“May I introduce you to these honorable Knights of the castle. Even though I have heard you got the big pot.”
Mercurio grinned weakly and nodded. He hoped that his face had a normal color by now.
“This is Ser Vandal.” The black knight opened up his shutter and took Mercurio’s hand. A few strands of dirt blond hair were visible under the helmet, but he didn’t make any indications to take it off.
“He is Lady Therese’s knight.”
“She was in the court, right?”
“That she is.”, said Vandal and grinned awry.
“And who are you, Ser?” Knox asked the red knight, feeling left out after no one shook HIS hand.
The red knight took of the helmet. Long strands of red hair fell into the thin face of the woman under it.
Knox turned red like one of the tomatoes from the garden. “I me..mean.. Mylady.”
Mercurio cleared his throat to suppress a laughter. Romero snickered. It was clear that he had set this up.
“This is Dame Heather. She is one of the Knights responsible for Princess Jasmin’s maidens.”
Heather laughed at Knox’s face but she also grabbed his hand fiercely and before she greeted Mercurio.
“I came with Your Highness from the Royal Court.”
“The Red Guard”, Knox whispered awestruck.
“Formerly,” Heather said humbly. “I don’t serve the royals anymore, which is why I don’t wear their signs.”
“Why don’t you guard the princess?” The words escaped Mercurio’s mouth before he could think. But Heather didn’t seem to mind, she only smiled politely and answered:
“Your Highness picked me from the Red Guard to protect those who are dearest to her. I am not offended that they are not royal, they are just as important as Your Highness.”
Mercurio almost bit his tongue. He couldn’t believe that he of all people had started to rate humans after their status. Ashamed about how quickly he got absorbed into the aristocratic thinking he nodded quietly.
The three knights sat down with them at the table.
“I didn’t got introduced to the maidens,” Mercurio mentioned, “only one of them talked to me and I don’t think she liked me. Are they somehow related to the princess? They look similar.”
Heather shook her head.
“The maidens are Your Highness’ closest acquaintances. There were hand picked by her Majesty when she was of age and they haven’t been a day apart since.”
“That sounds … monotonous.”
She shrugged. “They were friends before and their family gets to live in the palace with them if they so choose.”
“Does this mean they will come and live here now?”, Knox asked.
“Some of them perhaps. This castle is not as big and the location remote.”
Mercurio turned to Vandal, who had just been sitting there smiling mysteriously. “Can you tell us something about Lady Therese?”
“No.”
Romero snorted in his cup and Knox started wringing his hands.
“She is … difficult.”, he said.
Vandal sighted theatrically. “Mylady is very stern. And very pretty. But cold as ice. Breathtaking, really, but quick to anger. And a terrible sister.”
“Oh, she has a sister?”, Mercurio asked although he wasn’t sure anymore whether he wanted to talk to Vandal more. He would later inquire Knox.
“Jeanette. Skin as white as snow and lips as red as blood. It’s fake of course, Mylady and her are twins. She is cleverer than she looks.”
“Yeah, Jeanette is really something, hehe.” Romero remarked. “I wonder whether you can get both at once.”
Mercurio smiled and started to shuffle uncomfortably on the bench. Vandal shot some glances at the other black knight and showed his creepy grin again.
Romero continued as if he hadn’t noticed. “Not to sneer at the maidens though. The girl I am with, Tiana, is very cute and I certainly wouldn’t push her out of my bed.”
Heather shrunk together behind her cup. “I also wouldn’t mind a night with Belle.”, she said in a hushed voice. Romero grinned at her and winked.
“Not all of us can have the big price, eh Mercurio?”
Mercurio blushed in a mixture of annoyance and embarrassment. He didn’t want to talk with Romero about THAT. “She’s not a price.”, he mumbled.
“He’s right,” Knox frayed, also with cheeks red from ire. Mercurio lifted his hand, before Knox could go on a rant again. Romero laughed.
“Little man, don’t you think that princesses also have these desires?”
Knox opened and closed his mouth like a fish on dry land.
“He has a point there,” Heather said halfheartedly.
“Still...” They discussed further, but Mercurio stopped listening and his thoughts wandered to the garden. Romero was probably right, even though he was crude. It was not a mistake that Jasmin had put her hands in his lab. She had been as excited too and disappointed when the maidens came to her. She was only gone for half an hour now and he already started missing her. He wondered whether he could come visit her, not wearing the armor, not as her knight, just as a person. But then again, if he wouldn’t be her knight she wouldn’t even know him. Without the armor, he was nothing.

Chapter Text

Night has fallen over the city and Mercurio wandered around aimlessly in its castle’s halls. He had explored much of this place by now, but he always ended up at the east tower. Knowing that he would be sent back by the guards at the top, he turned around once again.
He finally reached a staircase he hadn’t seen yet during his senseless exploration. Other then the rest of the castle which was build with bricks, the staircase was carved out of the rock where the caste stands on. At the end of the stairs he saw a light burning, but in between there was darkness.

