“Eevee, no! Eevee, come back,” Laurent said. He shifted, and slipped one foot out of a stirrup.
Auguste lifted his hands to keep Laurent seated when his younger brother tried to squirm out of his saddle. “Laurent, he’ll be fine. Stay there. Leafeon, go watch him.”
Leafeon trilled, and vanished after the small pup into the undergrowth. Laurent made a despairing noise, and Auguste smiled, soothing a hand down his back. “Eevee will be fine. We will wait here until they return.”
“What if he doesn’t come back,” Laurent said.
“Eevee likes you. He will come back,” Auguste said. He waited, one hand resting easily on Ponyta’s rump. Still growing used to the saddle, and the weight of carrying a rider, Ponyta shifted restlessly. Auguste ran his hand along Ponyta’s neck, and Laurent mimicked him a few moments later.
The grass rustled, and Auguste looked towards the motion to see Eevee and Leafeon trot into view. Leafeon held his head high with a smug air about him, and Auguste grinned. He bent down, scooped Eevee up, and deposited the pup in Laurent’s lap. Laurent grabbed Eevee up and held him close, almost too tightly.
“Don’t run away again,” Laurent said. Eevee yipped, and snuggled in close to his trainer. His over-fluffy tail covered Laurent’s entire front.
“Is he all right?” Auguste asked. “Check his paws.”
Laurent unlatched his arms from around Eevee and held him out by the scruff. With one hand he carefully and studiously inspected each of Eevee’s four paws, and then he ran a quick hand up the soft fur of Eevee’s belly. “No. He’s fine.”
“Let him get comfortable and then take the reins,” Auguste said. Laurent helped Eevee arrange himself and picked up Ponyta’s reins.
Auguste walked beside Ponyta as Laurent guided the horse through the forest on uneven ground. Ponyta weathered the ride, stepping with certainty even if Laurent was still learning. They would grow together, and they would learn together. Auguste looked forward to it.
Laurent stared at his hands on the reins, and then his head jerked up. He tugged too hard on the bit, and Ponyta halted with an irritated grunt. Auguste rested a hand over both of Laurent’s. “Gentle. He is a being, just like you.”
“Do you hear that?” Laurent asked. He peered into the forest behind Auguste, and Auguste turned, a hand on his sword.
“What do you hear?”
“It sounds like… singing,” Laurent said. When Auguste glanced at him, he was startled to see Ponyta and Eevee both looked in the same direction as Laurent, and all three had a frighteningly intense look on their faces.
“Do you not hear it?” Laurent kicked out of his stirrups, and this time Auguste did not stop him. Laurent turned to Ponyta. “Stay here.”
The horse shook his fiery mane and lowered his head to nose at the moist ground. Laurent gripped Eevee close to his chest as he pushed past Auguste and into the thick undergrowth.
“Laurent!” Auguste trudged after him, pushing branches and huge leaves out of his way. “Laurent, stay with me please.”
“I have to find it,” Laurent said. He was smaller, and able to squeeze around obstacles easier than Auguste.
“Leafeon, stay with him. I’ll be right behind,” Auguste said. Leafeon bounded ahead, his green tail blending in with the heavy brush. Auguste kept his eyes pinned on the back of Laurent’s head as his brother scrambled through the forest. He caught up when Laurent came face to face with a small rock wall. