A Royal Announcement
King Aleron and Queen Hennike of Vere are pleased to announce the arrival
of Prince Laurent, second in line to the throne of Vere
“Damen, come say hello to Prince Laurent.” His mother said softly, taking his hand and bringing him to a large crib. Inside was a small infant who was of course asleep. Damen was not impressed.
“What’s the big deal?” He huffed.
“The big deal is that Prince Laurent will be your spouse one day.” His mother said in the same soft tone.
Damen didn’t know what that meant and frankly he didn’t want to.
“Come along Damen.” His father gestured him away and he went without a look back.
“Yes but why? Shouldn’t we know as an ally? What if he comes into Akilos?”
“Surely not, he wouldn’t be welcome.”
“No, but he still has power even if he was banished by the king.”
Whispers from the cracked door.
Damen peeked through and saw his father with his council gathered around him. He knew he shouldn’t be awake still but he couldn’t sleep and he always wanted to be a part of the council meetings. Especially after his father said that he would be king some day and would do it himself.
“What are you doing Damen?” A whisper behind him and he jumped.
“Oh Kastor, it’s only you. I was trying to hear with the council was saying.” He whispered back, looking back at his older brother.
“They were talking about the fact that the king of Vere’s brother was banished.” Kastor said plainly and Damen’s eyes narrowed.
“But why? What did he do?”
“He tried for the throne. Nearly killed the king I heard.”
Damen felt confusion flick through him. “Why would he do that?”
Kastor was quiet.
“Because he wanted power I suppose. Now come on, you better get back to bed before you’re found.”
“Yes, now hush.” She said quickly but not in a harsh way.
He sighed loudly and Nikandros who was standing next to him giggled before he elbowed him in the side. “Shut up, this is so annoying.”
Nik gave him a dirty look and elbowed him back.
“Boys.” His mother snapped and they quickly went still. Kastor gave them a dirty look.
Finally a carriage came around the corner and Damen rolled his eyes. Of course a prince of Vere would show up in a carriage instead of on a horse. He looked up at his mother who straightened and plastered a smile on her face.
As the carriage came to a stop his mother glided forward to greet Queen Hennike and the princes of Vere.
“Welcome to Akilos. We’re so pleased you’re here.” She said dutifully as the queen stepped down followed by an older boy and a younger boy, both with matching golden hair. Damen was already bored of them both.
“We’re happy to be here.” Queen Hennike said with a sing-song voice. “These are my sons, Princes Auguste and Laurent.”
“This is Prince Damen, Kastor and Nikandros.” His mother introduced them and Damen felt Kastor bristle next to him but didn’t say anything. “Shall we tour the palace or are you too tired from your trip?”
“A tour would be excellent. We can let the boys run off if you wish.” Queen Hennike said and Damen looked to his mother, hoping she would say yes.
“Of course. Don’t stray too far boys.” His mother released them and Auguste and Laurent came forward, though Laurent looked less than pleased at the notion.
Damen and Nik showed them around the palace but already Damen found Laurent to be a bit of a drag. He definitely was not the most pleasant of guests though Auguste was very interesting.
“So you’re learning sword fighting too?” He asked Auguste excitedly.
“Yeah, though I’m still getting my strength up.” Auguste said easily.
“Damen’s also learning archery.” Nik cut in.
“I thought archery was for the cowards.” Laurent said with a defiant look.
“Laurent.” Auguste warned and the younger boy shrugged. “Ignore my brother, he’s not happy to be here.”
Auguste and Nik went off down the trail and Damen felt a sense of duty to make sure that Laurent kept up. The boy was a head shorter than he was and was stick thin.
“You don’t have to pretend that you care about me.” Laurent said in a cool tone that felt much older than he was. “I know you want to go off with Auguste.”
“My mother taught me to be a good host. Besides, we’re going to be spouses one day.”
“Not if I have anything to say about it.” Laurent muttered and Damen frowned. “What? Don’t tell me you want to be thrown into an arranged marriage.”
“Well...no, but we’re princes. That’s our duty.”
“My duty is to be a prince, not to be some husband.” Laurent’s eyes flashed and he pushed past Damen. He felt a little taken aback at the maturity of this boy who couldn’t be more than 7 years old.
No matter. If Laurent didn’t want to be his friend he wouldn’t push it.
The first visit was often him, Nik, and Auguste traipsing through the castle grounds while Laurent spent time indoors with a book or his mother. The longer the Vere royalty stayed, the less Damen liked the youngest prince.
He was kind though when Laurent left and all he got back in return was a set frown and a brush off from the foreign prince.
“I don’t think he likes you.” Nik whispered and Damen’s mouth twisted into a firm line.
“I’m not the biggest fan of him either.”
Mother says I must write to you over the winter time when we are apart now that I’m 10 and expected to do my own correspondence. So I am writing to you only to let you know that I do not look forward to this summer.
Dear Prince Laurent,
I’m sorry to hear that. Maybe this summer will be better. Nik and I built a treehouse. I don’t think Nik would mind if you were allowed inside.
- Prince Damen
Dear Prince Damianos,
A treehouse seems boring. I prefer books.
Dear Prince Laurent,
Can I just call you Laurent? I figure we have to be on good terms eventually if only for our two countries.
P.S. A treehouse is very fun. I can bring you up books I suppose.
Dear Prince Damianos,
No you may not call me Laurent. We aren’t on that type of terms yet.
P.S. I’ll tear that stupid treehouse apart if you force me to play in it.
“No.” Laurent said easily and turned to walk away.
Damen rolled his eyes and climbed up the ladder to where Nik and Auguste were already inside. “Your brother is insufferable.”
“He grows on you.” Auguste said in an off-handed sort of way.
The three of them started to talk about girls and swords and archery and Damen showed Auguste how he had been practicing to hit the tree across from the treehouse with his arrow and Auguste showed Damen how he had been practicing his swordsmanship.
Damen found Laurent later in the library splayed out in a giant plush chair.
“Had enough with your dumb games?” Laurent asked without looking up.
“I was coming to see if you wanted to play cards.”
Laurent looked at him lazily over his book. “No.”
Laurent went back to reading. “Because I’ll win every time.”
“Big words for a 12 year old.”
Laurent closed his book but kept a finger in his place. “Prince Damianos, do you really think I care what you think? We’ve done this for what, five years now? Every summer you try to get me to play and every summer I refuse because I don’t want to live in this god forsaken place. Just give up already.”
Damen’s eyes narrowed. They weren’t even on first name basis still? “Laurent you’re going to live here when we’re older and we’re married. The least you can do is attempt to learn how to play nice.”
“I’m not marrying you and I’m not going to play nice as you call it. So stop trying. And don’t call me anything other than Prince Laurent.” The bite in Laurent’s voice set Damen’s teeth on edge and he threw up his hands.
“Fine, have fun by yourself. Forget I’ve ever tried.”
“Finally some goddamn sense.” Lauren muttered and Damen jaw flexed before he turned and went back to where Auguste and Nik were.
The entire summer was a battlefield, Damen constantly attempting to advance and Laurent throwing counter measures at every turn. By the end, Damen completely ignored Laurent and when they said goodbye Laurent gave a flourish goodbye to Nik and barely a sniff in Damen’s direction.
It was really quite childish of you to take my favorite bow back with you when you left. Fortunately for you, I have several other bows that are just the same. I thought you were better than that though.
Dear Prince Damianos,
Do not address me as Laurent. I resent the fact that you think I took your bow. I wouldn’t do anything of the sort and frankly the fact that you think I would speaks volumes on you.
I will call you what I like. You’re 14, you’ve known me half your life. I can damn well call you Laurent. I know you took the bow because I just got it back with a note from Auguste apologizing for you. You really are a child you know that?
Dear Prince Damianos,
Using child as an insult is rather poor taste of you. Glad to hear the bow got returned. I’m still not apologizing. I should have broken it in two and tossed it into the ocean on our ride back.
I hope you received the book I sent. I know you’ll most likely burn it but at least wait until after you read it to do that. God help me I still don’t know why I’m trying.
“Oh I know he’s doing that on purpose.” Damen said, attempting to hide his bitterness. He should be jealous right? Laurent was destined to be his but as these summers continued on and on he found himself growing tired of Laurent. Each summer was like pulling teeth and he disliked trying to placate some child who played at being a man.