Mercurio hesitated. Climbing down a mysterious dark stone staircase in the middle of the night was against all his natural instincts. But then again, so was leaving the path during the night in the woods. And what could be at the end of the staircase? A dragon? It was far more likely that Mercurio had found the wine cellar.
He grabbed a torch and warily climbed down the irregular stairs. The light at the end of them grew bigger and bigger. Curiously, it was not yellow, like a fire, but blue. A will-o’-wisp?
Mercurio trod even more slowly and carefully.
When he eventually reached the end of the stairs he saw that the light was coming from a glass that was mounted to the wall. In the glass there was a sort of a glowing blue mass. He had never seen anything like this before.
It was not bright, in fact it only illuminated a few inches in front of the wall and the rest was darkness. After a few feet however, there was another one of those strange lights.
Slowly Mercurio followed them, using the torch to check the floor. A slight feeling of following ghost lights into his demise gnawed on him.
Maybe he should turn back. This is definitely not the wine cellar. What even was he doing here? But he carried on.

The lights at the end of the tunnel got noticeably brighter and Mercurio got equally more nervous. He saw fire mixed in with the cold blue shining. This must be it. Just a little bit more. From the corner of his eye he saw something blinking silver and suddenly everything went black. Mercurio blinked surprised and a strong nausea flooded through him. Fighting back the vomit he fell on his knees, breathing in short harsh breaths. What the hell was that?
He felt like someone had whacked him over the head. Instinctively he touched his hair, but nothing was there.
The torch had fallen directly in front of him and blinded him for the blackness behind it. He reached for it and slowly got up again, still a little shaky.
The bright lights were gone for good, but there was a faint glimmer coming from above, just a few steps before him, casting some square shadows …
Hell, he was at the staircase again.
Irritated he turned around and there it was, the tunnel with the strange blue lights in the glasses. In the middle was Strauss’ small assistant.
“Please don’t come here again,” she said, not aggressive, but actually pleading.
“What was this? Don’t say you knocked me out.”
She shook her head vehemently. “It’s the ward, it keeps strangers from coming in. Forgive us, you are still new here and couldn’t know that we are here.”
How could he be mad at her? She was a full head smaller than him, very dainty and spoke with a high pitched but soft voice. The wrinkles on her face and dark circles under her eyes told him that she was not as young as he first would have guessed. Late thirties about.
“Not a problem,” said Mercurio reassuring, although he still was feeling nauseous. “Why is this area warded? Are these your … private quarters?”
The assistant looked at him with a weary smile. “We … do have quarters in the east tower, but at the moment we live here, yes. Besides that it’s our study, we can’t have strangers come in and steal my masters research before it’s finished.”
“I see.” He didn’t want to inquire further, he already had the feeling he was straining the woman enough. Although he would have liked to chat further with her.
“Do you spent all your day down here?”
Her smile grew more honest. “We’re either here, in the hall or in the garden.”
“In the garden,” Mercurio repeated thoughtfully.
She just winked.
“Oh,” he said flatly.
“Don’t worry. I can keep a secret.” With these words she turned around and disappeared into the tunnel.

After he climbed upstairs, Mercurio finally decided to go to rest. He still felt a little weak on his knees and the fact that the assistant knew about what happened in the garden, gave him a reminder to be more discreet. At least until things where set. He sighed.
Knox was waiting for him.
“Is everything alright?”, he asked and started taking off Mercurio’s armor.
“What do you mean?”, Mercurio said.
Knox started chewing his lip. “You were kinda distraught today. And you were wandering around the castle… Ser.” He ducked to open up the buckles on his legs.
“I just … have been thinking about things.”
“Is it about what Ser Romero said?”
Mercurio gulped and tried to answer, but he couldn’t find a fitting excuse in time. Knox understood – well at least the half that was not about him being a fake knight.
He got up and stood now right in front of him, fighting with the chest piece, the last one.
“Well, I guess she is a nice and pretty person.” He didn’t look Mercurio in the eyes, bit his lips and just pulled the armor off in one go. He put the piece on the its stand and then stood there with hanging arms and head.
“Knox?”
Now that the armor was off, Mercurio felt much more like himself. He stepped closer to Knox and slightly touched his shoulder.
“I will be a knight soon,” Knox said, “and then I won’t be around you and the princess anymore.” He rubbed his arm. “I do want to see you two together, but … I want to be there, too.” His face turned red, and he let his head hanging again, avoiding Mercurio’s gaze.
Mercurio needed a time to fully process this. To his own surprise he also wanted to have Knox around all the time and the thought of leaving him behind hurt. But he didn’t know how this would work out in his plans. Should he let Knox in? No, impossible. Knox was much too lawful, he would never agree to be with a murderer and would leave him forever. Or attack him and call the guards.
What to do?
Knox was done waiting for a response, cringed even more than he did before and faced towards his chamber door. Instinctively, Mercurio grabbed his shirt by the shoulder he was still touching and turned him around. Surprised and blushing cutely, Knox stared Mercurio in the eyes.
“I don’t know what will happen,” Mercurio whispered finally, rose his hand and softly stroke over the redness of Knox’ check. “But if you stick around, we can figure things out together, yes?”
Knox looked at him mesmerized, he breathed heavily. Mercurio felt his heart beat accelerating.
He leaned over and breathed a short kiss on his cheeks. Then he let go of him, now also flushing red and stepped away.
“We should sleep now.” He cleared his throat.
Knox’s eyes had become glazed and a smile started to grow on his lips.
“Yes… Good night, Ser Mercurio.” He went off to his chamber.
“Good night.”

