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Unexpected Miracle

Chapter Text

 “For the last time, Narsus, I do not need a concubine!”

“But Daryun-”

The servants in the corridors winced as they heard the harsh voice of the king arguing with the Court Painter, Narsus, yet again. Everyone knew that the title of “Court Painter” was merely a facade; the king was best friends with him for a long time, and he served as a confidante and advisor to the king.

Inside the room, Daryun paced back and forth irritably, while Narsus stood in the corner of the room, hands folded across his chest as he watched his childhood friend struggling to come up with excuses to not marry.

 “Daryun, the ambassadors from Lusitania are already here.” Narsus commented dryly. “You better hurry up and dress. It would not do to keep them waiting.”

Daryun glared at Narsus, but eventually his gaze softened and he gave into his friend’s demands.

“Fine. But I’ll only agree to meet him. That, and nothing else.”

Narsus shook his head at his friend’s stubbornness. Knowing that this was the best compromise he could get out of Daryun, Narsus nodded and left the room to give the king privacy to don his robes.

The feud between their kingdom, Pars, and Lusitania went back almost a century. However, the casualties and damage to both their countries was immense, and thus a temporary truce was established.

 In order for peace to be permanent, it was agreed upon that the Crown Prince of Lusitania would be wed to the King of Pars to unite their kingdoms. The deal was made between the current king of Lusitania and the previous king of Pars, unfortunately, so Daryun had no prior knowledge of this.

Narsus understood that Daryun had a right to choose his life partner, but the alliance was the most efficient solution that would resolve the feud between the two nations. Narsus knew that no matter how much Daryun grumbled or threw violent tantrums, he always acted in the best interest of his people and would do anything to protect his country.

Besides… Narsus smirked as he walked along the corridors from the king’s chamber. At the very least, Daryun will marry a bride whose beauty is renowned over quite a few kingdoms.    

According to rumors, the Crown Prince was a gentle, compassionate person whose beauty exceeded even that of his own mother, the legendary Queen Tahamine. Thankfully, he did not appear to have inherited King Andragoras’ thirst for blood and meaningless violence, but one could never tell based solely on appearances.

Still, rumors are rumors. Narsus thought, as he rounded the corner and came face to face with the door of the throne room, where their visitors were. I’ll have to confirm them for myself.

                                                                                                                        ***

After Narsus left, Daryun grudgingly finished donning his kingly robes and tied his hair into its usual ponytail. He then went about polishing his weapons, paying extra attention to his battle spear. It was a memento passed onto him by the late King and his uncle, Vahriz.

Daryun shook his head to avoid walking down the memory lane. He has passed on, and all I can do right now is to respect his wishes and protect the country that he entrusted me with.

He then started off towards the throne room, where he knew Narsus and (Mithra forbid it) his future bride were waiting. Daryun slowed to a stop in front of the door as he heard voices. He raised an eyebrow as he identified Narsus’ voice and someone else laughing at whatever he was saying.

Curious, Daryun entered the room only to find himself speechless as he laid eyes on the most beautiful creature he ever saw in his whole life. Daryun did not notice Narsus smile knowingly at him – his eyes were only for his fiancé before him.

His hair and skin were pure white, like fresh snow falling from the heavens. His eyes sparkled like two sapphires, brightening every time he laughed and conversed with others. The Crown Prince was dressed in a simple white robe with a cerulean sash tied around his waist that brought out his azure eyes.

A simple gold band circled around his forehead, and an intricate necklace made of gold and diamonds adorned his neck. Around his ankles were silver anklets with little bells that tinkled pleasantly as he moved.

Daryun was mesmerized. He could only stand there dumbfounded as the Crown Prince took notice of his presence and stepped towards him. “I am honored to meet you, King Daryun.”

His voice was just as gentle as Daryun had imagined. A subtle nudge to his ribs by his smirking advisor brought back him to reality and he quickly composed himself.

 “And you must be the Crown Prince of Lusitania, yes?”

“Indeed, I am he. I am known as Arslan, King Daryun.” Arslan responded, a soft smile gracing his lips. Daryun did not know it yet, but it was in that moment that the king of Pars started falling in love with the foreign Crown Prince of Lusitania.

                                                                                                            ***

After all formalities were exchanged and introductions were over, Narsus directed the company to the great dining hall, where food and beverages were already prepared for their guests. On the right, Daryun, Narsus and other important figures of the imperial court of Pars were seated. On the left sat Arslan, as well as the ambassadors from Lusitania.

After all the plates and glasses were empty, and they had dined their fill, the discussion of the treaties began. Daryun sat back, content to let Narsus dominate the discussion and opted to just observe Arslan.

From what Narsus told him, Arslan was also forced into this marriage by his father, the fearsome King Andragoras. Daryun heard that although Arslan was the only child of the King and Queen of Lusitania, both treated him very coldly.

According to rumors, the King treated Arslan harshly and gave him more lectures than affectionate words, and the Queen was known for her indifferent attitude towards everything around her, including her husband and her son, both of whom craved her affections.

Daryun frowned unconsciously. Basically then, Arslan was nothing more than a pawn in politics to his parents. Despite the harsh environment he was brought up in, Arslan always managed to smile and appear cheerful. Even now, as Daryun contemplated him, Arslan was actively participating in the discussion, talking animatedly with a variety of people and seemed to be quite knowledgeable.

The sides of Daryun’s lips curved up a little. He rather enjoyed the way Arslan’s eyes brightened whenever he spoke with passion, and the way he held his ground even when he was under pressure. He also noticed that whenever Arslan appeared to be deep in thought, he would worry his bottom lip with his teeth and furrow his eyebrows slightly. Daryun thought it was rather endearing.

After two hours of barely-friendly debate between Narsus and the ambassadors representing Lusitania - it was no secret that Narsus hated King Andragoras and his views on politics, and he made sure to express his sentiments clearly by pointing out all sorts of faults in the proposed treaty – the sun was high in the sky, and both parties were exhausted.

Daryun ordered several of his attendants to direct the Lusitanians to their living quarters where they could rest for the remainder of their stay while he and Narsus made their way to the court room, where the usual mountain of work was waiting for them.

“So…” Daryun grunted as Narsus elbowed him, grinning. “Have you changed your mind yet?” Daryun glared at Narsus, rubbing his aching sides. If anyone but Narsus had dared to try that, they would be kindly escorted to the prison cell where they would be locked up for a day or two, depending on his mood.

“Do you really have to ask, you sly fox?” Daryun grumbled, with no real bite to his words. “Your face shows it all.”

If possible, Narsus’ grin became wider. “Ah, but I’m just confirming your feelings, old friend. Is the Crown Prince to your liking?” Daryun hesitated, mulling over his thoughts.

“He’s... not what I expected.”

“But of course! I bet you were expecting a rich, spoiled brat with a loud voice and annoying manners, weren’t you?” Narsus asked, already knowing the answer.

“Well, after a certain someone…” Daryun paused to glare at Narsus, who cocked his head to the side innocently, “Decided it was a good idea to play matchmaker and paired me up with a creature so vile, she still haunts my dreams, of course I was hesitant to meet Arslan!”