His frown deepened when he saw Laurent meet his gaze and smile slowly at him before reaching up and whispering something in Pallas’s ear which made the man blush even harder.
“Prince Damianos.” Laurent nodded to him as he sauntered past and Damen clenched his fists.
“Come on, let’s go sweat it out my prince.” Nik cooed and Damen let himself be led away. If Laurent was going to be this way the entire summer he wasn’t sure his heart could take it for fear that it would burst from the pure hatred.
This summer was different than the others. Before Laurent wanted nothing to do with him and now that Laurent was two years away from becoming a man at 18 it was suddenly his perogative to torture Damen down to every last molecule.
A glance here, a smirk there.
Any time he attempted to get closer though Laurent would turn cold and unyielding like before. It was only when Damen stayed away that he turned into a flirt in front of the man who would be his husband. It made Damen sick.
“I think Prince Laurent’s actually filled out some don’t you Damen?” Kastor asked one night at dinner.
Damen said nothing and instead gulped down some of his wine, scowling into his goblet.
“I saw him at the training grounds the other day. He looks different than Auguste but then again, they’re two sides of the same sword.”
Laurent? Training? It was practically unheard of. He thought the boy was more of an intellectual rather than a soldier. He supposed it made sense considering Laurent was constantly wanting to be like Auguste.
“I can give you some pointers if you’d like.” Damen said as he walked up behind Laurent in the early morning. Laurent froze and dropped his arm that was holding his sword, straightening his spine.
“I don’t need pointers from you.” Laurent said cooly but he felt the slap hidden in them. “If I wanted your help I would have asked.”
“Suit yourself.” Damen shrugged. “You keep your left side unguarded all the time though. It’s very easy to see.” He began to walk away and could feel Laurent shooting daggers behind him. “If you keep your elbow down it would help.”
“Did you reach Laurent some fighting techniques?” Auguste asked the next day at dinner. “He didn’t let me in his left side at all today.”
Damen’s eyes slid to where Laurent was flirting with one of the council members before looking down into his goblet of wine as he took a sip. “I only gave him a pointer in passing. I figured he wouldn’t have listened to it.” Laurent met his eyes and Damen stared him down. He couldn’t win though and eventually looked away.
“He’ll come around you know. I can already tell he likes you even if he won’t admit it.” Auguste said easily and Damen snuck another look. He felt like a child sometimes even though Laurent was the younger one.
“Funny way of showing it.”
“If he didn’t like you he wouldn’t have listened to you, and he definitely wouldn’t have continued to send letters to you during the winters.”
Laurent’s gaze was icy when they parted once again.
“Goodbye Prince Damianos.” Laurent said stiffly.
“Goodbye Laurent.” He couldn’t help but appreciate the way Laurent stiffened at the sound of his name without his title. “Hope the summer didn’t bore you too badly.”
“It always does.” Laurent said mildly. He swung up onto his horse and turned it around, not looking back.
Auguste tells me that your sword fighting has gotten better. I hope you’re keeping your elbows down. It’s hard to train in the winter sometimes. It’s too cold outside and too stuffy inside. Sometimes I just practice archery in that old treehouse. It’s almost falling apart but it’s always brings me back to our younger years. I know your mother is making you write these letters just as mine is. Maybe one of these days they’ll understand that we just aren’t compatible.
Dear Prince Damianos,
Refrain from contacting my brother about me.
This letter is just a formality.
Dear Prince Damianos,
I loathe you.
It was why he wasn’t required to join the reception of meeting the royals of Vere. Instead he was to wait in the banquet hall dressed in formal wear. He tugged a little at the collar, disliking the way it felt. He wanted to wear the loose tunics he always wore during the day of training and riding and council meetings his father had him sit in on.
He turned at the sound of one of the giant doors opening and Laurent was shoved inside. Damen frowned as Laurent crossed his arms, not turning toward him and already Damen could see just how much Laurent had changed over this year. He was taller and he could see the outlines of lean muscles below those insufferable laced clothing all the people of Vere wore.
It was only when Laurent finally gave a huff and turned around did Damen truly get struck with how different this boy turned into a man really was. High delicate cheekbones, dangerous blue eyes, a full mouth that had cursed him a thousand times.
“Laurent.” He breathed, stepping forward automatically.
He was shocked that Laurent was doing the same.
“Prince Damianos. Damen.”
Another jolt of shock at the sound of his informal name.
They came together only a breath apart, still not touching. It was like Damen was seeing Laurent for the first time all over again. He had always felt that way at the beginning of their summers together but for the first time Laurent wasn’t looking at him with pure disgust but instead a spark of interest.
“Our final summer huh?” He murmured, hand hesitantly going out to grip Laurent’s wrist, ready to stop a slap from coming. It didn’t come.
Laurent looked up at him with questioning eyes as if studying Damen like a piece of art. “You’ve changed. You’ve gotten taller.”
“So have you.”
Laurent’s free hand went up to touch Damen’s face delicately. A trail of sparks along his cheekbone and jaw. Laurent took his hand back after he realized and stepped out of the tight circle they had made with their bodies. Damen let him go.
“I suppose I shall see you at the banquet tonight then.” Laurent turned and walked away leaving Damen breathless.
This was a different sort of Laurent than he was expecting and he wasn’t sure what to make of it.
The day was a blur until the sun began to set and the banquet began in celebration of Laurent’s 18th birthday. The royals sat at the head table while the rest of the people of the palace join in.
“My darling.” His mother held his hand. “Tonight you must decide if you and Laurent are to be wed. You know each other well. Go dance with him and discuss your futures.”
Damen turned toward Laurent who was looking at him as Queen Hennike was talking to him just the same as his mother was. He mirrored the boy as he rose from the chair and the music began to play.
Damen took Laurent’s hand and his waist and they began to turn around the room.
“So?” He asked softly, eyes not leaving Laurent’s. “Will you stay with me?”
Laurent didn’t break his eye contact. “My entire childhood has been growing up here. We’ve both grown up here. As much as I hate to admit it, Akilos has become part of my history.”
Damen was silent as they continued to move easily around the hall, everyone else petering out except for the music that floated through the air.
“Tell me why you love me.” Laurent said.
“Love huh? You’ve made it nearly impossible to love you.” He said without thinking but didn’t take it back.
“You didn’t answer my question.”
“You were made to be mine.” Damen said easily and Laurent froze.
“Is that all I am to you? A destined husband?”
Damen’s mind raced. He wasn’t good at words like Laurent was. He couldn’t use them as weapons or as soothing embraces. “No of course not-”
“Then what else?”
“Yes Damen, what else?”
His informal name again. It sounded foreign on Laurent’s lips and it distracted him. “I-” He started and Laurent ripped himself out of Damen’s grasp, taking several steps back.
“If you can’t think of anything other than me being your pet then we aren’t compatible. I could never be your husband.” Laurent’s eyes flashed.
“Laurent no-” He stepped forward but Laurent was already turning to go, the music stopping and the entirety of the banquet hall staring him down.
Auguste rose from the table and made to follow Laurent. Damen wanted to as well but he let himself get dragged to the side by Nik.
“Damen you don’t want to follow him right now.” Nik said, the words barely reaching him.
“No I need to-”
“Listen to me, Laurent is a delicate soul. Pushing him right now will only make things worse.” Nik grasped his shoulders and he stared at the place where Laurent had disappeared over Nik’s shoulder.
Damen sighed and slumped against the wall. He had screwed this up right as things were starting to change. He had seen something new in Laurent’s eyes that he hadn’t ever seen before. A look of interest where nothing but annoyance and thinly veiled disgust had been. Now he was sure he would see nothing but hatred.
He turned away from the crowd and disappeared into the hallway, Nik letting him go.
“I don’t care Auguste. He only wants me because that’s what he’s been told to want. I’m nothing more than another rule for him to follow.” He said coldly. He heard Auguste sigh.
Damen had come to see them off and Laurent couldn’t deny the hurt and pain he saw plainly on that face. The fact was that he had come to see Damen turn into a man but he couldn’t allow himself to be the sort of person to fall at someone’s feet just because they told him they wanted him. He was much more than a figure head. He would be equal to anyone he married.
“Laurent,” Auguste started and the force in the voice made him turn to look finally. “You need to-”
Auguste let out a shout and Laurent saw the fire in Auguste’s eyes before anything. He whipped his head around and saw the blaze but in the middle of the fire was a shadowy creature that looked almost like a dragon. His eyes widened as he automatically reached for his sword. Auguste did the same.