Chapter Text

The next morning Knox woke him up by gently caressing his face.
It was such a simple gesture, but it made Mercurio smile inside and outside when he got up. The sun was shining through the window and for the first time since he got here, he didn’t woke up with back pain.
Then reality caught up with him again and he remembered why he was so weary about Knox’ advances. He still didn’t know how to react, just that he wanted to keep him nearby.
While he was washing himself, Knox leaned on the wall, trying his hardest not to look too obviously.
Mercurio smiled amused. This kind of admiration was not completely new to him, but it still made him feel very good about himself. Still smiling and wrapped in a towel he walked over.
“So, what’s the plan for today?”, he asked innocently while drying off.
Knox blinked irritated. “I, uhm … we …” He blushed and Mercurio’s cheeks also started burning a little, but he kept looking at Knox.
“uhm, we haven’t been called yet, uhm...” He just stopped talking.
Carefully Mercurio stroke along Knox’ chin, while the other hand still hold the towel. He peered down to his lips. Knox gulped.
“Is this okay?”, Mercurio asked in a hushed voice.
Knox nodded frantically and managed to get even redder than before.
“Can I kiss you?”
Instead of answering, Knox grabbed his head and pulled him the last few inches towards his lips.
Surprised Mercurio let it happen, felt Knox’s lips on his a tongue slightly brushing against them. Knox tightened the grip around his hair and his moved his other hand forward to fondle his chest. Mercurio let the towel fall, reached out for Knox’s shoulder and pulled him in a deep embrace, kissing him repeatedly and longer, with each time they’re lips touched. He could feel Knox getting aroused and pressed himself further on him.
Finally Knox let go of his hair and pushed him gently a bit back, breathing heavily. Mercurio was standing in front of him, completely naked and saw that Knox’s shirt got wet since he hadn’t been completely dry yet.
Grinning like an idiot Knox pulled the shirt off, throwing a playful angry look at him.
“Sorry ‘bout that,” giggled Mercurio.
Knox snickered and pushed him carefully towards the bed. Mercurio grabbed his hands and let himself fall on the mattress, pulling Knox down on him. Laughing he ended up sitting on Mercurio’s lap, kissing his check along his chin towards his neck. Mercurio sighted happily and started playing with Knox’s hair, who moved on to kissing his chest. He got goosebumps on his arms and felt how he got hard. He moaned faintly and pushed Knox’s a little bit further down.
He stopped, set up straight, his own cock pressing against Mercurio’s erection and beamed at him. “Do you want something, Ser?”
Mercurio let his head fall back and took a deep breath. “Knox, please...”, he muttered with half closed eyes.
Knox bowed over, tackling him to the bed, and rubbed his hip against him, causing him to groan again from the sensation. “You were saying?”, he whispered.
“Please...” Knox kissed him deeply, then started kissing his face again, while always moving his hip. Helplessly Mercurio embraced his naked chest, feeling the warm skin under his hands.
“You want me to do something?” Knox breathed in his ear, causing every single hair on Mercurio’s body to stand up.
“Yes.”
“You want me to blow you?”
“Yes.”
Knox bit in his lip. “Come again?”
“Yes, please.” Mercurio repeated obediently and twitched from excitement.
“As you wish.” Slowly Knox went down again.

 