Narsus chuckled, holding up his hands as if to surrender. “Forgive me, my friend. I was so eager to find a partner for you that my judgment might have been clouded and I overlooked the more… disagreeable aspects of her personality.”

“You did that on purpose, didn’t you?”

“Of course not! Why would I purposefully torture the king I serve, the one who still fails to appreciate the splendor of my art?”

Daryun shook his head exasperatedly. Leave it up to Narsus to hold a grudge against him for insulting his work for three years straight and ongoing. It couldn’t be helped though. Narsus was gifted with an exceptional talent for devising stratagems of war and possessed an extraordinary amount of knowledge, but alas, nobody was perfect and Narsus seemed to be no exception, given his lack of talent as an artist.

Both men argued back and forth until they came to the doors of the court room. Daryun adopted his stern expression and composure benefitting the King of Pars, while Narsus molded himself into the epitome of the intelligent advisor and close confidante of the king. Then, both men entered the court room, fully prepared to carry out their duties in order to serve their kingdom.

Chapter Text

Arslan could not help himself from openly admiring his surroundings as he and his retainers walked through the corridors of the palace. Certainly, the palace back home in Lusitania was enormous in size, but the palace of Pars was far grander and contained so many things unknown to him.

“We have arrived, Prince Arslan.” Arslan was jolted out of his thoughts by the voice of one of the attendants. 

Arslan was somewhat surprised at first to see that the person who seemed to be in charge was a boy who looked like he was around his own age. The boy in question was brown-haired with beautiful green eyes and was dressed a bit differently than the other attendants.

“My thanks to you, um...”

“Elam is my name, Your Highness.” Elam supplied, head bowed respectfully. “Should you wish for anything, you only need to call on me and I will be there.” Arslan was a bit taken back by such formality for one so young, but he recovered and smiled warmly at him.

“I shall remember that, Elam.”

“Well then, please excuse us. We shall leave you now.”

Elam and the other attendants bowed and left Arslan and his retainers alone in their rooms. Arslan dismissed all of them, save for his two most trusted retainers, Farangis and Jaswant, before slumping on the nearest chair.

“You look tired, Arslan-denka. Shall we leave you alone to rest?” Farangis inquired, brows furrowed in concern for the Prince.

Farangis was a priestess of the Divine Mithra, and she had been with Arslan for many years now. The priestess was unmatched in beauty and in martial arts among her own; thus, she evoked jealousy and envy from many of her peers. Farangis was well aware of this, and chose to serve Prince Arslan of her own volition when the opportunity arose.

The temple of Mithra in which Farangis carried out her duties as a priestess was built on orders of the royal family on the Crown Prince’s first birthday and thus, the residents of the temple were in debt to Prince Arslan. Hence, when the will of the dying High Priestess was for someone to serve Prince Arslan, Farangis willingly volunteered.

Immediately afterwards, Farangis packed her belongings and departed the temple. Alone, she traveled over deserts, through mountainous regions, over lakes and rivers and bypassed many dangerous areas to get to Prince Arslan.

Even then, her timing was impeccable. Arslan had been kidnapped by an enemy soldier and Farangis arrived at the nick of time to let her arrow fly and sink into the enemy’s neck before rescuing Arslan. She had been Arslan’s most trusted companion ever since.

Arslan looked up at the priestess and shook his head. “Thank you for your concern, Farangis, but I still have energy left to keep me going for a while.” Farangis nodded, and excused herself to go prepare the usual herbal tea for Arslan to drink.  

“And Jaswant,” The dark-skinned man turned to look at Arslan as he spoke, “You are relieved of your bodyguard duties for today.”

“But Your Highness-“ Jaswant began but was cut off by Arslan. “Yes, Jaswant, I know what you are going to say, but you must be tired too after journeying such a great distance. Please get some rest.”

Jaswant looked like he wanted to argue further, but in the end, he made no objections and retreated to his own room. Arslan was surprised he gave in so easily, for Jaswant was quite stubborn when it came to his protection and the two often ended up bickering back and forth for long periods of time before one would give in.

 Still, it was reassuring to have such a loyal follower. Arslan smiled fondly, recalling the events which led to their encounter. A few years ago, the royal family of Lusitania was invited to the coronation of the new king of Sindhura, Rajendra, since Lusitania and Sindhura were allies. As King Andragoras was reluctant to accept the invitation, he sent Arslan as his proxy instead, along with several others.

So Arslan went, accompanied by Farangis. However, Arslan quickly discovered that it was a trap. The night after the coronation took place, Arslan was nearly poisoned to death by a venomous snake he found lying in wait for him in his bedroom. Farangis was outraged and immediately turned to the king to demand answers, but got nothing satisfactory.

The next incident occurred a few days later. Arslan and his retainers were given a tour around the capital city of Sindhura when an arrow was shot at Arslan. Fortunately, Farangis had been informed of this beforehand by the Djinn and was able to get Arslan to safety before chasing down and apprehending the culprit.

The culprit was none other than Jaswant. He had stubbornly refused to talk even when tortured and remained silent as a rock, piquing Arslan’s interest and resulting in Arslan’s desire to talk to Jaswant alone. Farangis had objected, worrying for the prince’s safety but Arslan smiled, and told her not to worry before entering the room that Jaswant was imprisoned in alone.  

Arslan’s heart ached as he gazed upon Jaswant’s still form in chains against the wall. Although he was an assassin that had tried to kill him, Arslan couldn’t bring himself to be wary of the man before him. His gut instincts told him Jaswant’s true nature was something else, and he was being forced to commit this crime for another person.

So Arslan began to talk. Jaswant was surprised to see the little prince from Lusitania, and even more surprised when Arslan treated him as a fellow human being, rather than an assassin who had come to kill him.  Still, Jaswant was tight-lipped, and it was not until the fourth day that Jaswant responded to Arslan.

Jaswant did not know why, but he confessed to Arslan that he was doing this not for the devious king of Sindhura, but rather for his foster father, the advisor to the king. Arslan listened earnestly. After surprising Jaswant by admitting that he too was an adopted orphan, Arslan freed Jaswant and allowed him to return to his father’s side.

Jaswant repaid this favor by informing Arslan of another planned assassination attempt and gathered enough substantial evidence that pointed at the Sindhuran king. Needless to say, Rajendra denied it vehemently, but it served to break down the truce between the two kingdoms.

Outraged, Rajendra turned on his advisor, Mahendra, and had him executed. Arslan found Jaswant weeping in front of Mahendra’s grave and as he could not bear to do so, invited Jaswant to accompany him as one of his bodyguards. After some persuasion, Jaswant reluctantly accepted, but he took his work very seriously and strived to protect Arslan with all his might.

Arslan’s thoughts were interrupted by a hand on his shoulder. He looked up to see Farangis standing over him, with a cup of aromatic tea in hand. “Arslan-denka, are you certain you do not want to retire to your bed? The banquet is still not for a few hours yet.”