“Go Laurent!” Auguste yelled at him and he shook his head.
“We fight it together!” He yelled back and began to charge at the monster which seemed to be laughing at him.
He never got to even take a swing.
He felt himself being thrown off his horse and fall to the ground. The horse let out a loud scream as it skittered to the side while he saw Auguste continue his charge. The monster batted him away like he was nothing more than a gnat. He sucked in a breath as he saw Auguste hit a tree hard.
He couldn’t even scream his brother’s name before he saw it crush him under his foot. He scrambled to his feet and ran towards Auguste. His sword was still in his hand as he gritted his teeth. He managed to slice the monster’s leg which made it screech in pain.
“Laurent, you need to...you need to run.” Auguste said weakly, blood pooling out of the side of his mouth. Laurent could see that there was nothing to be done but he wouldn’t leave his brother like this, not when he was slowly dying.
“I’m not leaving you.” He said through angry tears. He attempted to staunch the bleeding but it was no use. He dropped his sword and pressed his hands to Auguste’s wounds, staining his hands.
Auguste raised his hand to Laurent’s face and he knew deep down that these would be the last words Auguste would say to him. “Be brave. I love you.”
He could see the light fade from Auguste’s eyes and his mouth went slack. “No!” He screamed, shaking his older brother, his only companion for all his life. His vision began to swim with the tears that were still running down his cheeks and he jerked around, glaring at the monster who was coming back for him. He rose from the ground slowly, picking up his sword. “You will die today.” He said in a low voice.
With that he charged at the beast but suddenly he was frozen, suspended in the air like a bubble had suddenly come around him and he was powerless to stop it. He rose from the ground to face the monster head on and he was shocked to see just how human-like the eyes were, like there was an intelligence in them.
The monster smiled in the best way it could with the rows and rows of sharp teeth and then Laurent felt himself slipping from this reality until everything was black.
“Yeah, you are.” Nik agreed as he lounged on a couch and ate some of the leftover fruit off a plate.
“I should have talked about his intelligence and his wit and that smile he makes when he knows he’s won and the way his power comes out in the most beautiful of ways.” Damen groaned as he slumped down in a chair.
“Yeah, you should have.” Nik agreed again and Damen frowned and threw a grape at him. Nik made a sound of protest. He sat up. “If you think all this why don’t you go after him? Why did you let him leave?”
Damen sighed. “Because I knew he wouldn’t hear it from me right now. I need to give him time.”
“Your grace!” A voice called out and Damen frowned as he looked at Nik who only shrugged. A guard came careening into the banquet hall. “Your grace the Vere envoy has been attacked.”
Damen stood up and bolted towards the stables without a single thought other than Laurent coursing through his mind. He heard footsteps behind him and he knew Nik was following him.
He hardly heard anything other than the pounding of his quickening heartbeat as he pressed his horse to go faster and faster.
He skidded to a stop at the scene of carnage that lay before him.
So much blood.
He had been around it before of course, but never in this magnitude.
“Search for survivors.” He said in a tense voice to Nik who dismounted.
All the bodies he came across were marred by long scrapes across their chests and backs. He didn’t stop searching until he spotted a golden head and his heart stuttered for a moment as he pushed through the bushes.
He crouched down before Auguste whose eyes were open, seeing nothing. He reached out to slowly close them and he brushed back some hair.
“I didn’t find anyone alive.” Nik said in a steady voice as he rose from where he knelt.
“Did you find…” Damen started but he couldn’t finish the sentence.
Nik shook his head. “No. No Laurent.”
Damen stood still for a moment before nodding once. “We need to transport these bodies back to the castle. And we need to sent word to Vere.” His words sounded hollow as he spoke them.
More guards and men from the castle came to help and it was Damen himself who brought back Auguste’s body.
“It had to be a great animal. Nothing else could have left those marks. Something like a dragon.” Nik was speaking but Damen hardly heard him.
“He’s still alive.” He said, mostly to himself.
“Laurent. He’s still alive somewhere. I don’t know where but I’m going to find him.”
“Damen you can’t possibly know that.” The look Nik was giving him was one of sympathy and he wanted to slap it off his friend’s face.
“Yes I do. As soon as the sun rises tomorrow we’re going to search the words.” He said in a firm voice and Nik sighed before nodding.
He was going to find Laurent no matter the cost.
He attempted to rise but his body felt weird. It was loose and floppy in some places and long in others. He blinked again and found himself looking upon his uncle that he hadn’t seen in over a decade.
“Glad you’re back with us Laurent.” The devil himself smiled and Laurent attempted to stand but he found that the legs under him were shorter than the ones he had when he was last awake. “Feels funny huh?” A cruel grin this time. “Perhaps a look in the water might help.”
Laurent turned his head towards the still reflection of the lake and he peered in and let out a surprised sound that could only be described as a honk. Instead of his normal reflection he was peering at a long, white feathered neck with a delicate bill.
His head jerked towards his uncle and he attempted growling words but it only came out as a hiss. Speech was failing him.
“Now, now don’t get into a fit. Just wait.” His uncle held up his hands and then gestured across the water as the moon rose while the sun died in the sky. “I would get in if I were you.”
He narrowed his eyes but slowly did what he was told. There wasn’t much he could do as a swan after all. One foot in followed by the other and he was floating on top of the water, webbed feet kicking naturally to circle around to face his uncle.
Until the moon landed on his feathers and with a rush of something inside him he let out a gasp and then he was standing in the water at his natural height once more. He wobbled on his legs for a moment before righting himself.
“What the hell did you do to me?” He growled, stalking towards his uncle who only watched with a bemused look.
“Just a little something special.” His uncle smiled and stepped back only one step as Laurent got closer and held up his hands. Laurent was frozen in the bubble that was the last thing he remembered after seeing Auguste die before him and his eyes widened.
“It was you.” He breathed. “You were the beast.” His fury rose inside him but he didn’t let it show outwardly except in the way his jaw clenched. “You killed Auguste.”
“Unfortunate collateral. He was never my favorite though.” His uncle shrugged. “It was always you I wanted anyways. You’ve always been so much like me.”
“I’m not like you.” He shot back quickly.
“No? A fighter would have come at me swinging first. You’re not a fighter Laurent, you’re a tactician. A planner. I think you’ll enjoy my plan.” His uncle circled his bubble and Laurent fought to not follow him with his neck, only with his eyes. “Don’t you want to know about your curse?”
He was silent.
“Come now, Laurent. It’s really quite fun. You see you get the nights of course, but once the moon leaves the water you turn back into a swan until the moon comes back.”
Laurent couldn’t stop the way his eyes went to the water.
“I bet you’re figuring out the loopholes aren’t you?” His uncle was in his face once more and he forced himself not to flinch. “That you’ll have to figure out for yourself.” A cruel smile once more.
“What’s to stop me from running?” He asked smoothly. His uncle was older and decidedly less athletic. Laurent was not his brother of course, but he could hold his own. He already noticed how his uncle was still limping on the leg that he had cut the beast on. It seemed he couldn’t heal himself fully with his magic and Laurent could use that to his advantage.
“I won’t stop you.” His uncle held up his hands. He released the bubble that stopped him from lunging at him and for a moment Laurent stood there, uneasy. “Go on if you want.”
This was a trick. It had to be. So he stood there, waiting for the other shoe to fall.
“Smart boy. You know there’s more.” His uncle laughed. “You’ll change back into a swan each morning when the moon leaves the water but the only way to change into a human is to be in this lake with the moonlight hitting your feathers. Otherwise, you shall remain what you are.”
Laurent didn’t stop the flinch this time. There was no restraint in this world that could have stopped that.
Another laugh from his uncle. He turned to go. “Enjoy your freedom Laurent. The best part is, no one knows you’re even alive.”
His uncle was gone and Laurent was alone.
It was only then that he let himself sink to the ground.
His brother was dead. No one was aware that he was still alive.
He looked at the lake and the moonlight that rippled slowly across the water. This was to be his prison.
In another lifetime it would have been a beautiful sight but all it did was make him feel sick.
“You keep saying that but there’s no proof that whatever killed all those men didn’t just drag off Laurent’s body to whatever cave it calls home.” Nik said as he notched an arrow in the bow and let it fly. It hit the target on the far edge.
Damen curled his lip. “Of course you don’t believe me.”