A knock on the door disturbed them. They still had been laying in bed cuddling naked, but now Knox jumped up, trying to pull up his pants as he walked to the door. Mercurio cursed silently and also tried to get dressed as fast as he could. Without opening Knox asked through the door:
“What is it?”
“I bring a gift.”
Helplessly Knox turned around, but Mercurio only rolled his eyes and threw his shirt at him. Quickly Knox pulled it over, tried to smooth his hair and opened the door. Mercurio tried to stay out of sight and put on his tunic.
One of the servants stood in the door, holding a wooden box.
“For Ser Mercurio from Magus Strauss.”, he said slightly bored. Then he seemed to notice Knox’s half open shirt and raised an eyebrow. “Also, uhm, Your Majesty wants to see you Sers.”
Knox grabbed the box. “Thanks.” And closed the door as quickly as possible.
Half amused, half scared Mercurio started to giggle.
“Do you think he noticed?”
Knox just shrugged. “He might put two and two together, but … I also have looked like that when I was just hangover.”
This caused Mercurio to laugh out loud. “Yes, that is true.”
Offended Knox opened his mouth, but he said nothing. Instead he put the box on the side table.
“For you. Why does Strauss send you gifts?”
Mercurio sorted out the rest of his clothing until he looked passable again and then walked back to the bed.
“I don’t know,” he said, eyeing the box, “I had a run in with his assistant yesterday.”
“Lauren?”
“I… guess…”, Mercurio answered, who just now remembered he never asked for her name.
“And Strauss already sends you gifts? You must have either impressed her or angered her that he sends you a trap.”
Mercurio looked at him with puckered brows. Knox rose his hands in defense. “Not that I don’t think you cannot impress her. I certainly am.”, he added with a smile.
“Flirting noted. Why do you think he would send me something dangerous?”
Knox suddenly looked very uncomfortable and rubbed his arm. “Well… he is capable of it...”
“Did something happen with Strauss?”
“My former Ser...”
“You never told me about him,” Mercurio said softly. He still hadn’t touched the box.
“It’s not … it’s not that we were close like that...”, Knox explained defensively.
“I never assumed that.”
He sighted. “It’s just. I knew him for a long time. And last week…” He let his head hang.
Something clicked in Mercurio’s brain. “Last week… Knox was your old Lord Ser Canzo?”
He looked up and tears started streaming down his face.
Mercurio breathed quickly, made a step forward and hugged him.
“It’s alright. Only last week.” What did LaCroix think already giving him a new Lord after his old one was barely cold was a good idea? “I am so sorry, Knox.”
Knox sniffed and nodded in understanding. Then he caused Mercurio to step back and dried his tears.
“It’s alright. Like I said, he was not family. I just felt so… helpless.”
“It was poison, wasn’t it? Do you think Strauss did that?”
He nodded again but then shook his head. “I don’t know. He has the power to do it. But so do a lot of others. Then again he could have just mixed the potion and someone else gave it to my Ser.”
Mercurio gulped. He hadn’t thought much about Canzo’s death, up until now it had been convenient to him, and he hadn’t seen anyone mourn.
“What do you know about it?”
Knox stared into the void. “I know that I couldn’t do anything. It happened after dinner. Maybe the poison was in his dinner. Maybe in the wine in his chamber. But I was almost sleeping when I heard him coughing and gurgling. He was hunched down next to his bed. I think he was in terrible pain.
I called for help, but what could anyone do? An intruder I could have fought. I would have taken a sword to the chest. But in this moment I could just watch him die.”
He fell silent.
“I’m so sorry,” Mercurio repeated quietly and sat down carefully on the edge of the bed. Thoughts ran through his mind. What if that would happen to him? What if Jasmin got poisoned and he had to stood by helplessly? What if Knox had to watch another one of his lords die? He shuddered. How could he even avoid this happening? He had to eat and drink something.
Knox shrugged helplessly.
“Don’t you want to open the box?”
Mercurio definitely didn’t want to open it now, but he also didn’t think that Lauren would send him a trap after yesterday.
Carefully he grabbed the box from the table and turned in his hands. It had the length of a cigar and was about one inch wide, made of wood, kept simple, no carvings. A simple metal lock kept the lid closed.
He shared a last look with Knox and then flipped the lock open. Nothing happened. No magic trick, no smoke, no angry voices cursing him.
Mercurio sighed and finally opened the box. A small folded piece of parchment was laying on top. He unfolded it cautiously. “To Future Allies,” was written in dark red ink on it.
“I guess this sounds good.” Knox whispered while he was watching Mercurio closely.
Under the parchment was a small red pendant on a thick iron band laying on dark velvet. With two fingers he pulled the necklace out and let the pendant fall right before his eyes. It looked like a stone that was carved in a round complicated shape. There were no edges visible and Mercurio had problems following the curves. It gave him a headache.
“Maybe … it’s a charm?” Knox suggested.
Mercurio thought about Canzo lying on the floor, being in terrible pain at the end of his life… but no, this was no poison. And it was brought by a servant who knew where it came from. Knox knew.
With a deep breath he pulled the necklace over his head. Nothing. He didn’t feel different, the room still looked normal, no pain. Puzzled he took the pendant in his hand and looked at it again.
Knox stared at him, not daring to breath. Finally he pressed out: “And?”
“Nothing.”
For a moment he looked disappointed. “It probably is a charm. Warding you from evil spirits or something. One way of magi to show their goodwill or so.”
Mercurio thought about the ward he had crossed yesterday.
“That sounds plausible. It is probably passive.”
“Maybe it’s just a stupid stone to show him you are his friend.”
“I guess being a friend of the court magus is better than being his enemy.” Mercurio got up. “Come, we have wasted enough time. Time to go to the princess.”

Chapter Text

The princess was bored again. No wonder, after all they were locked in a tower the whole time. Mercurio started to ask himself for how long it would stay like this. He didn’t see any effort from the Lord Regent or his Sheriff to find out who send the poison that killed Canzo.
Knox told him that a servant disappeared in the night it happened and everyone agreed that he must be the one that poisoned the former Lord Commander. But not even the servant got arrested.