Arslan shook his head and smiled reassuringly, waving Farangis’ worries away. “I am in good health, and besides, I want to explore the palace and familiarize myself with more people before the banquet begins.”

“Understood. Jaswant and I will accompany you. Shall I call for Elam?” Arslan chuckled at Farangis’ determined expression and knew it was pointless to argue further. “Yes, please do so.”

Chapter Text

“Alright, this should be enough for today. You are all dismissed.”

Daryun slumped into the throne while Narsus wrapped up the meeting and called an end to the torture that he had been enduring for four hours already. The topic of the discussion had been the progress of the construction of a new dam, but the nobles quickly veered off course and it had ended in mindless quarrelling and disaccord among the members.

“Your Highness, I understand that you are exhausted, but do endeavor to at least appear fully conscious before your loyal retainers.” Narsus remarked, eyeing the last of the nobles and generals trailing out of the room.

Daryun grunted but made no move to adjust his seating. Instead, he threw a hand over his eyes and breathed in deeply. “Drop the formalities, Narsus. You know as well as I do that today’s meeting was a complete waste of time.”

Narsus hummed, leaning against the wall and crossing his arms across his chest. “Well, this shouldn’t pose much of a threat. More importantly, Daryun, should you still be wasting your time here?”

Daryun frowned in confusion, not understanding Narsus’ implication. Narsus shook his head in resignation. “Halfway during the meeting, I received a report from Elam that His Highness wished to make himself familiar with the palace and its residents. Shall we join them?” Daryun’s eyes lit up in recognition, and he was on his feet in an instant, all traces of fatigue gone from his system.

“Where is Arslan, Narsus?” Daryun demanded, one foot already out the door. “No need to rush things, Your Highness,” Narsus chuckled as he joined Daryun at the door. “By now, Elam and His Highness should be resting in one of the gazebos in the royal garden. But before that, I suggest we make a quick stop somewhere.”

                                                                                                        ***

Elam guided Arslan around the palace, showing him various rooms and explaining their functions. The young prince was surprisingly attentive, and listened with genuine interest to what Elam had to say. Elam was slightly perturbed when Arslan turned out to be more outgoing than expected, if his endless barrage of questions was anything to go by.

Arslan also developed a habit of repeatedly trying to engage Elam in conversation, as if he was not just a lowly servant but a comrade of his. Most nobles he knew treated him as if he was one with the air, and only acknowledged his presence when they required something. This prince is an unusual one, Elam thought, as they walked through the rows of flowers in the royal garden.

“Your Highness, shall we take a break?” Elam inquired. “We have walked over quite a distance after all.” Arslan nodded his consent, and Elam led the party towards one of the gazebos, where they could rest and refresh themselves.

Soon, plates stacked full of food and ice-cold drinks were placed before them. Arslan tried to help, but reluctantly sat down at Elam’s insistence. So Arslan opted for observing Elam as he went about directing the attendants and tending to various tasks. Although they were around the same age, Elam seemed so much more reliable and knowledgeable.

“That is not true, Your Highness.” Arslan jumped at Elam’s response, not realizing he had spoken out loud. “I am but a lowly servant, while Your Highness has come to Pars bearing the whole of Lusitania on your shoulders. My existence cannot even begin to compare to that of Your Highness.”

“Don’t say that, Elam.” Arslan stood up abruptly, surprising both Elam and himself with the determination in his own voice. “Every single life matters. Rich or poor, noble or servant, everyone has the right to live the life they want to. Your class does not define who you are.”

Elam gasped as Arslan took his hand in his own and looked directly at him. “So please, don’t think so lowly of yourself.” Elam thought of pulling away, but he was taken aback by the genuine sincerity reflected in the prince’s eyes. It reminded him of his mentor, Narsus.

“I am most grateful for your kind words, Your Highness.” Elam bowed, subtly tugging his hand away from Arslan’s grip. Thankfully, Arslan seemed not to notice, but Arslan tugged Elam so that he was sitting next to Arslan, with Farangis and Jaswant looking on knowingly from a distance.

After several minutes of silence made uncomfortable by Elam’s staring, Arslan began to fidget. “What is it, Elam? Is there something on my face?” Elam’s brows furrowed as he struggled to come up with an appropriate response.

“Your Highness behaves… differently from the other nobles. I mean, in a better way, of course. In fact, I was reminded of Narsus-sama when I thought of you.” Arslan cocked his head to the side in puzzlement. “How so?”

“Well,” Elam clasped his hands together in his lap. “Most nobles wouldn’t even take notice of me or acknowledge my existence. And um, they don’t treat me as kindly as Your Highness does. Or like how Narsus-sama does.”

“If I remember correctly, Narsus is the renowned strategist and the right hand of King Daryun. How did you come to be under Narsus’ care?” Arslan asked Elam, curious as to how a man infamous for his misanthropic personality took on an apprentice.

“Narsus-sama saved my life.” The corners of Elam’s lips curved up slightly, as Elam recalled the day he first met Narsus. Arslan wondered at the rare sight, and prompted him to elaborate further.

Elam explained that he used to be a slave, and that he originally came from northern Pars, much to the prince’s surprise. In order to support his ailing father and disabled mother, Elam sold himself to a slave trader and used the money to support his family.

Working under the slave trader opened Elam’s eyes to the cruel reality of the world. He was forced to work from dawn till dusk, and he had to perform all sorts of tasks and chores. His daily meal consisted of scraps and leftovers, and his bed was nothing more than a pile of rags, on which he did not even get to sleep for more than a few hours each night.

The only thing that Elam took comfort in was that he was able to travel to foreign lands and experience many things previously unknown to him. However, that sole comfort was also taken from Elam too, as he ultimately was sold off to a wealthy nobleman in the capital city of Pars, Ecbatana.

There, things took a turn for the worse. Elam thought the slave trader he worked for was unreasonable, but his new master was abusive and frequently took out his anger on his slaves. No matter how hard Elam worked, he was always rewarded with heavy blows and stinging lashes of the whip.

At first, Elam gritted his teeth and endured it, but as the days dragged on, he found he could not take it any longer. So one night, Elam quietly packed the meager belongings he possessed and snuck out of the mansion of his master. His plan was to travel to the east, to Peshawar Citadel, where he would start anew as a freed person.

Alas, things did not go as planned. His master discovered his disappearance sooner than Elam had expected, and sent out soldiers to recapture him and bring him back. Elam knew he would sooner die than go back, for there was nothing but a slow and painful death waiting for him.

However, Elam was slowly running out of options. His food supplies were dwindling, and he needed to find a safe shelter for the night least his pursuers find him. Few people were willing to help a runaway slave, and he began to grow weary of running and living a life full of fear.

Just when Elam was about to lose hope and be captured, a hand reached out to him. It was no other than Narsus. As the king’s closest advisor, Narsus used his authority to save Elam from the clutches of his evil master and took Elam under his wing.

“… and thus, I have followed him ever since. If it were not for Narsus-sama, I wouldn’t be here today, alive and free.” Elam finished, a grateful smile on his lips. Arslan could only lay a comforting hand on Elam’s shoulder. “Thank you for telling me this, Elam. I sincerely appreciate it.”