“Are you going to say that it’s because you’re connected or something ridiculous like that?” Nik asked, arching an eyebrow. “I keep telling you that that doesn’t exist.”
Damen growled to himself as he notched his own arrow, holding two others in the same hand. He let all three go one after the other. All three hit the target mere inches from each other right in the center of the bullseye.
Nik sighed as he leaned against his bow. “I know you want to believe that he’s still out there, but when are you going to come to terms with the fact that now Vere thinks that Akilos has killed their two sons? They think we’ve done this on purpose to start a war.”
“Which is comical at the very least.” Damen muttered. He knew that Vere saw the loss of Auguste and the disappearance of Laurent as a sign that Akilos wanted to start a feud between their countries. He needed to find Laurent, both for the fact that he needed to prove to Vere that their country was not responsible for this, and for the fact that he needed Laurent to know that he loved him at the very least.
He supposed he would be okay if Laurent left him, as long as he knew the truth.
He kept replaying their last night together in his mind. Laurent didn’t know how he felt and he would be damned if he let the man go without him knowing the truth.
He couldn’t allow himself to think about if Nik’s words held some merit to them. It just couldn’t be true. Surely he would have felt something right? They were tied together right?
Damen sighed as he leaned against his bow as well. “Let’s just say that you’re right and Laurent has been…” He started and clenched his jaw. “We still need to find whatever killed those men and take it down. If it can do that much damage to seasoned soldiers imagine what it could do to civilians.”
Nik pursed his lips. “I suppose you’re right. Is this why you’ve insisted on us practicing all day for the past week?”
Damen smirked. “Don’t tell me you’re getting tired on me old man.”
“I’m only a year older than you, fuck off.” Nik scoffed but there was a hint of a smile. “I’m not sure arrows will put down a beast like whatever took those men out though.”
“You’d be surprised.” Damen said, his finger playing with his bowstring a little as he looked out across towards the targets, his three arrows standing proudly. He looked back to Nik. “Besides, I’ve got a sword too.”
That got him an eye roll. “Alright Prince Damianos, let’s go get some food shall we? I’m starved.”
Damen nodded and set his bow to the side before following Nik towards the palace. He let his mind turn to Laurent yet again. It was a common occurrence even before everything that had happened only now instead of thoughts of longing and want, they were feeling of concern and dread.
Nik was right, he needed to think of something else, at least to keep himself from going mad, but he was never very good at following directions.
Though he was decidedly human on the inside, his body yearned to stay in the water and for some reason wished to constantly attempt to dive under the water for vegetation along the bottom.
He resisted this urge, preferring instead to eat the food left behind for him by the enchanter that was once his uncle.
That didn’t mean his body didn’t keep trying.
For the first few days he had roamed across the lake, attempting to figure out where he was. He didn’t know this land as well as he was sure Damen did. This wasn’t his country and it would never be in his mind. He longed for the greenery of Vere. Though this area of Akilos had a lot of vegetation, the trees were not as magnificent as the ones back home.
After he had learned the entirety of the lake, he attempted to travel even farther on foot but each time he thought he got farther than the last night, he was always surrounded by a golden light once the sun began to rise and he was back where he had started, covered in feathers and extremely pissed off.
“You know it won’t work right?” A voice had startled him on the fourth night. Laurent frowned as he looked up into the tree and sitting above him was a man who was older than he was by several years. He fell to the ground rather gracefully.
“I don’t know what you mean.” He sniffed before narrowing his eyes. “Who are you?”
“I’m Jord.” The man stuck out his hand and Lauren sniffed, turning away. “I’m like you.”
“You are nothing like me.” Laurent snapped, looking over his shoulder.
“You’ve got a nasty case of the curse don’t you? I wish I had gotten a swan though. I’m stuck as a turtle.” Jord said as he leaned against the tree that he had jumped from.
Laurent froze but didn’t turn around. He supposed this man could have seen him transform. He had rather publicly since arriving to this god forsaken place. This Jord person could easily know that it was he that was the swan that haunted the lake.
“Trying to see how far you can get huh? As someone who’s been here much longer than you I can assure you, it’s not far. Though perhaps with wings you might get farther.”
Laurent turned quickly and shoved Jord against the rough bark, pinning him there. Jord just gave him a sad look and didn’t try to fight it. “Who. Are. You.”
“I told you. I’m Jord. I’m stuck here just as you.”
“Why? What did you do to get stuck here?” Laurent’s eyes narrowed. This man didn’t seem like noble blood. His outfit seemed more of a soldier’s though if Jord was telling the truth, it was quite possible he had been here a while.
Jord’s eyes were sad. “I had the audacity to fall in love. That never turns out very well does it?”
Laurent’s grip on Jord loosened and he took a step back. He hated the fact that his mind flashed to Damen. Sweet, kind, devastatingly handsome Damen.
“You too huh?” Jord’s lips quirked into a half smile.
“No.” Laurent said simply and turned on his heel to walk away. He heard Jord following him.
“How do you know the enchanter?”
Laurent narrowed his eyes but didn’t look at Jord. “None of your business.”
“You know two heads are better than one. I know all the secrets of this lake.”
“I don’t need your help.”
“You sure look like someone who needs my help. That sun is coming up soon.”
Laurent knew this of course. He could practically feel his body start to itch as he stalked back towards the lake. He had learned the hard way that transforming into a swan in the middle of the forest wasn’t very fun considering his short legs didn’t carry him far or fast and the trees were too close to attempt flying.
“Why would you want to help me?” Jord was finally silent and Laurent let out a bitter laugh. “Now you don’t talk.”
“You’re my only shot at getting back to being a human.” Jord said softly.
Laurent stopped and turned once more. “Oh yes? Why is that then? Care to elaborate or do you want to speak in riddles all fucking night?”
Jord straightened and Laurent got a glimpse into the soldier he must have been. “I can’t say but I can help you find out.”
Laurent scoffed. “Riddles it is then.” He curled his upper lip before continuing to walk. When they got to the tree line Jord stopped and Laurent pursed his lips together.
“We can’t be seen talking.” Jord said simply. “If you want to know more, fly to the tower in the morning. Make sure no one sees you and listen.”
Laurent narrowed his eyes.
“See you around Laurent.”
And with that Jord melted into the trees and Laurent was left standing on the lake’s edge. He felt the first rays of sun hit him and with a golden light he felt himself transform back into a swan.
It was only much later that he realized he hadn’t told Jord his name.
Laurent shifted in the terrible excuse for a bed that he’s made. It was hard spending all day awake and only having the night as a human. He had gone for a while before it had caught up to him. He had tried to sleep during the day as a swan but it never really worked out well.
He rolled his eyes and pulled the makeshift blanket over his head.
“Pst Laurent.” Now the voice was right next to his head.
“What?” He hissed, throwing the blanket off of him. “What the hell do you want Jord?”
“Are you not going to spy on the enchanter?”
“Why should I take your word for it?”
“Because I’m like you.”
“You know you keep saying that but yet I have only seen you as a human.” Laurent cocked his head.
“The sun’s coming up soon. Why don’t we transform together?”
Laurent sat up. “Alright fine. If only to prove you wrong.”
He hated being roped into things such as these. If he had his way he would do everything on his own.
He felt that itchy feeling that came with the sun and so he waited. In all honestly had hadn’t believed Jord was telling the truth but the only reason he hadn’t fought back was because it was nice using his voice as loathe as he was to admit.
His uncle visited a few times but Laurent had refused to speak to him on principle. At least he could fight with Jord.
The gold surrounded him. He hated how used to it he was. His neck elongated and he flapped his wings a few times before tucking them in close to his body. He swiveled his head towards Jord and sure enough, instead of a man, there was a turtle in his place.
He gave his best unimpressed expression that a swan could make and walked back towards his bed to go back to sleep.
That of course wouldn’t happen because of course Jord followed him and nipped at his tail. He hissed, flashing his teeth and pecked at Jord. He disappeared inside his shell for only a moment before going back to nipping at him. Laurent pecked harder but it only made his head rattle. Jord swung his head towards the tower that he knew his uncle stayed in and nipped at Laurent once more.
He honked in annoyance but rose from the ground. He hadn’t really used his wings that often but somehow he instinctively knew how they worked. With one last hiss at Jord he flew up towards the tower.
Laurent had avoided this place like the plague, the memory too fresh of his uncle grinning cruelly at him as he explained his curse. He knew he should have fought harder to get information but he supposed he expected the curse to wear off. It was clear that it wouldn’t anytime soon.
