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Under Restless Stars

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For someone whose kingdom was on the brink of war with his closest neighbor since he was a child, the Mad King is a reckless man.

Tinkers with his redstone creations in his laboratory well into the small hours of the night without so much as posting guards outside its doors. (The only concession, if it could be called that, is the hound that has taken to trailing after the king wherever he goes. Years past its prime and a limp from an old hunting injury.)

It would be all too easy for an assassin to make their way past the guards tasked with patrolling the castle. Past scholars lost in their work as they map the stars. Castle servants just beginning to wake, headed to their daily tasks.

Down, down, down to the rooms built to withstand any mishaps that might happen within its walls. All kinds of odd noises and smells coming from it that the castle’s inhabitants have long grown used to. No longer question as potential attack, and honestly, it’s a danger.

So easy for anyone with to creep down here unnoticed. To glide past the iron golems lined along one wall, red glow of their eyes dimmed as they wait to be called to action and put an end to the heir of a bloody legacy.

The same mad blood running through his veins as his ancestors who would have had the world burn for their goals.

For all the stories of his vaunted intellect, prowess in battle and terrifying creations, the Mad King is but a man, and man is so weak. (Flesh and bone.)

“You would think,” Gavin says, knife against the thin skin of the king’s throat, “that someone of your marked intelligence would have learned this lesson the first time.”

The old hunting hound curled by the heating stove snuffles in its sleep but does not wake. The golems stand still and silent, loyal as anything that has no mind of its own.

The king holds himself still in Gavin’s hold, respect for the blade stronger than whatever foolishness is running through that head of his. (Smart and clever as he is, he puts too much stake in his little mechanical wizardries, the wonders he creates, to keep him safe. Forgets that all it takes is a single blade.)

“True,” he says, amusement threaded through his voice. “Although I’ve been informed on more than one occasion that I’m anything but.”

Fighting an endless battle to turn his kingdom around, destroy the legacy his parents and ancestors left for him. (Making enemies in his own court as he decries the way of things that everyone insists are the only way, planting seeds of hope in younger generations and unsure if he’ll live to see them sprout.)

Gavin presses the blade harder against the pale skin, just enough for blood to well up along the edge of the blade.

“You have a great deal of enemies,” Gavin says, because that is a king’s lot in life. “You’re more of a fool than I to allow them this kind of opportunity.”

The king is watching him, not a speck of fear to be found in his eyes.

“Such sweet things you whisper into my ear,” he says, lips curving into a smile. “I may swoon.”

Gavin huffs, and lowers his blade as he steps back.

“Unfortunate that such a lesson doesn’t seem to have gotten through that thick skull of yours,” he mutters.

The king hums, a low rumble of that ever-present amusement of his.

Fingers pressed to the thin line of blood on his throat, a reminder that his foolish recklessness has consequences. (Arrogance, really, for someone of his standing to think himself invulnerable no matter where he is.)

“Have you been sent to kill me?”

Gavin studies him, takes in the lines around his eyes, faint shadows under his eyes. Cheekbones more prominent now than when he saw the man last. The tired slump to his shoulders only a select few are ever privileged to see.

“No,” Gavin says, and offers up a smile, hint of mischief to it. “I’ve been sent here to spy on you.”

========

“A gift,” Gavin says, ornately wrapped package in his hands. “From King Ramsey.”

A low murmur spreads through the room as their king steps forward to accept the gift from the delegation from a neighboring kingdom, just now arrived.

He’s wearing a high collar to hide the mark on his throat left by Gavin’s blade the night before, and it had gotten a sharp look from the man at his side. (Tall and slender, eyes that seem to miss nothing, and Gavin knows one of his own when he lays eyes on them.)

The truce between the two kingdoms is still new as these things go. Little more than a decade in effect, and still both sides eye each other warily. Spies sent to infiltrate the other’s court and to take up positions close to the kings.

Intrigue and politics and utter ridiculousness from two powerful men who hold true respect for one another, but are far too paranoid to allow old habits die. (Better this, however, than the assassins of earlier times.)

“I’m sure it’s very lovely,” the man says, plucking the gift neatly out of Gavin’s hands before Ryan comes close.

Gavin blinks, looking up to meet cool eyes sizing him up and a smile aimed at him that’s just a shade too sharp to be considered truly friendly.

“Trevor,” Ryan admonishes quietly, but says nothing as the slender figure hands the package to a waiting guard.

Trevor harrumphs, corner of his mouth ticking up slightly at the look Ryan gives him before he turns those cool eyes back on Gavin.