Arslan might have said more, but he stopped, seeing two familiar figures in the distance. Both Arslan and Elam leapt to their feet as the two figures approached them. “Daryun-sama, Narsus-sama.” Elam greeted them, head inclined in respect.

“Our apologies for interrupting your conversation, Arslan-denka, Elam.” Narsus bowed slightly, not missing how close Arslan and Elam were standing next to each other. Elam blushed furiously and stuttered apologies, while Arslan just smiled and said it was no trouble at all.

“Might we join you?” Arslan turned to see Daryun stepping forward and presenting him with a bouquet of crimson flowers. “Of course, King Daryun.” Arslan replied, blushing slightly as he accepted the flowers. The fiery red petals seemed to glow brighter than rubies, and they gave off a pleasant scent that soothed Arslan as he breathed in.

“If you don’t mind me asking, what were the two of you conversing about?” Daryun asked, once the three of them were seated – Elam outright refused to sit and instead chose to stand nearby - around the circular table.

Elam’s cheeks reddened again as Arslan replied, “Elam was telling me how he met you, Narsus.” Narsus and Daryun shared a surprised look before Narsus leaned forward, resting his cheek on the palm of his hand. “Hmm…. as expected of Arslan-denka. You managed to get past our Elam’s tight defenses so easily.”

“It means that Arslan is someone whom Elam can confide in.” Daryun asserted, then elaborated: “Not many people can get Elam to open up in such a short amount of time.”

“I’m glad that Narsus was there to save Elam,” Arslan spoke, drawing everyone’s attention. “No person should be treated in such an inhumane way. In fact,” Arslan lowered his voice before continuing, “I greatly admire how both Daryun-sama and Narsus revolutionized the history of Pars by freeing all slaves. I believe that is the secret to the prosperity of Pars.”

“It is as you say, Arslan-denka.” Narsus remarked, a pleased expression on his features. “That is exactly why we abolished slavery. Meeting Elam only reaffirmed my determination to do so.”

“Indeed.” Daryun spoke, folding his arms across his chest. “I would be lying when I said I didn’t doubt the possibility of the proposal that Narsus brought to me, but my doubts were resolved and I agreed. It was hard getting the nobles to acknowledge the decree I sent out, but we succeeded in the end.”

“I see… if possible, Daryun-sama, Narsus, could you tell me more about how you managed to put this plan into motion?” Arslan asked. “I would very much like to follow in your footsteps and change Lusitania for the better.”

Daryun nodded his assent and smiled encouragingly while Narsus inclined his head slightly. “As you wish, Arslan-denka.” And thus, the trio talked long into the evening, discussing political matters and sharing their opinions with one another. Afterwards, they parted ways and proceeded to make haste in preparation for the banquet that night.

Chapter Text

Elam stood in front of a full body-sized mirror, trying not fidget as fabric after fabric was matched up against his body. When Narsus had called for him, Elam had dutifully abandoned his work and went to Narsus’s room. However, he was not expecting to be manhandled out of his outer garments and dragged to his current position in front of the mirror by Narsus himself.

Elam’s eyes flickered toward said master who was holding up a bluish-green robe and contemplating it. “This would certainly bring out your eyes…” Narsus mattered, one hand under his chin in deep thought. “And the emerald bracelets from before would match as well…”

“N-Narsus-sama, I can’t possibly accept these!” Elam spluttered, pushing the accessories and clothing away. “You’ve already given me so much, and I can’t even-” Narsus cut him off with a finger on his lips, smiling knowingly.

“That stubbornness is endearing, Elam, but there are times when one should know when to give up and accept what is offered.” Saying this, Narsus draped the bluish-green robe around Elam’s shoulders and began fastening a cerulean sash around his waist. Elam blushed, but put up little resistance.

After Narsus had finished, he stood back to admire his handiwork. Elam made such a pretty sight; the aquamarine cloth accented his fair skin, and the emerald jewels adorning his ears, neck and wrists only served to further bring out Elam’s natural beauty.

In addition, the pink dusting Elam’s cheeks was a perfect finishing touch. Had it been anyone else, Narsus would deem his/her behavior a farce, but he knew Elam was too simple-minded and too modest to even think of inventing anything deceitful.

“N-Narsus-sama…?” Elam’s voice interrupted his thoughts, and he was mildly surprised to discover he had breached the small amount of distance between them and his hand was now softly caressing Elam’s cheeks, which resembled a color akin to that of blazing fire.

A smile tugged at Narsus’ lips, and he withdrew his hand, only to brush away some trailing strands of hair that was falling in Elam’s eyes. Without looking at anywhere else but Elam, Narsus proceeded to speak. “How long are you going to sit there? I can’t imagine the chilly air of the night being that comfortable.”

Elam started, and whipped around to spot a red-haired man coming in through the window. “As expected of our master strategist,” the stranger replied, opting to sit on one of the more comfy sofas lying around. “You sensed my presence so quickly.”

“In any case, you are not one to talk.” Narsus turned, fully facing the newcomer. “How was it, Gieve? Any pieces of information worth reporting?”

Dressed in purple robes with a white sash around his head, the handsome young man known as Gieve inclined his head and tossed Elam a couple of scrolls. “There seems to be generally no trouble overall, but there are certain regions where conflict may be brewing.” Gieve reported, picking at the strings of a stringed-instrument he carried on his back. “I infiltrated the camps of those who may be involved and brought back some interesting pieces of information.”

Narsus reached for one of the scrolls and quickly scanned the contents, nodding in affirmation. “Good work, Gieve. I have no other assignments for you, so take a break for a while.” Gieve nodded, making no move to leave just yet.

“By the bye,” Gieve started, gently strumming his instrument. “I heard the Crown Prince of Lusitania is here. Is this true?” Elam nodded, albeit a bit cautiously. Gieve had a natural tendency to cause trouble whenever he went, after all. “So, strategist,” continued Gieve, eyes glinting in mischief. “I would like to see this prince for myself.”

Narsus sighed, but nodded. “I take it that you will return to your public profession as a musician?” Gieve grinned, and made a show of bowing graciously. “Well then, I shall take my leave.” And then he promptly left through the same way he came.  

***

By the time the sun had set, the banquet was in full swing. It was held in the renowned ballroom of Parsian Palace, which was decorated beautifully, with no expenses spared. A crystalline chandelier hung above, illuminating the room with the soft glow of candlelight. On the right were tables lined up with sweetmeats and refreshments from ten different countries.

A grand orchestra was situated on the left of the huge ballroom, playing sweet music that echoed throughout the whole room. Men and women danced to and fro on the floor, while the rest chatted amiably among themselves as they helped themselves to food. However, the thrones remained empty: the King and his Crown Prince had yet to make their entrance.

The people of Pars were curious about the Crown Prince, who had not shown himself in public. After all, the Crown Prince was to be wed to their beloved King of Pars, Daryun. Moreover, the Crown Prince was from Lusitania, formerly their enemy’s country. Although the truce was agreed upon by both nations, there were still some people who felt animosity towards the other country and wanted the truce to break down.