He landed delicately on the parapet, poking his graceful neck over the lip of the window and peered inside. He saw a boy that he hadn’t seen before stoking the fire. The boy was beautiful in a purely innocent sort of way. Curly black hair and bright blue eyes. He would be handsome as he grew older but Laurent knew that he wouldn’t survive here if he stayed with his uncle.
“He still hasn’t tried to fight back?” The boy asked in a sweet voice.
“No but I know he’s testing his boundaries. We’re just lucky that there’s no one around to help.” His uncle’s voice came outside Laurent’s view.
“What if someone comes along?”
“Then we kill them.” His uncle said simply as he sat down at the table.
“What if Damen finds him?”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes boy,” His uncle snapped. “I’m sure. We’re too far from Akilos to be found. Besides, neither of them know how to break the spell.”
“Right! An everlasting vow of true love!” The boy said gleefully but then made a sound of pain as his uncle backhanded him across the cheek. The boy whimpered and cowered away.
“I told you not to speak it out loud.” His uncle hissed. “You don’t know who will be listening.”
“But-but there’s no one around.” The boy blubbered and held his cheek.
His uncle gripped the boy’s chin and swiped his thumb across the boy’s cheek. He kissed the spot that was bright red before letting the boy go. “I know my pet. But you need to be quiet.”
“Yes sir.” The boy bowed.
“My darling Nicaise.” His uncle hummed and Laurent had seen enough.
He quietly turned to go, flying gracefully down onto the water as his mind was racing. An everlasting vow of true love? That sounded like something out of a fairy tale. Those didn’t exist right?
But Laurent’s mind kept flashing to Damen for some reason and he knew that Damen would make that sort of vow in a heartbeat without even knowing he was doing it. He had to get to Damen somehow and he had the unfortunate thought that he would most likely need Jord’s help to do it.
“Going hunting cures all lingering thoughts.” Nik said over his shoulder. “Now shut up.”
Damen scoffed and pulled at his horse’s reins, bringing him to a stop. He swung off the saddle and tied the reins to a tree. “You just want to try and best me now that I’m in the dumps.”
“Is there anything wrong with that?” Nik asked as he tied his horse to a different tree.
“Sounds like you’re taking advantage of a prince to me.” Damen smirked as he got his bow and quiver.
“The audacity.” Nik said with a dramatic gasp as he grabbed his bow and quiver as well, slinging it over his shoulder.
Damen just rolled his eyes and he notched an arrow as he began to stalk through the trees. He hated to admit that Nik was right, he did need something to take his mind of Laurent. It had been nearly a month since Laurent had disappeared and tensions between Vere and Akilos hadn’t died down despite all the accounts of what had happened given by multiple people. Damen had refused to give up his search but he was starting to become nervous that he would never find Laurent.
Still, there was something deep down that knew Laurent was still out there, waiting to be found. It must have been something disastrous and strong to keep Laurent from not bursting back into civilization looking like an angry cat who had just been dumped in water.
Damen pushed that image of Laurent from his mind because it hurt his heart too much to even think about it. Instead, he focused on the task at hand.
All his senses turned on and he listened to the forest, watching for any signs of wildlife. He saw a few squirrels running through the trees, a couple rabbits that were practically brown streaks. Nothing substantial that would require him to loosen his grip on his arrow.
Nik followed behind him for a while until he fanned out, going his own direction. He didn’t mind Nik leaving his side. There was nothing in this forest that he couldn’t take.
Unless of course it was the animal that had killed the Vere guard.
He mentally shook his head and continued walking. He frowned when he saw a shadow cross his face and he looked up. It was a white bird, a swan. Why would a swan be so close to this part of the woods? There was no water nearby.
A swan would be a nice present for his mother though. She loved swans and the two in the lake of the palace had passed on.
He waited until the swan came to rest on the forest floor and only then did he creep forward. He had no idea how to even trap a swan but surely it wouldn’t be that difficult. The swan didn’t move, only to preen its feathers as it came closer. He was nearly a foot away from it when it hissed at him and when he pounced forward, it was gone, flying into the trees once more.
“Wait!” He cried and ran after it, all thoughts of hunting leaving his mind.
It wasn’t hard to keep up with it, swans not being known for their flying after all. The swan landed again and this time Damen moved faster only for the swan to hiss again and bite him hard on the hand. He jerked back and the swan took off.
“You damn bird.” He gritted out but now it was more of a mission. The principle of the thing. This happened two more times. He got bit only once more, this time on the wrist. He had no idea where he was at this point but damned if he didn’t get something to show for it. He knew Nik would find him eventually.
The sun was nearly set and he burst through the forest to find himself at the edge of a lake he never knew existed. He frowned, confused as to where he was. This wasn’t on any of the maps that he knew and the castle on the edge of the lake seemed old.
His mind was interrupted when he saw the swan float down and land in the water.
“Gotcha.” He said to himself as he made his way forward. He didn’t care about getting his boots wet anymore, he just wanted this fucking swan.
Just as he was about to step into the water the swan turned towards him as the moonlight hit the lake. He paused as the swan locked eyes with him and he was startled to see just how human like they were. Before he could say anything, the water began to glow and shift and encircle the swan. He looked away, squinting from the bright light. He blinked a few times when the light faded and he turned to look at the swan only for his heart to stop.
There standing in the water was Laurent looking exactly the same. His blonde hair was longer and his eyes seemed haunted but it was him and Damen’s mouth fell open in shock.
It was Laurent’s voice and he began to walk towards Damen.
“How are you...is it really...Laurent?” He managed to stumble out. He straightened as Laurent got close to him and in the light from the moon all his suspicions were confirmed. Laurent was still alive.
“It’s me.” Laurent said softly, taking his hand gently. He looked down as he rubbed his thumb over Damen’s knuckles before finally looking up into his eyes.
“What happened? Why are you here?” Damen asked, taking his free hand and pushing back some of Laurent’s hair.
“My uncle. He was the monster that killed all of the guards and Auguste. And then he took me and cursed me to be this.” Laurent’s lip curled in disgust and he turned away from Damen. “I didn’t want you to see.”
Damen reached out and grabbed Laurent by the elbow. Laurent jerked away and took another few steps and crossed his arms, still not turning towards Damen. “If you didn’t want me to see why did you have me follow you?”
Laurent was silent for a moment. Damen could see the way the man was tapping on his arm with his fingers as if deciding to speak and explain. “I need your help.”
Damen straightened. “What help? I’ll do anything.”
This time a laugh, bitter and biting. “Of course you would say that. You’re too good.”
Damen’s eyes narrowed. He moved forward until he was right behind Laurent and he pulled on his arm again. This time the man turned towards him and Damen was again struck by how perfect he looked even if he was a bit disheveled. “What do you need?”
Laurent studied him before letting his eyes fall. “This curse can only be broken with an everlasting vow.”
“An everlasting vow?” Damen frowned.
“Of love.” This time Laurent was so quiet Damen wasn’t even sure he heard it.
“An everlasting vow of love?”
Laurent’s mouth was set and he didn’t look up. “I knew it would be too much.” He pulled away from Damen but Damen would be damned if he let him go again.
“No, tell me what I need to do. I’m not going to lose you again.” This time he grabbed Laurent’s shoulders.
“It has to be public. Only then will I be free.” Laurent finally looked up. “But Damen, my uncle he’s...he’s powerful and he’s not going to let me go easily.”
“I’ll fight him. I’ll kill him if I have to.”
“No, you don’t understand. He killed all the guards and Auguste. He would have killed me too but he needs me for something. He wants to marry me and take the crown. He won’t stop until that happens.” Laurent said urgently and Damen saw the fear in Laurent’s eyes, something he had never seen before. Laurent wasn’t afraid of anything. He had seen him fight men bigger than he was and not even flinch. If he was afraid of his uncle he must be powerful.
Damen’s face softened and he stroked along Laurent’s cheek with his thumb. He was surprised that Laurent didn’t jerk away but instead leaned into it. “The palace isn’t far. Do you think you could make it to me?”
“I only have until the moon leaves the water. Then I turn back into a swan no matter where I am.” Laurent said, his expression hardening and Damen desperately wished for the softness he had just witnessed but that wouldn’t be the man he had fallen in love with would it?
Damen looked at the lake. The moon was still glittering on the water. “What if you transform when you get to the palace? I’m sure flying would be faster.”