They strolled over the market again. Jasmin and her maidens bought flowers and yarn, apparently to make decorations with it later. All of this was little interesting for Mercurio, but he enjoyed being outside again. Also he and Knox were walking behind the women and it was a pretty sight.
The maidens laughed and talked a lot. He couldn’t make out what they were talking about, so he was pretty surprised when suddenly three of them were turning their heads to him and giggled.
Mercurio turned bright red. Did Jasmin tell them something? They all seemed awfully familiar with each other.

They gathered around the town fountain. The guards hushed some of the folk away so the princess and her maidens were among each other.
“Say, Ser Mercurio, do you and your squire want to join us later?”, one of the maidens that giggled before asked him.
“Uuuhm...” He could see Jasmin blushing and looking away awkwardly. Were they trying to set them up? This was not what he had expected. “For binding flowers? I don’t know...”
The maidens started protesting.
“Not only that, we will play games!”
“There are lots of exotic fruits in our room.”, one allured him.
“Dame Heather and her shield-maiden will also be there.”
“We will make music for you!”, another one said with fluttering lids.
Knox nudged him slightly in the side. Not that he needed it. With that much courting from the women he would have crafted a hundred flower bouquets.
They cheered. “And there is no need to be in armor too, you can just relax in your fine clothes.”
His... clothes. Ice cold Mercurio remembered that he only owned one thin linen shirt besides the one that he had stolen from the knight, which he wore currently and was sweaty and dirty.
He looked to Knox, who wore a fine silk shirt already. Knox saw his glance and he knew very well, how little clothes Mercurio had.
“Uhm, my Ser lost his clothes when his former squire was attacked.”
It was an outright lie, from Knox mouth of all places! Saving him like the knight he aspired to be. This boy was worth his weight in gold. Mercurio thought that he would be extra nice to him later.
The maidens and also Jasmin looked at them like they offended them.
“That is intolerable.”, the princess said, “we have to give you replacements. Aurora, go get some bolt of cloth!”
The maiden nodded with a wide grin on her face and went with some guards to the market.
“And you Ser Mercurio, please come to our chambers without the armor … and after you took a bath. “

Knox really enjoyed that Mercurio took a bath and so did he. They appeared relaxed and in a good mood at the east tower. Mercurio wore his freshly cleaned cheap linen and hoped it wouldn’t give too much away. Knox beamed uninterrupted since they had returned to their quarters.
They knocked and one of the maidens opened. Instead of the usual heavy dress, she wore a long and formfitting white linen dress with lace ornaments.
“Ser Mercurio, Ser Knox! Come in!”, she greeted happily, left the door open and went back into the room. They could hear laughter from within.
Knox whispered: “Was this her under dress?”
Mercurio hushed him. Was he relaxed? No, he was dead nervous!
They stepped in.
It was like stepping into heaven. All of the maidens wore similar dresses as the first one, and so did Jasmin. One of the maidens played the harp, from Heather’s description it was Belle. There were flowers laying around everywhere, the cloth was stored on the bed and most of the maidens sat on the floor binding bouquets and flower crowns. Some wore them.
Aurora stood up and put one on his head. “Welcome!”, she said happily and with red cheeks. She smelled a little like wine.
Jasmin winked from her place in front of the bed.
“Ah, Mercurio, a tailor will come soon and measure you. Say, which of the patterns do you like most?”
Heather giggled. She sat on the floor next to the harp and made heart eyes at the maiden. She was dressed in a yellow shirt and some leather pants. It looked good on her. “Gettin’ dressed up, eh Mercurio?” A lots of snickering followed.
He guessed that she also wasn’t completely sober.
As quickly as he could Mercurio decided over the patterns and the promised tailor showed up. Knox had joined the maidens on the floor and talked to them, turning bright red. The girls seemed to like it.
Mercurio smiled at him. He was standing on a footstool, surrounded by Jasmin, Aurora and the tailor who measured him. He tried his best not to look too obviously at their chests.
“You will look great in this pattern.” Jasmin said melodiously and took a sip from her wine.
“And it is so sooooft”. Aurora gently stroke the cloth.
They giggled. It sounded really nice in Mercurio’s ears. The music lulled him a little and everywhere he looked he saw another pretty maiden. Now if he only would get some of this wine.
The tailor finally freed him and excused himself. When Mercurio stepped from his stool he saw a small table with four chars that was pushed aside.
“You play cards?”, he asked.
Jasmin beamed. “Oh, yes! I love to play cards.” She stepped over to the table and got a thick deck of cards out of a wooden chest.
“We’re often playing Rummy.”
“I have never played that.” Mercurio confessed. He had been thinking more about poker. But what would he even bet with a princess?
“Don’t worry, I can show it to you. Do you want some wine?”