Suddenly, the entrance doors flew open. The music stopped playing, and the people stopped talking, for the person that walked in was none other than Daryun, their king. Beside him was Narsus, his closest advisor and best friend. The two of them looked stunning in their official robes, and Daryun looked every bit the strong and fearless King of Pars in his jet black clothing.

The people bowed low as the King and his advisor walked over to their respective seats. Daryun stood in front of his throne in all his kingly glory. Raising his hand, he signaled for his people to raise their heads. The people did so, curious as it why the doors were still open.

“People of Pars!” Daryun spoke, his deep voice echoing across the entire chamber. “Tonight, the nations of Pars and Lusitania have entered a truce. As you all know, this truce will be made permanent through the union of myself and the Crown Prince of Lusitania, Arslan.”

At this, people began to whisper and chatter amongst themselves. Daryun raised his hand, and once again the people fell silent. “I shall now introduce him to you all. Behold, Arslan, the Crown Prince of Pars!” As he spoke, Daryun extended his hand towards the doors, through which Arslan and his two attendants, Jaswant and Farangis walked through.

All eyes were trained on Arslan and his attendants. Arslan was dressed in robes of pure white, with only the barest hints of blue at the seams of his clothing. His hair was also tied back, and his azure eyes twinkled with every step he took. The people marveled at the beauty he possessed and the elegance that he seemed to exhibit so effortlessly.

Beside him, his two attendants were also outstanding in their own ways. With her flowing ebony hair and her beautiful jade-green eyes, Farangis captured the hearts of most men in an instant, including one red-haired musician/spy blending in the orchestra. Jaswant looked intimidating, with his dark skin and rippling muscles, and eyes that seemed to pierce into those who looked at him.

Arslan seemed to have eyes for no one but Daryun, taking his extended hand as he walked over to where Daryun was. Jaswant and Farangis both took their places behind their liege, heads bowed and arms clasped together. Daryun smiled at Arslan, making Arslan’s heart flutter. Arslan smiled back shyly, entwining their fingers together and squeezing them tightly.

“Go on, speak to them.” Daryun urged Arslan, tugging on his hand. Arslan nodded and stepped forward, still not letting go of Daryun’s hand. He took a deep breath, and began to speak. “Greetings, people of Pars. I am Arslan, the Crown Prince of Lusitania. I come from Lusitania bearing a treaty proposing a truce between our nations.”

Arslan swallowed nervously, but continued.

 “Much blood has been shed, and both sides have lost many brave soldiers and loved ones. Hence, in order to end this war, Daryun and I will seal the bond of marriage, effectively declaring the truce permanent.”

At this, the people cheered, voices raising in joy. Daryun stepped up beside him, holding a cup of wine in his hand. “To the peaceful and prosperous future of Pars!” Raising their own wine cups, the people chanted after him and afterwards drank their fill. “Then,” Daryun continued, “Let the banquet proceed!”

The orchestra took up their instruments, and soon music began to fill the ballroom. As per tradition, the King would exchange rings with his chosen one, and then dance together. Arslan blushed as Daryun took his hand and placed a gold ring with a fiery ruby stone on his finger. He then offered his hand to Arslan so Arslan could place an identical ring on his finger.

Once the exchange of rings was complete, Daryun knelt down before Arslan.

“May I have this dance, Arslan?”

 Arslan smiled warmly and accepted Daryun’s outstretched hand. The two of them made their way to the center of the floor, and proceeded to dance slowly, arms wrapped around each other.

Seeing the normally stoic king gaze at his fiancé so affectionately, the citizens of Pars gushed over the two of them, commenting on how lovely they looked together. Other pairs joined them, and soon the floor was full of couples, dancing and embracing one another.

“I’m glad that it went well,” Narsus whispered to Elam, who was by his side. “We took extra measures to deal with certain… annoyances, but I didn’t expect for things to go this smoothly.” Elam chuckled, and replied, “Of course, it is all thanks to you, Narsus-sama. If the banquet had not been arranged so perfectly, the people might not have accepted Arslan-sama so easily.”

Narsus smiled, patting the top of Elam’s head. “Good boy. You have earned a dance with this strategist, Narsus. Shall we?” Elam blushed bright red at Narsus’s outstretched arm, but he nodded rapidly and accepted his hand, heart pounding rapidly.

Meanwhile, Gieve was having no such luck. He had fallen for Farangis at first sight and was trying to approach her, but there was a huge crowd of men surrounding her. He grumbled, trying to think of ways to bypass the crowd, when all of a sudden, the crowd parted and Farangis walked through.

She spared not one glance at the men who surrounded her, her facial expression as cold as ice. However, this did not deter Gieve. Women like that are the ones that hide the most passionate of feelings, Gieve thought. I shall definitely make her fall for me! With that thought in mind, Gieve hurried off after Farangis.

“That Gieve… up to no good again, I bet...” muttered Daryun under his breath as he watched Gieve run after Farangis. Arslan laughed, as the two of them twirled around. “Farangis was always popular with men, after all. One more won’t make much of a difference.”

“Oh, I wouldn’t say that,” Daryun replied, an exasperated look in his eyes. “He gets really determined when he’s like that. So far, no woman has refused his advances. I worry for that retainer of yours, Arslan.”

“Well, I’ve never seen Farangis fall prey to men’s advances, so… They might actually make a good match?”

“I suppose so. Oh, is that Narsus I see over there?”

The two of them looked over to where Narsus was, dancing happily with Elam. Elam’s face was the shade of a bright red tomato, but he seemed elated at dancing with his beloved Narsus-sama. The corners of Arslan’s lips turned upwards as he observed Elam’s obvious happiness when he was with Narsus.

Unnoticed, Daryun watched Arslan’s expressions play out on his face. Arslan was always so expressive. His eyes always had this sparkle of life to them, and his smile seemed to be contagious, for Daryun found himself smiling contently. If this is what it is like to be in love, Daryun thought, then I should’ve met him a lot sooner.

And so, they danced the night away, holding each other affectionately and finding love in each other’s eyes. When the banquet ended, Arslan and Daryun parted, going their separate ways to retire for the night. Before they parted, however, Daryun pressed his lips to Arslan’s forehead softly, wishing him a goodnight.

 When Arslan finally reached his bed, he collapsed on it, exhausted but happy. He snuggled deeper into the sheets and wrapped them tightly around his small frame. Remembering the kiss, Arslan blushed. Daryun was such a kind and caring person, and as such, Arslan wanted to know more about him.

Tomorrow couldn’t come fast enough.  

Chapter Text

Gieve heaved a sigh. It was the next morning, and he was currently sprawled in his own bed. Normally he would be waking up with a beauty sleeping in his arms after such a night of merry-making, but things didn’t go as planned. Farangis was a harder catch than he thought.

Recalling last night’s events, Gieve sighed again. He had been so preoccupied with chasing after Farangis that he didn’t have time to seduce any other woman. And hence, for the first time in a long while, Gieve woke up in a cold and empty bed, all alone.