“I have to be in this lake to transform back to a human. Otherwise I stay a swan.” Laurent’s brow furrowed. “It’s fucking pointless!” He spat and jerked out from Damen’s grip once more.
“No it’s not. We’ll figure it out.” He said, reaching out for Laurent again. He wondered if it would always be like this, him reaching out for Laurent and Laurent just out of reach. He didn’t care though, he would take anything Laurent would give him.
Laurent’s head shot up and Damen frowned when he heard footsteps. Laurent began pushing him back towards the forest. “You need to go!”
“He’s coming. He’ll kill you if he sees you. Hide Damen.”
“Four nights. In four nights come to the palace. I’ll make an everlasting vow of love before the entire court.” He whispered and Laurent gave him a pained expression. “Laurent, promise me.”
“Alright alright I promise. I’ll be there. Now go!”
Damen grinned and kissed his hand before running into the darkness of the woods.
“Laurent, were you talking to someone?” He heard a deep voice as he attempted to get away.
He didn’t hear Laurent’s response.
“I could have sworn I heard you talking to someone. Should I use my magic to see who it was?” His uncle smiled sweetly, cruelly as he turned towards Laurent once more.
“I think you might be imagining things.” Laurent stuck out his chin and crossed his arms.
“Oh really. Nicaise, did you hear someone?”
Laurent turned to see the young boy come closer. He hadn’t noticed the boy at first.
“I can’t say I did.” Nicaise said truthfully and his uncle stiffened, staring the boy down for a long moment. Laurent saw how Nicaise squirmed under the man’s gaze before his uncle scoffed.
“Well perhaps I was wrong.” His uncle threw his hands up in the air. Laurent stayed still as his uncle sauntered forward. “How are you feeling about my question? Are you ready to give an answer yet?”
Laurent watched only with his eyes as his uncle circled him like a wolf stalking its prey. “I will not marry you. You’ve asked me that question every night since I’ve arrived here and still my answer is no.”
“Hoping that Prince Damianos will save you?” The sweet smile turned to ice along with Laurent’s veins but he didn’t betray it on his face. “I could have sworn that phantom voice sounded like the dear sweet prince.”
Laurent clenched his jaw but said nothing.
“I would really hate for your love affair to turn sour by him being killed by the same terrible beast that killed your brother. It would be such a shame to leave Akilos without their prince.” His uncle tutted to himself, shaking his head. “One last chance to change your answer Laurent.”
Laurent hated the way he broke the gaze first, turning his eyes downcast. “What will you do to him if I say yes? Will you leave him be?”
A soft laugh. Too soft to be coming out of an evil man. “Oh Laurent. Did no one show you how to keep your cards close to your chest?”
He flinched away when he felt his uncle’s rough hand against his cheek. It forced him to look up into the man’s eyes.
“If you marry me I’ll leave him be. You have my word.” His uncle said with conviction and Laurent hated the way he felt relief course through him. He was hating a lot about himself in this moment. “We will be married tomorrow.”
“No. A week. Give me that at least.” Laurent said quickly but calmly even if everything inside him was screaming.
His uncle frowned. “Why do you need a week?”
“My parents need to be informed at the very least. Otherwise they won’t acknowledge the union.” He was thinking fast now. “Besides, don’t you want this to be a grand occasion? Don’t you want to show your future kingdom what kind of ruler you will be?”
Play into his vanity.
His uncle frowned and Laurent could see him mulling it over. “Alright. A week then. I’ll begin the preparations at once.” He clapped Laurent on the shoulder. “Rejoice nephew. This will be a happy occasion.”
Laurent managed a small smile that didn’t reach his eyes. “Of course.”
His uncle turned on his heel and left with Nicaise following behind him. He didn’t miss the jealous look the boy was giving him.
When his uncle was out of sight he sagged against the nearest tree and looked up at the moon that was his captor.
“Marriage huh?” Jord stepped out of the treeline. “What about our plan?”
“It worked. I just got caught.” Laurent said bitterly. “Damen needs four days though. I bought myself a week. This will work.”
Jord leaned against an opposite tree. “He believed you then?”
“He saw me transform didn’t he? Of course he believed me. He’s in love with me.” Laurent didn’t look at Jord.
“Are you in love with him?”
Laurent was silent for a long while before he pushed off the tree. “Come on. We have work to do.”
“And what brought on such an occasion?” His mother raised an eyebrow, reminiscent of her son.
Damen walked around the room, ending up in front of the large open windows as he looked out onto the sea. He hadn’t quite thought that far in advance but he was good at thinking on the fly, despite what Nik had said. He turned back to his mother.
“You’ve been saying I need a consort correct? Someone by my side now that Laurent is gone?”
His mother frowned. She rose from her chaise and walked to him. “Are you finally seeing reason?”
It took everything in him not to blurt out that Laurent was alive and he had seen him but instead he just paused before nodding. He knew his mother had been just as devastated as he was when they had gotten news about the Vere guard along with Auguste’s death and Laurent’s disappearance. She had tried to be courteous to him but it had been a few months now and no sign of him.
She had tried to gently remind him that he was coming of age and his father was getting older. He would step down from the throne sooner rather than later and he would need a powerful consort by his side. Be that a man or woman.
Damen of course had refused to acknowledge any sort of talk about him taking someone else to be in his life. Now he was glad he had been stubborn and willful because now he had proof that Laurent was alive and he needed a public place to confess his love.
“Yes mother, I know you’re right. I know I need someone. What better way than to invite the young nobles to a banquet?” He asked and he saw the way his mother’s eyes lit up.
“Oh my darling boy. I’m so glad you’re coming around. I’ll begin the preparations right away.” His mother clapped his hands together before reaching out and bringing him in for a hug. He hugged her back of course, her perfume like a warm hug all on its own. When they broke off he could see the tears in her eyes and his face softened.
“Mother, there’s no need to cry.” He said softly as he wiped away the ones that had fallen.
“I know.” She gave a watery laugh. “I’m just so happy that you’re able to move on. You deserve all the happiness in the world. I want to help give that to you.”
He took her by the hands and brought her delicate ones to his lips. “I know you do. Thank you.”
He let her hands go and she touched his cheek, brushing her thumb against his tanned skin. “I love you my son.”
“I love you too mother.”
She smiled fondly at him. “No go on, let me get to preparations.” She scolded him and he laughed.
He let her shoo him out of the room. He found Pallas by the door, on duty. “Have you seen Nik around?” He asked
“No my prince. He didn’t return from your hunting excursion.” Pallas said quickly and Damen frowned.
He and Nik often returned at different points in time, both more than capable of taking care of themselves but it wasn’t often that Nik took longer than Damen. He had even gone all the way to the stone palace where Laurent was being held and he still had beat him back.
“Thank you Pallas.”
“Of course my prince.” Pallas nodded solemnly before going back to his soldier stance.
Damen could worry about his friend of course, but right now there were bigger things to worry about, namely making sure this banquet was a success.
“You’re alive?” Nik breathed and Laurent rose from the ground, dusting himself off.
“Of course I’m alive.”
“Why haven’t you come back then? Why are you sleeping on the ground?” Nik frowned and took a step back.
“What are you doing here? Did Damen send you?” Laurent narrowed his eyes. He felt a sudden flash of fear that something had happened to Damen despite his uncle’s promises.
“No, no I was trying to find--wait, Damen’s been here?” Nik stopped and his frown deepened.
“Yes, last night. He didn’t send you?” It was Laurent’s turn to frown.
“We got separated in the woods. I was trying to find him.” Nik said absently, not taking his eyes off Laurent. “You’ve been here the entire time?”
“Yes, long story. Damen knows.” Laurent said with a wave of his hand. “You should get back to him we have a plan.”
“A plan? To do what?”
“Long story. You need to go.” Laurent repeated and this time pushed Nik towards the woods. He froze when he saw a flash of black hair. “Fuck. Nicaise! It’s not what you think!”
“I’ll be telling your uncle about this!” Nicaise called back as he raced towards the castle.
“Your uncle?” Nik was rightly confused now. “I thought he was banished.”
“Nik, you need to go before he--”
A crack of thunder and his uncle stormed into the clearing. “What is the meaning of this?” He surged forward and grabbed Nik by the throat, looking back at Laurent as the man struggled in his grip. “You’re trying to escape?”