Dressed in the colors of a king not his own, and accompanied by people he’s known a fraction of his life. (Jealous and bitterly resentful of how quickly Gavin earned King Ramsey’s favor, had been granted such an important mission for someone so young.)

Ryan turns back to Gavin and gestures for him to rise, thanks him for the gift and welcomes him into his court, even as one his journeys to take up his empty position in King Ramsey’s. (Concession or compromise, and their lives little more than insurance against hostile intent.)

Through it all Gavin feels Trevor’s eyes on him, and wonders what game his king is playing now.

========

“Your accent,” a voice says, faintly curious. “I’ve never heard anything like it before.”

Gavin glances away from the view the balcony affords to see the king’s advisor approaching.

Sharp smile and sharper gaze that rakes over Gavin, cool and assessing.

“I doubt you would have,” Gavin says.

His family came to this continent when he was a child, and his accent has changed accordingly over time. No doubt he would sound strange to his countrymen now, earn a second glance or even a third. (Always an oddity.)

Trevor makes a thoughtful noise as he joins Gavin at the railing.

There’s a flush high on his cheeks, either due to the wine that’s flowed freely throughout the night or the cool night air.

“My parents came here when I was a child,” Gavin says, when Trevor looks to him, eyebrows raised.

He doesn’t do the man’s work for him past that. If he’s climbed to such a lofty position as one of the king’s advisors he should be able to solve that little puzzle with the clues he’s been given.

Until then -

“I can’t quite seem to place your accent either,” Gavin says, because it’s been bothering him all day.

It sounds similar to ones people from the north tend to favor, but there’s a twist to it that doesn’t ring true.

“I doubt you would have,” Trevor says, glimmer of amusement in his eyes as he looks over the gardens, clearly as fond of these games as his king.

========

The old hunting hound remembers Gavin, it seems.

Half-blind by now and too old for much of anything, and still this king, heir to a throne of bones and lies. A man with murder in his heart treats it as though it is still his prized hunting hound. Bringing down game twice its size, and fearless as a lion.

Gavin smiles as he watches the hound lumber to its feet, ear pricked forward and tail wagging slowly as it catches his scent. Limps its way to the entrance to the hidden passage that ends at in the king’s private chambers, sniffing along the edges of the tapestry concealing it and lets out a quiet bark.

“Oh, and what have you caught now?”

Gavin takes his cue and steps out of hiding, feels his mouth curve upward in a smile to match the one on the king’s face.

“Such a mighty hunter,” Gavin says, crouching to greet the hound.

The hound barks again, forgetting its training as it crowds him, tail wagging madly.

“He’s missed you.”

Gavin looks up, and feels a smile sitting crooked on his lips for a the man standing before him. (King he may be, but still a man for all the responsibilities and burdens of his position. The rumors and stories that amount to little more than lies when it comes to the sort of man he truly is.)

Years since they last saw one another, Gavin sent to do his duty for his adopted kingdom, his King. Far from the only home he ever truly knew, alone with only his wits and what training his parents had been able to give him before their deaths. (Far too young to truly understand the dangers inherent in such a task ahead of him.)

And now, through some strange twist of fate he’s returned home.

“Yes,” Gavin says, because the hound is clear about its feelings in ways humans rarely are. “That much is obvious.”

The King - Ryan - snorts, expression softening as he holds out a hand to Gavin, small smile on his face and warmth in his eyes.

“I’ve missed you too,” he confesses, and Gavin goes to him as easily as he ever has.

========

The retinue that accompanied him here have left, short words and little sneers. Glad to see the last of him, unaware the feeling is mutual. (Too certain of their own import and how lucky Gavin was to be graced by their presence, no matter how undeserving he was to think otherwise.)

And now, Trevor is watching him.

Has moved on from keeping a wary on King Ramsey’s men when they were in the castle as honored guests to all but spying on Gavin.

Clever man with all the right words and excuses for being the same place as Gavin, but the man is watching him. (Sharp and clever and he reminds Gavin of nothing so much as the ravens the royal family have kept in the castle since it was built.)

In the morning after Gavin’s had his breakfast and that itch beneath his skin to make sure this fool of a King hasn’t allowed his security to become too lax. (He wouldn’t, Gavin knows. All too aware of the reputation his family has garnered and how so many fear he is like so many others who have worn the crown in this kingdom, but the man is infuriatingly reckless with his own safety.)