However, this only served as fuel to stoke the fire of Gieve’s passions. Farangis was a high-class woman – maybe the best of all women he had met so far, and that was saying something – and she had everything: beauty, grace, talent, class and status. Indeed, the cream of the crop, in Gieve’s own words.

Such a handsome and talented man like me couldn’t have gone unnoticed, thought Gieve. No woman could possibly resist my charms. His spirits raised, Gieve decided to find out more about this mysterious beauty who had captured his heart in an instant.

                                                                                                              ***

“There was a creep following me around last night.”

Farangis stated bluntly, in response to Arslan’s inquiry about the banquet last night. Arslan laughed nervously, remembering Daryun saying something about a certain red-haired musician following around his retainer.

“I’m sure he was just enraptured by your beauty, Farangis. He most likely meant no harm.”

“The Djinns were clamoring about whenever he came closer, Your Highness. I have confirmed he is at least trustworthy, given that he works in the palace, but there is something about him that irks me to no end.”

“A-Ah, I see. Jaswant, how was your evening?”

“I spent the whole evening looking for anyone that would try to harm you, Your Highness.”

Arslan turned to look at Jaswant in aghast. “Surely you do not mean you were on guard for the whole duration of the banquet?” The Sindhuran merely met his eyes and nodded once, stiffly. Arslan sighed exasperatedly, knowing how stubborn his retainers could be. They were too protective, almost to a fault.

“Pardon my question, Arslan-denka, but might I inquire after how your evening went?” Farangis asked, a smile forming on her lips. Red blossomed across Arslan’s cheeks, and he had to fight to keep himself from grinning ear to ear. “Oh, it was simply wonderful! Daryun-sama was so kind to me; he danced so gracefully, and talked to me all evening.”

“I see Your Highness had an enjoyable evening,” Farangis teased, knowing how shy Arslan could be. “If it is not too much trouble, might I ask after King Daryun? I am most curious about him.”

Jaswant also nodded in affirmation. “I have heard of him in my country. He was nicknamed ‘The Black Knight’ before he was crowned king due to his military prowess. I wish to spar with him at least once.”

Arslan wondered at Jaswant’s words. Jaswant was normally quiet, and never spoke more than a few words. For him to take an interest in King Daryun before he was crowned king, and to speak so highly of him… King Daryun must be an amazing and talented person, thought Arslan.

“King Daryun is renowned for being strong, fearless and wise; however,” Farangis glanced at Arslan. “Rumors also say he is a cold and intimidating person, and that he cares for nothing outside his duties as a king…”

“That is not true!” Arslan exclaimed, startling both Farangis and Jaswant. “King Daryun is nothing like the rumors say. He is most kind and caring. He always has a gentle smile on his face, and is always polite even though he doesn’t have to be. And also-”

Arslan would’ve rambled on, but at the sight of the smiles on the faces of his retainers, he quickly stopped, face quite red due to embarrassment.

“I see Your Highness has quite a favorable opinion of him.” Farangis spoke up, a sly smirk on her face. “Indeed, the Djinn have told me King Daryun is a good person, but I do not know much about him. Would Your Highness be so kind as to enlighten us?”

“You are just attempting to make me inform you of our interactions, are you not?” Arslan grumbled, muttering under his breath. Unfortunately for him, both Farangis and Jaswant had excellent hearing, and the expectant looks on their faces finally caused Arslan to cave in.

He coughed, clearing his throat. “W-Well, when we first met, I myself did think he was somewhat cold, but I realized he was just a man of few words.” Arslan paused, thinking back to the discussion of the treaties that he had brought with him from Lusitania. “King Daryun is most passionate when it comes to his country and his people. I greatly admire his valor and resolve with which he carries out his duties.”

Arslan didn’t notice Farangis and Jaswant exchanging glances as he continued. “Daryun-sama is not only skilled in physical battles, but also quite adept at politics. Just the other day, Daryun-sama and Narsus were explaining to me how they managed to abolish slavery in Pars.”

“Oh?” Farangis’s interest was piqued, as well as Jaswant’s. “And what does Your Highness think of it?” They were both wondering the same thing: would Arslan advocate abolishing slavery or not?

Brows furrowed, Arslan seemed to be deep in thought. He thought slavery was necessary, in order for Lusitania to prosper. However, King Daryun and Narsus managed to abolish slavery, and instead of weakening, Pars was more prosperous than ever. Maybe he too, could..?

“…Arslan… Arslan-denka… Arslan-denka!” Arslan snapped back into reality as Farangis shook him free from his thoughts. Noticing the looks of concern on the faces of his retainers, Arslan gave an embarrassed chuckle. He was not even aware of when and how long he had spaced out.

“I’m alright, Farangis, Jaswant.” Arslan tried to reassure Farangis and Jaswant, who still had doubt in their eyes. “Thank you for your concern, but I’m fine.” Farangis huffed a sigh. “If Your Highness says so…”

Just then, someone knocked on the door. Farangis and Jaswant immediately adopted serious demeanors as Arslan’s bodyguards, and Arslan quickly strived to right himself. “Who is it?” The attendant guarding Arslan’s room spoke up. “King Daryun has come, Your Highness.”

D-Daryun?! Arslan’s heart leapt in his chest, and he tried to resist the blush that was surely staining his cheeks as he stood up hastily. Why is the King himself coming to my room? Arslan’s train of thought was cut off as Daryun entered the room.

When their eyes met, Daryun gave a warm smile that made Arslan’s heart flutter. In his hand was another bouquet of rosy flowers, which he presented to Arslan. “Good evening, Arslan. I trust you have been well-rested after all that dancing last night?”

Arslan accepted the flowers, blushing as he did so. “Of course, King Daryun. I slept most pleasantly last night.” Arslan paused, speaking his next words with hesitation. “If I may say so, Your Highness, might I inquire as to what brings you here?”

“Hmm? Am I not allowed to see my beloved bride-to-be?” Daryun teased playfully, enjoying Arslan’s obvious embarrassment. Arslan spluttered, not knowing what to reply to Daryun’s words. Had Arslan looked up, he would’ve found mirth dancing in Daryun’s eyes, but he was too shy to do so.

“Don’t you think you should go easy on him, Daryun? Arslan-denka seems to not have gotten used to you yet.”

Narsus strolled into the room with Elam by his side. Narsus bowed slightly, greeting Arslan, and Elam did the same. “Forgive our king, Your Highness. Since he has limited human interaction, he tends to go overboard when he finds someone worth talking to.”

“Why you…” Daryun leveled a glare at Narsus. “Says the hermit who does nothing but producing and tossing away bad paintings!” At this, Narsus’s eyebrow twitched, although he still maintained a serene expression on his face.

Arslan wondered at the sight before him. He had heard rumors of Daryun and Narsus being more than just king and retainer, but to openly bicker like this, without any restraint… And furthermore, in a room with four other people… Narsus must indeed be a very close friend of the king.

Arslan chuckled slightly, finding Daryun’s childish side adorable. Elam walked over to him and whispered: “Whenever they start to argue, it goes on for quite a while. I apologize for my masters’ behavior, Arslan-denka.” Saying so, Elam bowed deeply.