“No, of course not he--” Laurent started and Nik attempted to break loose only for his uncle to slam him against the stone wall nearby, making the man slump to the ground, effectively unconscious. “He didn’t know. He wasn’t trying to help he just found me.” Laurent said quickly as his uncle rounded on him instead. He took a couple steps back until he was trapped against the trunk of a tree.
“All the things I’ve done for you and this is how you repay me? You get your prince’s servant to come rescue you?” His uncle snarled in his face and Laurent felt the blood drain from his face. “Don’t think I didn’t hear about your plan Laurent. Four days, was that right? Four days until you try to thwart me? I was going to give you the benefit of the doubt but clearly I can’t do that.”
Laurent flinched away when he saw his uncle’s hand come towards him. He braced for a slap or a punch or something but was shocked when instead he felt the soft caress against his cheek.
“I could never hurt you Laurent, surely you know that. But I will protect you from yourself.” His uncle cooed and he snapped his fingers.
“No!” He gasped out when he felt that itchy feeling take over his body and suddenly he was much shorter and any sound he made out of his mouth was no longer words. The moon was still glittering on the lake but he was back to being a swan and powerless to stop it.
With another snap he was bound in a cloth bag and Nik was being levitated, his head falling back as his entire body was limp.
“Nicaise grab Laurent.” His uncle ordered and he hissed as the boy came closer. He snapped at the boy only once before his neck was tied down and his beak wrapped in cloth as well. “That wasn’t very nice Laurent.”
He felt himself being picked up and taken towards the castle, the castle he had refused to go inside of. It was barren and cold, all decorations either magic or in tatters creating a mix of old and fake. He was deposited rather uselessly on the ground of a cell followed by Nik’s body. He struggled against his bonds but it was no use as the bars swung shut and his uncle tutted at him from the outside.
“Such a shame Laurent. I’m very disappointed.”
He hissed though it was muffled and his uncle pursed his lips. “Perhaps some time without your transformation will do you some good.”
And then he was gone and Laurent’s bonds were freed. He stretched out his neck and walked over to where Nik was lying. He was breathing so Laurent settled down next to him, grateful at least for the warm there.
He still had two days left to figure something out. If he could do anything, he could do this. He knew he could.
“You look rather excited for someone that just a week ago was convinced that Laurent was still alive.” Kastor leaned against his doorframe. He looked at the man in the mirror. Kastor didn’t come to his doorway often and when he did they usually fought about something. Not today though, he didn’t care enough to fight with him tonight.
“We have a banquet tonight. What’s not to be excited about?” Damen said simply as he unhooked his belt.
“A banquet for you to find your future consort. If your mother is to believed.”
“Well how fortunate for you.” Kastor’s mouth twitched into a mere hint of a smile. “I suppose I should be happy for you brother.”
Damen turned towards Kastor rather than continuing to look at him in the mirror. “I suppose you should.”
Kastor pushed off the wall and took a few steps closer. Damen didn’t move as Kastor studied him. “You know something the rest of us don’t.”
Damen raised his chin defiantly. “I don’t know what you mean.”
Kastor pursed his lips before letting out a huff of a laugh and shaking his head. “You know for a prince, you should probably learn to better hide your emotions.” Another step forward, now into Damen’s space. Kastor studied him some more. “I think I had better go see if I can be of help.”
And then he stepped back and was gone from the room, leaving Damen entirely confused and rather concerned that somehow Kastor knew what he did. But how could that be? Kastor didn’t know about Laurent, otherwise Laurent would have told him.
He wished Nik was here now but according to Kastor he had been sent on a mission to the outer reaches of the kingdom. Something about an uprising along the border and wouldn’t be back for another few weeks.
He just wished he would come back soon.
“Who the hell are you?” Nik stepped forward out of the shadows.
“You got a swan in there?” Jord moved closer.
“Yeah, what about it?” Nik narrowed his eyes. “Why were you calling for Laurent?”
“Because that is Laurent.” Jord said and Nik scoffed.
“You’re telling me this swan that has only hissed at me and tried to bite me any time I got closer is the prince of Vere? You’re crazy. You must be working for that enchanter.”
“More like trying to work against him.” It was Jord’s turn to narrow his eyes. “What did you do to end up here?”
“I found the actual prince of Vere and then the enchanter knocked me out and I woke up here in this cell with a fucking swan.” Nik spat.
Jord laughed and turned towards the swan, effectively ignoring Nik. “I’m surprised you haven’t actually bitten him yet.”
The swan honked at him followed by a hiss and turned away from the door.
“And here I was going to rescue you.” Jord smirked. That got a turn of the swan’s head. Jord pulled out the keys before frowning at Nik. “Can you trust him?”
“What the hell are you asking the fucking swan for?” Nik muttered under his breath. The swan hissed at him again and snapped at the back of his knee as it came closer.
“Honk for yes, hiss for no.” Jord grinned.
The swan honked and Jord quickly unlocked the cell door. Nik stepped out into the hall.
“If you hurry you can make it down to the lake before the enchanter wakes up.” Jord whispered. The swan nodded and quickly took flight out the open window. Jord turned towards Nik. “Do you need help getting back?”
Nik curled his upper lip. “You’re strange.”
Jord shrugged. “When you’ve been enchanted you tend to go a little loopy.” A wide grin that unsettled Nik who backed away. “The way back to Akilos is to the left of the castle. There’s a banquet tonight so I bet if you hurry you’ll be able to catch some of the action.”
Nik nodded. “Thanks for...saving me I guess.”
“It’s not you I’m saving.”
“Right, the swan.” Nik nodded before giving Jord a pained smile. “Well...bye.”
And with that he turned to go. Jord chuckled before hurrying the opposite way towards the lake. The enchanter was still asleep and he saw a flash of white at the edge.
The swan swam hard around the lake but the moonlight was gone, covered by clouds.
“You don’t have time! Laurent you need to fly!” Jord yelled as he ran down the hill. The swan turned towards him with panic. “Laurent now! It will still work even if you’re a swan!”
The swan nodded and took flight.
The swan didn’t see the light explode behind him and where Jord once was now was a turtle.
He took a sip and watched the splendor over the rim of his glass. “A few.” He said, mostly to placate his mother than anything. It was true, a few of the nobles of the land had caught his eye, particularly Jokaste from a northern province, but none could hold a candle to Laurent.
“I’m glad.” His mother smiled fondly at him. “I just want you to be happy.”
“I know.” Damen smiled softly. He was starting to get nervous that Laurent wouldn’t show up before the night was over.
He opened his mouth to say more but the doors opened and the crowd turned at the arrival. His lips turned upward widely and he automatically glided forward.
He barely heard the whispers as he got closer to the blonde headed prince. Laurent looked spectacular, a gilded doublet with a golden circlet in his hair. He instantly laced their fingers together.
“You came.” He whispered and Laurent gave him a glorious smile.
“Of course I did.” A softness now to the mouth that Damen had never seen before. Most of the time there was fierceness to Laurent, even when he was being kind. A bite to him that would harm anyone who came near if he so chose to change his course.
“Should I do it now?” He asked.
“Yes my prince.” Laurent leaned into him a bit, eyes wide and open.
He cursed the fact that the banquet hall had windows. Most of the rooms in the Akilos palace were open and airy. Only the banquet hall was closed off and stuffy. It was colder tonight so of course the windows were closed. It was like the weather itself was fighting back against him.
Finally he found himself close enough to attempt to find an entrance. As he looked into the paned glass he gasped (as well as a swan could gasp) at seeing himself standing next to Damen, fingers interlaced and smiling serenely.
Surely Damen could see that this wasn’t him? He would never willingly smile at a crowd. Crowds were meant to be stared down at, meant to feel his power. Yet Damen was there, showing him off like a prize to be won with a look of relief and happiness on his face.
He tapped hard against the panes of the glass. He could barely hear what was being said but all eyes were on Damen and the imposter. He flew hard around the sides of the palace, desperately trying to find a way in. This could still work.
“The last time I was here with Laurent I did not say what I wanted to say. I offended him and for that I am sorry.” He continued. Laurent came a little closer.
“I never lost hope that Laurent was alive and now that he is here I want to make an everlasting vow of love to him. My one true love.” Damen smiled happily.
What was once Laurent on his arms was no more than a boy with a cruel smile. Damen jumped back in shock.
“Better luck next time.” The boy tipped his head back and laughed wildly.