Patiently Jasmin taught him how to play. There were sitting next to each other and had the hands open, so she could show him which combinations there were. He smelled her perfume and the flowers she was wearing. The wine got him a little tipsy and he felt at peace.
Never before had he been treated so nicely. He knew it was only because they thought he was a noble, too. But the atmosphere was so familial, everybody was laughing and talking with each other, the room was bright and colorful.
In his home he had not felt this welcome.
“Are you still listening?”, Jasmin asked amused.
Mercurio teared himself back from his thoughts. “I’m sorry, I drifted away.”
She looked around. Everybody was busy with something, talking, crafting, Aurora and Belle were singing now. No one was paying attention to them.
Jasmin let her head sink and stared at the cards.
“They’re my family,” she whispered suddenly, “and I love them dearly.” She glanced at Belle, who hit a high note. “I would die for them.”
She turned around. “Have you someone like that?”
Mercurio’s first thought was Knox. And then: “I loved my mum… I think.”
“She died early?”
“Hmmmm.”
“I am sorry. Not your father?”
“No.” Mercurio started playing with the cards in front of him. “He’s a bastard.”
She nodded. “I see.”
He was not talking about Ser Stronzo, but if the shoe fits.
“I liked my uncle. Uhm, my mums brother. He’s a priest. He cared more for me than my father ever did.”
Jasmin looked at him for a long time.
“Haven’t seen him for a while, haven’t you?”, she asked.
“No,” Mercurio answered with a bad conscience. He wouldn’t want to see him anyway. Not after all he had done. He sighed.
“I can’t see my real family anymore.” Jasmin said eventually. “What they are concerned I am dead.”
“Yeah, I …have heard that. I’m sorry.”
She smiled and put her hand on his. “Sounds like we both are out of luck with our relatives. But maybe we find a new family here.” Mercurio turned his head around and they looked each other in the eyes.
“That would be nice.” He said with a dry throat. She blushed.
He gently turned around his hand, grasped her fingers, led her hand to his mouth and breathed a kiss on the back.
Jasmin pulled her hand slowly back, turned towards the cards again and threw a glance at him, but Mercurio could see that she was bright red and smiling.
“Oh, are you two playing?”, one of the maidens interrupted them. Mercurio was sure from Romero’s description that this was Tiana.
“I was teaching Mercurio how to play.” Jasmin explained and gestured towards a seat. She was still a little red. “Do you want to partake in our practice play?”
“Oh, me too!”, Heather’s shield maiden announced and got up.
“Ser, I am sure you can now play on your own?” Jasmin asked innocently.
Mercurio hadn’t listened to half of her instructions and already forgot the other half. “Uuuhm… sure.”
“Great.”, she declared grinning, “than we will show no mercy.”

Chapter Text

Naturally, Mercurio got obliterated in the game. He eventually did get the knack for it, but it was far too late to safe his face. They laughed a lot and he wasn’t even mad for loosing so much. Eventually Aurora, Belle and Heather got over too, watched and started chatting and drinking with the players.
“Where is Alice?”, Jasmin asked suddenly.
Heather grinned. “She, uhm, she disappeared with Knox.”
Mercurio raised a brow and mentally wished him good luck. Heather punched him with the fist on his shoulder. “You’re the only guy here now. How does it feel?”
“Unsafe.”
They laughed. Aurora put her hands on his shoulder, bowed over him and kissed his hair. “Don’t worry, we don’t bite.” Tiana moved her chair closer to him.
“Yeah, if you are nice to us, we will be nice to you.”, she teased.
He heard Heather chuckle in the back and Jasmin watched the scene visibly amused. This was too much female attention, his stomach started to twist uncomfortably and the heat rushed to his face.
Jasmin decided to come to help. “This is enough ladies, behave.”
Aurora run her finger over Mercurio’s neck. His hair there straightened and he inhaled sharply.
“Pity. But I wanted to go to bed anyway.” She stepped away and finally stopped touching him.
Heather nodded to the shield-maiden. “I bring you to your chamber,” she said and escorted her out.
Aurora staggered slightly on the way out and Jasmin rolled her eyes, but laughed. Then she threw a glance at Tiana who obediently stood up. “Since Alice is … busy now, I guess it is my turn to stay here tonight.” She arranged the two empty chairs neatly under the table and started to clean up the floor. Heather and Belle helped. Mercurio also got up and put some flowers away.
Jasmin took him aside after a while.
“Are you okay?”, she asked.
“Yeah, sure.”
“I’m sorry, I should have intervened sooner.”
Mercurio let his head hang. It was true, he had felt uneasy. “I shouldn’t complain...”
She kept staring at him and shook her head. “It was not fair to you. You don’t need to brush it off.”
She made a little pause. “Do you accept my apology?”
He exhaled and actually started to feel a little relived. “Yeah, yes I do. Thank you.”