Narsus and Daryun both must’ve noticed Elam, for they stopped bickering abruptly. Daryun coughed in embarrassment, while Narsus bowed, “I apologize for this unseemly display, Arslan-denka. It’s just that this insufferable man,” -Narsus glared sideways at Daryun as Daryun shoved an elbow in his ribs- “Seems hell-bent on insulting my artistic skills. I cannot let this slide, you see. My pride as an artist will not let me do so.”

Daryun shuddered. “You mean to say you are actually proud of those… terrible, god-forsaken paintings?”

“Now look here, our beloved King of Pars, Daryun-sama.” Narsus mockingly praised Daryun. “You would make a good king if not for your lack of appreciation of art. Like the ones I draw!”

Elam cleared his throat, feeling very embarrassed at the way the two Parsians argued back and forth, not caring that they had an audience. “A-Anyways,” Daryun began, clearing his throat once more. “I digress. My original plan was to invite you to join me for lunch in the gardens, Arslan. However, thanks to a certain fraud artist’s unwanted intervention…”

Said artist snorted at the comment, but refrained from saying anything. Arslan laughed, surprising all the occupants in the room. “I was not aware of how close Daryun-sama and Narsus were. And of course, I would love to join you, Daryun-sama.”

Daryun’s heart skipped a beat, and he briefly wondered if he should consult the royal physician. Ever since Arslan arrived at Pars, he had been a constant part of Daryun’s everyday life, and it wasn’t working wonders for his heart. If not for Narsus’s finger harshly poking his back, Daryun thought he might’ve stared at Arslan for hours.

“A-Ah. Then, I’ll look forward to our lunch together, Arslan.” Beside him, Narsus and Elam were shaking their heads exasperatedly, no doubt at his lack of eloquence. Arslan bowed, stifling a chuckle. “As will I, King Daryun.” And with that, Daryun was hurriedly ushered out by Narsus and Elam before he could embarrass himself any further.

The doors slammed shut, and the remaining three occupants of the room were left in silence, each mulling over what they had just seen. Arslan could not get the bickering out of his head. Farangis was stunned at how relaxed the king and his advisor were in front of them Lusitanians. Jaswant was in a daze, secretly happy to have met the ‘Black Knight’ whom he so admired.

Farangis was the first one to break the silence. “Well,” she stated, looking at Arslan and Jaswant. “Maybe King Daryun will play the role of the housewife, after all.”

Arslan and Farangis then simultaneously burst into laughter, tears appearing in the corners of their eyes. Even Jaswant managed an amused smile and a chuckle. “Arslan-denka,” Farangis managed between bouts of laughter, “I wish to hear you bickering with King Daryun like that one day…” Arslan laughed harder, shaking his head. “Oh no, Farangis… I am quite positive I shall never reach Narsus’s skills in that particular matter…”

The muffled laughter of the occupants inside could be heard by the three males standing outside the room. Daryun stiffened, not knowing whether to be pleased at the sound of Arslan’s laughter or to take offense at the fact that he was laughing at his expense. Narsus and Elam were looking at anywhere but Daryun, shoulders shaking with great effort to conceal their own laughter.

“Old friend… I see we have a lot to work on.” Narsus grinned at Daryun, patting his back. “Even the King of Pars cannot be perfect, yes? To think you lack the skills necessary to court your own bride…” Narsus tried to disguise the chuckle that escaped his lips as a cough, trying very hard not to meet Daryun’s eyes.

Daryun huffed and turned away, folding his arms across his chest. “Yes, yes. Feel free to laugh away, Narsus. As if your courting skills are any better…” Narsus raised an eyebrow at the jibe. “Oh ho? Allow me to enlighten you, Your Highness. Both back in the old days of the Academy and now…”

Elam sighed, having heard of this story multiple times before. Narsus would boast of his popularity among women, and Daryun would insult his artistic skills. The two could go on for days, so Elam decided to intervene.

“Pardon me, Daryun-sama, Narsus-sama…” Both men stopped arguing, and turned to look at him. “Daryun-sama, if you do not hurry, you will never make it to the lunch with Arslan-denka. And Narsus-sama, I believe you have a personal appointment with the Lord of Ishyla…” Daryun would’ve liked to continue arguing with Narsus, but Elam was right. Arslan was more important.

“We’ll settle this later, Narsus.”

“Anytime you wish, Your Highness.”

The two men then parted ways, leaving Elam along in the middle of the hallway. Since I have nothing better to do, thought Elam. Might as well go help with the preparations for lunch. And then he too, went off to fulfil his own duty.  

Chapter Text

Arslan hummed happily as he arranged the flowers Daryun gave him into a vase half-filled with water. Thinking of the dark-haired king made his heart flutter; he was acting like a love-struck teenage girl, and that would not do. Oh, but Daryun was so different from what he had first expected.

In fact, Arslan had not expected his stay in Pars to be filled with such happiness and merry-making. A shadow hung over his face as he thought back to when he was still in Lusitania, preparing to leave for Pars. Farangis and Jaswant had dutifully stayed by his side the whole time, but his parents had not even spared a moment of their time to bid him farewell.

It was almost as if they were glad he was leaving.

Sighing bitterly, Arslan wandered over to his bed and promptly threw himself onto it, burying his face into the soft pillows. All his life, he felt like he was a burden to his parents. His father always found fault in every single thing he did, and his mother never seemed to take even the slightest interest in him. Sometimes, Arslan wondered if he was to blame. If his efforts were not enough, if he wasn’t trying hard enough to live up to his parents’ expectations.

It hurts. Arslan’s chest felt inexplicably tight, and he felt suffocated. I wonder if Father and Mother will miss me? Almost immediately, Arslan banished the thought. As if they would, seeing as how they couldn’t even be bothered to send him a single letter during his travels abroad. Arslan pulled the sheets tighter around him and eventually succumbed to the lull of sleep, tears making their way down his cheeks.

In his grief, Arslan failed to notice a pair of eyes observing him through his bedroom window.

                                                                                                                        ***

Holding a tray full of steaming cups of tea and a teapot, Elam carefully nudged the door open with his foot and slipped soundlessly inside. A smile tugged on his lips as his eyes laid on a certain strategist sleeping soundly over a pile of papers on his desk.

Elam frowned in confusion as his eyes swept over the rest of the room. He was positive that a meeting was taking place – hence the teacups – but it seemed as though the meeting ended early. Either that, or Narsus made up another ‘urgent situation’ to drive the officials away.

Elam was willing to bet his entire month’s salary on the latter.

Moving silently so as not to disturb Narsus, Elam placed the tray he was holding on the edge of the desk and paused. Elam did not have many chances to observe his master’s sleeping form without being unnoticed, so he took his time to savor the moment.

Narsus was, undeniably, a handsome man.

He had beautiful purple eyes that sparkled like two round amethysts, framed by long, silvery eyelashes. A few strands of equally silvery hair hung above Narsus’s eyes, and Elam’s fingers twitched with the urge to brush them aside.