“Poor Laurent. Guess he’ll never break his curse.” A harsh voice stepped out from the smoke and Damen narrowed his eyes. It was the enchanter. Laurent’s uncle. The man pointed to the windows and Damen hated how he followed the finger to see a white swan struggle in the air.
His eyes widened. “No!”
“Chasing him would be futile.” The enchanter pouted but Damen hardly heard.
“Go Damen!” It was Nik’s voice. He stood there a little shocked at the sudden appearance of his friend. “I’m right behind you!”
Damen hardly heard, the noise in his head, the intense focus on finding Laurent was too much. If this was a normal fight against a normal man, Damen would have bested him in a heartbeat but the enchanter didn’t play fair and Damen didn’t have time to play dirty.
Instead he turned and ran from the banquet hall, not caring about the shock he left behind.
He didn’t care which horse he jumped on that was already saddled in the stables. He hardly took his eyes off the white form, urging the beast to charge after the swan that was dropping lower and lower in the sky.
He knew it.
He could feel his life force leach from his body the moment Damen made a vow to the wrong person.
It wasn’t his fault. The imposter Laurent looked just like him and he knew Damen was too thrilled to see him in person once more to see how the mannerisms were off.
He didn’t blame Damen. He was pretty sure he could never blame Damen for any of it. Laurent had always yearned for someone to see the true him and then turned away the moment the man he loved couldn’t see past the persona he put out into the world.
It wasn’t Damen’s fault.
He kept that thought over and over in his mind as he attempted to fly back to the lake.
Maybe at the lake things would be better.
Maybe he could live this lonely existence with this terrible curse and let Damen be happy with the Laurent he thought was his true love.
Maybe, just maybe.
He crashed through the clearing to the lake and saw Laurent manage to land in the water but he could tell he was exhausted. The moonlight fell on his feathers and with a burst of bright light that Damen had to shield himself from, the swan became a man.
Damen leaped off his horse and rushed towards Laurent who was laying, unmoving in the water. “Laurent!” He cried as he splashed closer, falling to his knees in the shallow part of the lake. He gathered Laurent up his arms.
“Damen.” Laurent smiled just barely, his eyes opened only just.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t know-I-I-I don’t know what to do. I’ll make the vow again. Just don’t leave me.” He began to beg, pain and fear bursting through his body as he brushed back Laurent’s wet hair.
Laurent looked up into his face and reached up to cup his cheek. “It’s okay. You couldn’t have known it wasn’t me.”
“Yes I could have. I should have.” Damen shut his eyes tightly, feeling tears prick at the corners but he refused to let them fall. “I should have realized.”
He leaned into Laurent’s touch as he opened his eyes once more. Laurent was so pale in the moonlight he nearly looked like an ethereal statue. “I love you.” He whispered against Laurent’s palm.
Laurent sighed and his lips twitched into a small smile once more. “I know.”
“Please don’t leave me.” Damen begged again as he held Laurent tightly to him. “I won’t survive.”
“Yes you will.” Laurent said, his voice breathy and faint. “You always have. You’ll move on without me. Just promise me you’ll be happy.”
“No. I’ll never be happy without you.” Damen shook his head fiercely. “You can fight this.”
“Not this time.” Laurent was fading fast and his eyes were closing. “I love you too.” He said, barely audible and then….
“How sad.” A voice interrupted and Damen looked up with anger blazing in his eyes.
“You!” He seethed, practically snarling out the word. “You did this! You can fix it!”
The enchanter held up his hands. “You were the one that didn’t say the vow to the right person. That was your mistake, not mine.”
Damen gently rested Laurent against a rock before he rose like an avenging angel from the water, his sights set only on the enchanter. “You will pay for what you have done.”
“And how do you expect to make me pay? Your fists?” The enchanter’s mouth quirked into a wry smile. “Against me?”
“You’d be surprised what I can do.” Damen stalked forward, dead set on killing this man. Only he didn’t get very far.
“As you wish.” The enchanter smiled cruelly and began to grow in size until Damen was standing in front of a large beast.
The beast let out a piercing screech and charged forward. Damen didn’t have enough time to get away and was instead thrown back into the lake. He came up sputtering only for the beast to sprout wings and pick him up by its large feet. He was deposited roughly on the earth, falling from 20 feet in the air. He was stunned, breath knocked out of him.
“Damen, you gotta get up.” Nik was suddenly in his ear and pulling him to his feet.
“Here, take this.” A man he had never seen before was thrusting a sword into his hand. He took it on instinct and searched the sky for the beast.
When it finally swooped low enough he waited until the last possible second before slashing its leg with the sword. It let out a wounded sound that tore right through Damen. He charged after it again, getting a few good swipes before he was knocked on his back once more.
It was useless but Damen didn’t care. He didn’t want to live in a world without Laurent anyways, but at least he could go out fighting Laurent’s killer.
He let out a groan of pain when the beast snapped its jaws and grazed his shoulder, making him twist away as much as possible. The beast let out another roar and suddenly it was gone. He backed away, sword out in front of him, eyes on the sky.
“Damen!” Nik yelled again and this time tossed him a bow followed by the quiver. He quickly grabbed both, dropping the sword. He strung the bow.
When the beast was back in his line of sight again, he waited as long as he could, letting the beast come to him.
When he let go of the bow string he knew his aim was true.
It was an almost heart-breaking sound. The sound of a dying animal and if Damen hadn’t known who had become the beast he almost would have rushed forward with regret.
But he knew who the beast was and he felt nothing but satisfaction.
He slumped a bit, letting the bow and the quiver drop to the ground as he stumbled back towards Laurent, bleeding from his wounds. As he turned, he saw the light envelop both Laurent and the strange man and then it was gone and Laurent sucked in a breath of air with a gasp and Damen’s eyes widened.
He ran forward, splashing through the water and coming to a stop next to the man he loved.
“Damen.” Laurent said simply, reaching out for him.
“I’m here.” He said, this time letting the tears fall from his eyes. He was sure that not even the stiffest person could stop the tears at this point.
“Damen.” Laurent said again with a sigh and Damen nodded, bringing Laurent close. “See, I didn’t leave.”
Damen let out a watery laugh and shook his head. “Let’s never do that again, alright?”
Laurent smiled softly. “I can agree to that.”
Laurent turned towards the man. He saw the way the sunlight hit the planes of Damen’s face making him look like something out of a scripture. He was silent as he turned back towards the view. “I miss my country but this is a good consolation prize.” He said, the corner of his mouth twitching as he attempted not to smile.
“That’s practically a song of praise coming from you.” Damen mused with an amused look. But then the man sighed and Laurent twisted his head. He saw the conflict on his face so he took Damen’s hand in his own, a small touch that said everything.
“What’s on your mind? You have me now. What could go wrong?” He said with a hint of sarcasm.
“Do I though?” Damen finally locked his gaze on Laurent.
“What do you mean?”
“You’re the heir to Vere. I’m the heir to Akilos. We can’t be married now.”
Laurent narrowed his eyes. “Says who?”
“All the rules in all the lands.” Damen’s tone turned bitter.
Laurent shifted so that his back was against the pillar and his knees were practically in Damen’s lap. “I didn’t think you were one to give up so easily. You didn’t with me despite me constantly refusing you.”
“Well you were worth it weren’t you?” Damen gave him a half smile.
“And are you saying this isn’t worth it now?”
Damen paused and looked out towards the kingdom that he would one day rule. “We’ve gone through so much, I would hate for it to be reversed just because we can’t rule side by side.”
Laurent looked out onto Akilos as well. “Who’s to say that we couldn’t?” He turned towards Damen. “Our kingdoms have peace. We’ve always had a strong alliance.”
Damen laughed and reached out to stroke along Laurent’s jaw. In the past he would have tensed and recoiled at the touch, too close for comfort but in this moment it felt right. It felt good.
He leaned into the touch, cocking his head slightly with an amused smile.
“Care to make something new?” He asked.
“With you? Anything.”
It was Laurent’s turn to laugh and he moved his body so he was leaning against Damen’s.
He thought back to their shared childhood. The times he thwarted Damen’s advances despite the way he started to feel towards the man who now held his heart. He supposed in a way this was how his life was supposed to go to lead him to this point. Without everything that had happened he wouldn’t be sitting next to Damen and he most certainly would not be looking towards their shared future.
Somehow they would make this work.
Until then he was happy to sit here watching the sunset across the lake, together.