A stroll through the gardens where they scaled the wall as kids, stupid and reckless and an entire forest full of wild things who obeyed the oldest, truest laws and cared little for the petty ones humans came up with. Down to the stables where Gavin would play with the kittens birthed to the cats who kept the mice and rats under control, small fuzzy things on wobbly legs and demanding voices. The prince with a young pup tumbling along behind him, gifted to him by his father when he was old enough to join in the hunts. (For all that Ryan’s parents were tyrants, they did love him in their own way. Spoiled him when they could.)

“I’d hate for you to become lost,” Trevor says, as they come back ‘round to the stables. “This castle can be like a maze at times.” He looks around briefly, and leans in as though confiding a secret. “I’ve heard there are even hidden passages, and who knows where they could lead!”

Gavin slants a look a Trevor, takes in his expression of dismay at the thought of Gavin lost and wandering the castle’s halls. Perhaps stumbling on one of those hidden passages and coming to harm in some way. (A pity, really.)

A knowing look in Trevor’s eyes and a hardness beneath it that tells Gavin he knows about his nightly visits to the King’s chambers.

“I wouldn’t worry,” Gavin says, and he’s spent enough time playing the tedious little games nobles love to play, words made into weapons as dangerous as any blade. “I have an excellent sense of direction, and always go where I intend to.”

Trevor inclines his head in acknowledgment, look in his eye that makes Gavin wonder what might happen if he were to make an enemy of such a man.

========

If he had any choice in it, Gavin thinks, Ryan would have been a scholar of some sort.

Allowed to tinker and create, to learn, to his heart’s content.

Ink staining his hands, charcoal and chalk absently wiped on his cheek, forehead. Ruined robes and light of discover in his eyes and finally, finally content. (No dire conspiracies of life and death matters, no assassins sent to collect his head as proof of his death. No enemies plotting his downfall.)

Gavin watches him as he parades his latest creations and inventions before him, shy little smiles and awkwardness only a few have ever seen.

Here, with Gavin and the old hound as his own witnesses, Ryan is no king.

Here he is the bright young man he should have been allowed to be, had it not been for his family’s legacy.

“And this,”Ryan says, setting some strange contraption in front of him with a small flourish, “is Archibald.”

Gavin bites his lip as he examines the contraption. Soft glow of redstone, low hum of machinery at rest, and an utterly ridiculous name.

“And what,” Gavin mimics, fighting a grin at the raised eyebrow it earns him. “What does Archibald do?”

Ryan sputters, for surely it should be obvious at first glance, and yet.

Gavin feigns confusion, poking at Archibald until Ryan slaps his hand away with a scandalized gasp and demonstrates what his invention is meant to do.

Clever fingers manipulating buttons and small levers and an ominous grinding noise followed by Ryan’s quietly alarmed, “That’s not right.”

And then Archibald begins spewing out black smoke as Ryan frantically ties to set things right, look of mild panic on his face and low mutter and Gavin failing to smother his laughter. (Some things never change.)

========

“There is something about you,” Trevor says, catching Gavin on the archery range. “I cannot put my finger on it.”

Gavin gives him a look, because the man is not wrong.

“Odd,” Gavin says, watching as Trevor waits for the targets to be set up. “I could say the same about you.”

Trevor gives him a sharp look.

Ryan favors him, Gavin knows.

Speaks to Trevor as a true equal, gives him these small, sweet smiles when he thinks no one is looking. (As careful as Ryan is, someone is always looking and Gavin was raised to this. Taught games as a child by his parents that have made him an indispensable tool, weapon, for his King.)

“Would you care for a wager?” Gavin asks, checking the fletching on an arrow, edge of challenge in the smile he gives Trevor. “Friendly, of course.”

Trevor eyes him for a long moment, and Gavin can see him considering the wisdom of such a thing against the valuable information he can gather if he’s shrewd about it.

“I’m certain what skill I have could never compare,” Trevor says, eyes downcast as speaks, ever respectful of their positions even as he adjusts the bracer on his arm, movements confident and sure. “I wouldn’t want to presume.”

Gavin snorts, amusement building as Trevor looks up at him, corner of his mouth quirked. (Sly bastard, and thinks he understands what Ryan must see in him.)

“Humor me.”

========

It’s odd, being at court and knowing no one remembers him.

Would never look at the young noble in his finery and connect him to the bumbling fool that amused the King for so many years.

Masks and costumes and bells that rang out merrily as he tumbled across the floor for the king’s amusement. Pantomimes and pratfalls, silly props and sillier dances. (The scrawny boy who ran wild with the king when they were young, getting into mischief and paying heavily when they were caught. Flimsy excuses and blatant lies to draw the wrath of the king and queen to himself.)

“Do you miss it?” Ryan asks, voice dropped to a whisper as his new fool struggles to keep the eggs he’s juggling aloft.