As he had done so countless times, Elam thanked the gods above for interweaving his fate with Narsus’s together. Ever since he met Narsus, things changed completely, for the better. Elam was given freedom and safety, two things he never would’ve dreamed of when he was still a slave. Elam was truly grateful to Narsus, and thus he had taken it upon himself to serve him until (Mithra forbid it) Narsus decided he no longer needed him.

Feeling a pang in his chest at the thought, Elam sighed inwardly. That, and the not-so-subtle fact that he was harboring feelings of attraction towards his savior.

It was wholly inappropriate.

They were too far apart in many ways, such as age and class status. Indeed, Narsus was ‘way out of his league’, as Gieve would have phrased it. Even if Narsus returned his feelings, their relationship would never work out. It would be looked down upon, and Elam refused to do anything that would tarnish Narsus’s reputation.

It was agony for him, to be so close to the one he admired and yet, unable to do anything but restrain himself from acting on his feelings. Elam smiled, though with a hint of sadness this time. If it was for Narsus-sama, he could do anything.

Even if it meant crushing any hope he still harbored inside himself.

                                                                                                                        ***

Lost in his own thoughts, Elam failed to notice the slight twitch of Narsus’s hand that signaled he was awake. Unknown to Elam, Narsus had been awake the moment Elam had stepped inside his office, but he had feigned sleep just to see what Elam would do.

An amethyst-colored eye peeked out from a half-closed eyelid, observing Elam’s facial expressions and behavior. At first, it was amusing to see Elam’s exasperated smile directed at him. Oh yes, his dear valet knew him all too well. Whatever would Narsus do without him?

Even with his eyes closed, Narsus could feel Elam’s gaze on him. Instinctively, he knew that this wasn’t the usual, so he made sure to stay still and instead use his other senses. Narsus picked up on Elam’s hitched breathing. Oh? Has Elam finally acknowledged his own feelings?

When Narsus could not sense anything else, he decided to crack his eyelid open and risk being found out by Elam. He had no cause for concern, however, as Elam’s gaze was directed elsewhere. Then, Elam smiled again, but Narsus could sense the tinge of sadness that accompanied it.

For some reason, that did not agree with Narsus at all. He unconsciously frowned, disliking seeing Elam in pain. Forgetting that he was still supposed to be asleep, Narsus reached out to gently touch Elam’s chin and figure out the source of Elam’s distress. However, his action all but prompted Elam to jump almost a feet and to backpedal until there were at least 3 feet between them.

“N-N-N-Narsus-sama?!” Elam’s eyes were wide, and Narsus would’ve found the sight comical had he not been too concerned about Elam’s wellbeing. “I-I had no idea you were awake!”

Narsus simply shrugged. “I am awake now. Let us move on to more important matters. Tell me Elam, what is causing you pain? Is there anything I can do to ease it?” Elam looked bewildered until Narsus clarified. “Do not attempt to deceive me; I clearly saw you in pain just now.”

Elam tensed, his spine straight and his shoulders stiffened. The movement did not escape Narsus’s keen eyes, and only served to confirm his earlier observation. Crossing his arms, Narsus waited for Elam to answer.

“So, what is it? Or rather…” Elam struggled to remain composed as Narsus suddenly leaned forward, eyes narrowing in realization, “… who is it? Who is hurting you?”

Inside his head, Elam chuckled at the statement. How ironic. If only Narsus-sama knew… Outside his head, Elam was stiff as a board, his expression frozen in place. Nay, perish the thought! Narsus-sama must NOT know!

Elam bit his bottom lip, praying to all the gods he knew for help. Narsus raised an eyebrow, contemplating him. It seems Elam was hiding something from him. Very well, he would let it go for the time being…

Before either of them could do anything, however, a knock on the window sounded. Both heads turned rapidly to the source of the sound. “Yo!” Gieve raised a hand in greeting, grinning sheepishly. “Looks like I came at a bad time. Did I interrupt anything?”

Narsus and Elam glanced at each other, their responses perfectly identical.

“Not really.”

Gieve eyed the two of them, not fooled in the slightest. However, this will have to wait. He had an important message to deliver, after all.  

“I hope not, because we all have been summoned by our king, Daryun.”

                                                                                                                        ***

Meanwhile, Daryun paced back and forth in his room, agitated by his conversation with Jaswant. He had secretly summoned the Sindhuran guard to discuss Arslan’s security in detail. Jaswant had reported that he felt a malicious presence at the ball the night before, and that it seemed to linger on the Crown Prince, although he could not pinpoint the exact source.

Daryun growled, enraged at the idea that someone was harboring ill intentions against his beloved. He quickly sent Jaswant back to Arslan’s side, and called for Gieve, tasking him to get Narsus. As if summoned by his thoughts, Narsus burst through the doors with Elam and Gieve at his heels.

“I heard from Gieve. Arslan-denka is being threatened?”

A stiff nod from Daryun and a glance of his clenched fists were all the confirmation Narsus needed. Elam could almost see the wheels inside Narsus’s mind turn furiously as he devised a plan to get rid of the intruder as quickly as possible.

“Daryun, we’re going to draw them out, whoever they are. Here’s how we’re going to do it…”

                                                                                                                       ***

“….nka….denka... Arslan-denka!”

Blearily, Arslan opened his eyes and looked around. Farangis was sitting on the edge of the bed with a worried expression on her face. Arslan blinked slowly, not understanding what Farangis wanted with him.

“Yes, Farangis?” Farangis shook her head in exasperation as Arslan yawned and stretched. Clearly the young prince had forgotten all about his date with King Daryun. Inwardly, Farangis chuckled as she imagined how the prince would react once he realized his mistake. In 3, 2, 1…

The shriek of pure panic filled the room, followed by Farangis’s laughter. Arslan looked absolutely horrified, eyes wide and jaw hung open. “What in Mithra’s name have I done?! Daryun must be furious at me!”

Farangis continued to laugh harder, ignoring Arslan’s panicking completely. The latter stared at her, confused and agitated. “Farangis, this is no laughing matter! Daryun himself invited me to eat lunch with him and I slept through it!”

This only triggered another bout of laughter, and by the time Farangis managed to regain her composure, Arslan was all but ready to tear his hair out.

“Worry not, my liege.” Farangis reassured Arslan, “Daryun-sama came by a while ago to check up on you, and decided to postpone his meeting with you by a few hours.” At Farangis’s words, Arslan let out a breath he did not realize he was holding, and slumped against the headboard of his bed.

“Would it kill you to tell me that sooner?” muttered Arslan under his breath, but Farangis heard it all the same and shot an apologetic glance towards him. “I apologize, Arslan-denka. If it makes you feel any better, Daryun-sama has expressed his wishes for you to join him on his evening patrol in the city.”

Immediately, Arslan’s eyes lit up. “I would love to! Hurry, Farangis, I mustn’t keep him waiting this time!” Farangis smiled fondly at the prince dashing about, and proceeded to aid him. When Arslan was finally deemed presentable, he set off briskly towards where Daryun was waiting for him, with Farangis and Jaswant in tow.

None of them noticed the figure hiding in the shadows, watching them silently.