Heather decided it was clean enough. “The rest can get done by the servants tomorrow.” She stretched her back and then looked to Belle. “I will bring you to bed now.”
Belle nodded tiredly. She was also a little tipsy and let herself be guided out. Tiana rolled her eyes and finished wiping the floor. “Bring her to bed, all right. Talk about too much information”, she muttered. Jasmin and Mercurio shared a look. She giggled a little and laid her hand on Tiana’s shoulder. “Go to bed,” she said softly. “I promise it’s alright.” Tiana clapped her hand on Jasmin’s and smiled thankfully. Then she went off to the side chamber.
Mercurio suddenly noticed that they were alone now.
“I, uhm, I should go, too.”, he stuttered.
“Mercurio.” Jasmin said and walked to the bed. His heart made a jump and almost stood still.
“Yes?” He said both hopeful and anxious.
She pointed on the sheets and smiled shyly. The heavy roles of cloth were still laying there. “Could you help me get rid of those?”
With all his remaining energy Mercurio suppressed a hysteric laughter. Instead he just breathed heavily.
“Of… of course.” He went over and emptied the bed. When he was done she appeared next to him. “Thank you,” she whispered.
Mercurio stood there like rooted to the ground. His heart was pounding, both from the lifting and from excitement. He gulped.
This is your chance, you idiot. She just stared at him, waiting for him to make a move. Her eyes were looking so soft, like a deer, but there was also something else in them. Fear?
He was also afraid.
Slowly he touched her hand and enclosed hers in his. She let it happen and pressed back. Encouraged he also took her second hand and pulled her closer. She made the final step, put her arms around his back and hugged him, with her head lying on his shoulder. Mercurio led his hand glide over her back. The cloth of her dress was really thin. He felt her soft breasts pressing against his chest and shuddered comfortably.
Jasmin loosened one of her arms and started gliding her fingers along his jawline. It tickled a little and the sensation gave him goosebumps. He noticed that he was starting to get aroused and gently let her go to take a step back.
There were standing there again, hand in hand looking at each other while everything was silent. Eventually Mercurio leaned over and kissed her fleetingly on the cheek. Jasmin turned her head and before he could pull back completely, grabbed his head and kissed him on the mouth.
His chest exploded from happiness. Encouraged he embraced her deeply, felt the warmth of her body, the softness of her curves. They kissed for a long time, but after a while he couldn’t hide his arousal any longer and they stepped apart again.
Jasmin laughed, put her hand in front of her mouth and threw a glance at the side chamber. But it was already dark silent. Mercurio smiled at her and she gestured him to put out the light on the wall. When he returned she put the last burning candle-holder on her side table and pulled him closer to the bed.
He kissed her passionately and ran his hands down her back, till he reached her bottom. He squeezed, causing her to giggle and playfully hit him on the shoulder. Mercurio grinned and slowly pulled her dress up. He kissed along her jaw and down her neck. He could smell her rose perfume and natural odor and when she moaned, he sucked a little on the skin. Jasmin grabbed his hair and pulled him a little back, forcing him to kiss her. Mercurio gladly obeyed.
He slightly lifted her up by her butt and threw her on the bed. She made a surprised noise and immediately put a hand in front of her mouth, nervously looking to the side chamber. Mercurio laughed quietly and knelled over her, pinning her to the mattress.
They kissed passionately and Jasmin ruffled through his hair. Mercurio led his hand glide down her body, feeling every curve and grabbed unto the soft cloth. He pulled the dress up, as far as he could. She giggled and threw a look at the side chamber again.
“We have to be careful,” she whispered, pulled his head closer and kissed him.
After she released him from her grasp, he started pulling the dress over her head. There she lay, in all her naked glory and he couldn’t stare enough. Mercurio smiled sheepishly and pushed her a further on the bed, opening her legs.
Jasmin halfway sat up, grabbed his shirt and pulled him down.
“You also have to loose some clothes, Ser Knight.”, she said grinning and opened up his shirt. Mercurio kissed her while she pulled it up and only let go when it reached his head. She sighted happily and he started rhythmically moving his hips against hers. One thing was for sure: She didn’t make the impression that he was the first man in her bad. Calmed by this thought he moved on kissing down her body.

 

They lay together for a long time, cuddling and kissing. He savored the feeling of lying in the bed of a woman again and tried not to think about the fact that he had to leave before falling asleep. Whenever they laid still his mind run berserk. He had what he wanted, but now the problems really started. He hadn’t expected to actually like the princess beyond her body and he had sudden fits of conscience. How could he ever be himself with her? He didn’t want to get rid of her, he didn’t want to avoid her. And his affair with Knox… Maybe he was judging too fast, maybe she was terrible after a while. Unconsciously he pressed her closer to his body and Jasmin giggled and enthusiastically hugged back. His stomach twinged and Mercurio breathed heavily through his nose.
“Is everything alright?”, she asked and nuzzled his chest.
“I, uhm,..” Yeah what? He fell silent.
“Are you worried that you can’t sneak out fast enough?”, Jasmine said gloating and ruffled his hair again.
He laughed to buy time. “I am worried because you’re a princess and I am just a knight. And not even one with many feats.” It was at least partly true. He had only a family name and his true stand was next to nothing. So … close enough? He would never be able to tell her the truth.
Jasmin looked at him for a long time, with big eyes and a cryptic look on her face.
Still silent and deep in thought, she started caressing his cheek. “It will be okay,” she whispered, almost to herself. Mercurio blinked confused but he didn’t try to continue the conversation and just enjoyed the touch.