A careful act, and he knows few watching have caught the lie. Know the sort of training it takes to make the fool’s bumbling, clownish antics so believable when the man moves like someone fully in control of his body.

“At times,” Gavin says, allowing his gaze to rove over the nobles watching the fool, all their petty games and machinations forgotten for the moment.

The anonymity acting as the king’s fool had afforded him had been invaluable, however -

The fool lets out a dismayed cry, and Gavin watches as gravity wins out, eggs falling out of the air. A few strike the fool himself, the other break as they hit the ground, and the audience cheers madly, laughter and clapping as the fool stands there befuddled.

“I find I ruin less clothing this way,” Gavin admits, smiling as Ryan chuckles quietly.

========

Trevor finds him in the hallway one night as Gavin prepares to visit Ryan.

Cool look in his eyes and this faint downturn to his mouth, mouth opened to speak -

There’s a sound, a noise that doesn’t belong, and they both freeze. Cock their heads, Gavin’s hand dropping to the small dagger he always carries. (A farewell gift that has saved his life countless times.)

He sees Trevor mirror him, catches a flicker of a smirk and then they’re moving. Silent as death through the stone corridors, soft hiss from Trevor as they come across a pair of guards sprawled in a pool of their own blood with their throats cut.

“Dammit,” Trevor says, staring at the bodies.

Gavin catches his eyes, jerks his head towards the only direction they could be headed.

“Ryan,” Trevor breathes, eyes widening, and suddenly Gavin understands why he’s been so...prickly when it comes to Gavin.

A stranger who’s been sent here by King Ramsey not so much as an act of goodwill but as insurance. Exchanged for one Ryan’s nobles to ensure their truce holds true, and yet. (Unaware of the truth of things, the lies within lies and Gavin’s true role in things, and simple jealousy.)

“The king,” Gavin reminds him, and they're moving again.

Pass a dead servant, doused torches and shadows growing darker.

They pause at a junction, Trevor turning his head to say something when Gavin senses movement, and acts without thinking as he dives for him. Feels the rush of air as a blade cuts through the air where he’d been standing and hears a wordless snarl.

“Go!” Gavin yells, pushing Trevor ahead of him, trusting him to protect Ryan while he deals with this distraction.

Trevor hesitates for a brief moment, but then a hard look comes into his eyes and he nods sharply – duty first – and runs down the corridor.

Gavin laughs, and turns to the dark-clad figure glaring at him.

Huge, hulking figure glaring at him over the cloth pulled up to hide his face. Heavy broadsword in his hands and stance of a fighter.

A mercenary, perhaps, hired to kill a king and not expecting much in the way of obstacles like Gavin and Trevor. (No remorse at the deaths of mere guards and servants, and Gavin shoves his anger down at the thought.)

Gavin smirks, drawing his blades and stalks forward to meet this utter fool who thinks he can win against someone like Gavin. (Trained from birth by his parents, the sword-fighting lessons he took alongside Ryan as children even though he preferred his knives and bow. Everything he’s learned since then in service to his king.)

========

He can hear Ryan arguing with Trevor.

Even behind heavy wooden doors reinforced with cold steel, the sound carries. (Dark passages that twist and wind, leading to a hidden chamber few know about. Last hideaway before being forced the flee the castle altogether.)

Anger and concern against so much more, and it causes him to smile. Pulls his focus from the sting in his side and the way he reeks of blood as he knocks.

Simple enough pattern, long memorized. (Silly secret for a fine pair of idiots.)

The voices cut off abruptly, and Gavin stands still waiting for the door to be opened.

Finds himself staring down the length of a blade, cool eyes and hard expression and prepared to kill anyone who poses a threat to Ryan.

“Quite the stubborn one, isn’t he?” Gavin asks, lips quirking at the little flicker of annoyance in Trevor’s eyes, rueful agreement.

Before Trevor can say anything, Ryan is pushing his way past, heedless of the possible danger.

“You’re hurt,” Ryan says, frown on his face, everything else locked away.

Gavin hums in agreement as he allows Ryan to pull him into the small room, hears Trevor locking up behind him,

“A scratch,” he says, even though it’s a bit more than that. “I’ll heal.”

Ryan sends him a dubious look as he insists on checking the wound itself. Helps Gavin remove his clothing to reveal the gash down his side, shallow and bleeding sluggishly. Mouth turning down as he brushes his fingers across the dark bruising already beginning to form along Gavin's ribs, a lucky blow from the mercenary.

“A scratch,” Ryan mimics, gratefully accepting the clean cloths Trevor brings him, a shallow bowl of water. “A scratch.”

