It was raining outside, and the warframe that had stood in his living room just moments ago had left a small puddle on the floor.
Every civilian would have made sure to dry themselves before having an audience with one of the highest ranking nobles in the state, but warframes were different. They had their mission and their mission only on their processors, and small things like rain were only noted as logistical obstacles.
He should have been calling a servant to clean it up, instead he was watching the puddle as if it held all the secrets of Praxus.
Before the Civil War, he wouldn’t have cared what kind of message a dripping warframe carried, he would have chastised him for being wet, dirty and improper. He would have made it a point to mention that the floor was two generations old and expensive and that the warframe was ruining it right now.
It felt like a lifetime ago, instead it had been barely been 17 vorns.
He hadn’t known warframes then and, if he was truthful with himself, he had always been a little bit afraid of them. They were bigger, better armoured and no matter who he was, they could take him down. His brother, the second heir, had told him about their loyalty and once, when they had both drunk too much, he had confessed that he thought a friendship with a warframe was worth more than with a noble.
He had argued with his brother harshly then, and only now, far too many vorns later, he regretted it. Maybe he should visit his brother’s resting place, just to tell him that he understood now. That he still wasn’t friends with them, but now understood the worth of their loyalty and the treachery of nobles. And that he appreciated the price of peace, now that he knew the scourge of war.
Who would have thought that 17 vorns could change so much. They have all been humbled.
“Was it a message from the Grand Duke?” asked a soft voice from behind him.
Lord Clearwater turned away from the puddle, towards his bondmate who stood in the doorframe. “Yes.”
His bondmate’s blue and silver doorwings gave an agitated switch before settling again. He moved into the room, took a look at the puddle then at Clearwater. “He sent a warframe. Is it another emergency?”
Another catastrophe? Another war? Will you have to leave yet again to maybe never come back? The questions remained unspoken. Raindrop was far too self-controlled to express such weaknesses. But through their bond he could feel them, the echoes of his bondmate’s fears.
Slowly he shook his helmet. “I do not think Lord Prowl has yet understood that most rulers send envoys instead of soldiers,” he answered drily. “As is the case here, it was just… a message.” Even as he spoke this, it felt like a lie.
The bond cleared of the tendrils of fears and bloomed with curiosity and a softer kind of concern. Raindrop gave him a look that clearly said that his feeble attempts at deflection weren’t welcomed. “Love, I might not enjoy the political functions as much as you do, but I am not stone-sparked. I felt your disquiet in the gardens.”
His bonded had always had an attitude that cut right through to the problem with a smile and a tongue sharper than a blade. As much as he loved to watch having that characteristic turned against other mechs, especially their own creations or other nobles, it was sometimes inconvenient to find himself in the line of fire.
Lord Clearwater’s gaze wandered again to the innocent puddle. Loyalty, duty, sacrifice, that was the trinity that ultimately ruled a warframe’s spark. They were created and raised in it, their upgrades and programs supported it, and they fought and died for it. Second heirs were in those aspects the same. Different stock and different upgrades, but in the end… very much the same.
Even if the second heirs became prime heirs and rulers that didn’t change anymore.
He looked back to Raindrop, who was patiently waiting for an answer.
“His Highness just saw it fit to inform me that he has taken my advice to spark and will search for a compatible bondmate,” he said and watched as the first reaction of his bonded was relief, followed by distanced fondness.
Raindrop hadn’t met the young Grand Duke often since the calamity of the old Grand Dukes’ assassinations 17 vorns ago, but he had learned more than enough of him through Clearwater’s stories and their spark bond. “But that is good, isn’t it? A bit of romance might distract Lord Prowl from the empty Palaise and with a bondmate he could even fill it again with life.”
“Yes.” Lord Clearwater sighed.
Raindrop touched his arm. “I am missing something, aren’t I? What have you done, Clearwater?”
“I also told him to bond with the highest compatible mech available.” He paused, then added the damning words: “No matter what.”
For a single stunning astrosecond their bond fell empty, Raindrops green optics simply staring at him.
“You didn’t,” said his bondmate flatly.
“I did.” Sacrifice and self-sacrifice. Like so many in this war. Like his brother.
The feelings between them rushed back, a maelstrom of distress, alarm and wrongness.
“But…,” his bondmate said, touching the plate over his own spark. “What if they are merely compatible in numbers and not in character? It would be a loveless bond, or worse, a forsaken one!”
Lord Clearwater pressed his lips together. “Lord Prowl is strong and a second heir. He will survive and create heirs. Even if it hurts and it cuts him open inside again and again.”
Raindrop shook his helmet. “But for what? He could be trapped for all eternity. Even after death…” He shuddered.
“For us!” answered Lord Clearwater, maybe a bit more harshly than necessary. “For Praxus. For the safety and happiness of every single Praxian alive.”
“Are we truly that desperate now?” Raindrop whispered. “That much afraid of an unknown future?”
“No!” Lord Clearwater snapped, flaring his doorwings.
Raindrop gave him an unimpressed glance. “No? Then what is this?”
“Advice. Good advice as well, if his Highness wants what is best for Praxus. It is still Lord Prowl’s choice.” And it always would be.
“He isn’t even 250 vorns old yet,” Raindrop pointed out. “Even our youngest is a few dozen vorns older and just last vorn you cautioned him to bond, at the earliest, after fifty vorns of being oath-sworn and if his love is unshakeable.”
It was true. Clearwater looked away, and only saw the puddle again. Loyalty and sacrifice. “I know,” he finally said. “But Praxus needs heirs, and all that stands between us and anarchy and maybe even worse is Lord Prowl’s spark, now that Prince Smokescreen has left.”
“He might return,” Raindrop said softly.
“Maybe,” he acknowledged. “But will he be strong and old enough then, if the worst happens? Many nobles within Praxus and beyond only accept Lord Prowl because he has shown beyond any doubt his right to rule. A weaker ruler…” He shook his helmet. “We can’t risk it.”
Raindrop said nothing for a long while, only stepping into his bondmate’s spark field. Lord Clearwater felt the warmth of his other spark nearby and relaxed. Between them the bond sang with love eternal, with trust and loyalty and unity.
“In the end,” Raindrop said slowly, carefully, “the third Prime decree says bonds must not be forbidden nor forced. It will be solely up to his Highness and that is only right.” He touched Lord Clearwater’s arm. “Whatever else happens, you have given your advice and I think you shouldn’t meddle anymore.”
The words eased Clearwater’s spark and processor, and he nodded. Murmuring his thanks to his bondmate, he took his hand with the suggestion they retire.
As they moved past the brown, muddied puddle, Lord Clearwater once more gave a thought to his mate's counsel, and he couldn't help but conclude that Raindrop was correct. There was nothing more he could do. Or perhaps should do.
Hopefully, the search would be swift and lead to a worthy mech. Praxus and its Lord deserved a bit of luck.