Suddenly a floorboard creaked. Jasmin and Mercurio looked at each other alarmed and tried to hide their nudity. “Tiana?”, Jasmin asked unsure and rose up, clutching the blanket to her chest.
Mercurio just barely turned around fast enough, to see a big shadow emerging from the side chamber, impossibly a woman. More as a reflex, he kicked against their chest.
The shadow figure stumbled back and Mercurio was convinced he saw a blade. Jasmin screamed for help and tried to jump out of the other side of the bed. The figure leaped forward and so did Mercurio.
First he felt cold from the metal against his naked skin, then the sharp edge cutting in his stomach, not deep but painful. This would be his death sentence, but he didn’t back out and tried to grapple the stranger. What the hell was he doing?
Suddenly Jasmin appeared out of the dark and let the heavy chandelier crack on the head of the intruder. Blood sprayed in Mercurio’s face and he abruptly let go of the attacker. He sacked down and didn’t move. Helplessly Mercurio landed on the ground and held the wound on his stomach. Jasmin breathed heavily.
“Where is everyone?!”, she asked in panic. “Guards!! Help us!”
For a moment nothing happened and everything was silent, besides their heavy panting. Then they heard a faint gurgle form the side chamber.
Jasmin jumped towards the door. “Tiana!”
Groaning Mercurio got up from the floor, clutching his stomach. Jasmin lamented from the side chamber. He didn’t want to see what was in there, but he stumbled forward. Where the hell were the guards?
He barely heard the commotion outside. “Guards!”, he also screamed now. This was a first.
“Jasmin?”, he asked into the dark.
“She’s hurt.” her voice answered weakly. With shivering hands Mercurio lighted a candle on one of the chandeliers.

A grotesque picture revealed itself in the chamber. The window was wide open and the still naked and blood stained Jasmin kneed over Tiana, pressing her body towards her own, stroking over her face. Tiana bled heavily from a wound in the chest, blood was streaming down her mouth. She didn’t say anything, only stared at him while making these awful noises. Her lung must be badly hurt and Mercurio had seen this often enough to know that she would not make it.
It would soon be over. He keeled down next to them.
“Help is coming,” he said gently. Jasmin looked at him angrily, tears streaming down her face.
“Where ARE they?”
Mercurio smiled at her slightly and then eyed Tiana who had started to make high pitched breathless sounds. She looked panicked. Jasmin followed his eyes and turned the maiden’s head around, forcing her to look in her eyes.
“I am here. I am here for you,” she said lovingly and started to stroke her cheeks gently. “I am here.” The godawful noises became slower and calmer.
The door crashed open.
“Princess!”, a voice exclaimed.
“We’re in here!”, Mercurio shouted. He suddenly remembered that he was naked.
The guards stood in the door of the chamber, undoubtedly puzzled at the situation.
“Get. Help.” Mercurio hissed and pointed at Tiana.
The eyes of the guards started to show a mixture of fear and confusion. One of them saluted. “Yes, Ser.” He hurried out.
Mercurio took the chance to slip through the door and threw over his shirt and pants. He painfully cringed when the pants touched the cut. It was not bleeding heavily, the blade had scraped the skin, but nothing more. He pressed his hand against it. The other guard lighted more candles and examined the intruder who was bleeding on the floor.
Mercurio ignored him, grabbed Jasmin’s night gown and stomped back into the chamber. Tiana was pale and suspiciously still, but the princess still whispered calmly at her.

Carefully Mercurio touched her arm.
Jasmin shrieked and looked at him with big red eyes and an open mouth. “Here. Put this on.” He gave her the night gown. “I hold her.”
She nodded slowly, but made no attempt to take the dress. After placing it on the floor, he slowly took Tiana out of her arms. She was heavy, as bodies are, and the blood was uncomfortably wet on her back. A clear cut through. There had never been a chance. She had been bleeding out, with blood filling her lung the moment the attacker pulled his sword back.

Jasmin slowly stood up, her beautiful white dress already stained from blood and Mercurio’s own bloody hand print. She breathed heavily and her face was cold as stone. She stepped over Tiana’s body and towards the main chamber. Carefully he placed the maiden on the floor and hurried out again.
Jasmin screamed at the remaining guard. She talked fast and angry and the poor guy couldn’t move or say anything and just took it with a fearful face.
“WHERE THE HELL HAVE YOU BEEN?”
She repeated the question in several variations, mixed with accusations and threats, while walking in short circles around.
“Your highness,” the guard began stammering when Jasmin caught her breath. “we were at the other attack.”
Jasmin froze and Mercurio who had been standing in the door holding his wound, looked up in surprise.
“Which other attack?”