Gavin huffs, watching fondly as Ryan sets about cleaning the blood away for a moment before he looks to Trevor.

Expression carefully blank, hands at his sides and a spatter of blood across his chest, the side of his face.

“The situation has been dealt with?”

Gavin came across other mercenaries on his trek here. A handful at most, lesser fighters who seem to have been picked for ability to move quickly and stay in the shadows. All easily dispatched and no real challenge, urgency speeding him here.

Trevor’s expression thaws slightly, and he smiles grimly.

“My most trusted is searching for any we may have missed,” he says. “They will not expect him.”

Gavin cocks his head, but Trevor simply raises an eyebrow.

“You both act as though I’m helpless,” Ryan says, mulish and stubborn. “I am your king.”

Gavin looks to Trevor, sees the same fondness he knows will be in his own eyes, because this fool of a king.

“Exactly,” Trevor says, warmth to it that has Gavin smiling in spite of himself. “Which is why it is our duty to protect you, even from yourself.”

Ryan opens his mouth to protest, and Gavin grins as he sits back and watches the two of them argue in circles as they wait for Trevor’s man to bring word to them.

========

Trevor spends most of time in the coming weeks rooting out conspirators. Brings forth a young noble with terror in his eyes and desperate pleas for mercy on his lips. Claims he was led astray, young and foolish and easily manipulated.

Related to several important figures in the kingdom. Crucial figures it would be foolish to anger, and is put under guard while Ryan contemplates what to do.

Pressure on all sides to act quickly, lest he be seen as weak, and no safe harbor to be found. New enemies he can’t afford to make, and it weighs on him.

Gavin is prepared to act on his part when word comes that the young noble was found dead one morning. A note of confession saying the guilt and shame became too much to bear, and so he’d chosen to take his own life, and hopes it will be enough to pardon his soul of his crimes.

Ryan offers up pretty words of condolences, smoothing any ruffled feathers and seeing to the welfare of his kingdom with Trevor at his side. (Gavin notices the light of satisfaction in his eyes, and says nothing.)

========

Gavin steps out of the hidden passage and stops at the sight Ryan and Trevor make.

Both of them frowning mightily at the chessboard between them.

Ryan doesn’t look up, seemingly engrossed in whatever strategy he’s planning, but Trevor -

There’s a nervousness to his movements when he sees Gavin, fingers fluttering before stilling against the wood of the table being used for their game. Still unsure about these “chance” meetings Ryan keeps arranging, quiet moments for just the three of them. (Unsure, but still he stays. Doesn’t beg off with some excuse or other, and it’s...promising.)

The old hunting hound is curled up at Trevor’s feet, lightly dozing.

As Gavin moves closer, Ryan looks up at him.

“Excellent timing,” he murmurs. “Trevor seems to think he can still win this.”

“Oh?” Gavin asks, aware of Trevor watching the two of them, stilling as Gavin rests a hand on his shoulder, as he studies the board. An uneven number of pieces resting off to either side and a bitter battle being waged on the board, while there’s an all too familiar air of smugness to Ryan. “I wonder why that is?”

Ryan raises an eyebrow, and Trevor laughs quietly, a lovely sound Gavin could become used to.

“He’s reckless,” Trevor says, relaxing slightly as Gavin takes a seat in the char set aside for him. “Makes foolish choices.”

That, Gavin knows well.

Ryan still thinks like a king at times, even with all the lessons Gavin’s parents taught him in secret. Lessons Gavin, and no doubt Trevor, have seen fit to continue. (And while it’s true that Ryan is a quick study, he has so many things to unlearn first.)

Gavin looks to Trevor, laughter building in his chest as he reaches out to make his move, brilliant bit of misdirection that costs Ryan a powerful piece on the board to Ryan’s disbelief.

“Reckless,” Trevor repeats, sly curl to his grin.

Another thing about Ryan that Gavin knows well, but as often as he calls the man foolish, it’s always to d with his own well-being, safety.

“Did you know,” Gavin says, “there was a time, when he was younger that it got him into trouble?”

More than once, really, and Gavin at his side in all of it, no matter that he was supposed to protect him.

Trevor perks up, delighted smile on his face and mischief in his eyes at Ryan’s put upon sigh.

“Do tell,” he says, settling in to listen.

Gavin glances at Ryan, sees the crooked smile on his face, and laughs. (Reckless and foolish, he may be, but he’s also a talented strategist. No mystery what he’s after with all of this, but seeing the look on Trevor’s face and Gavin’s own interest, he thinks it’s a victory they’re willing to allow him.)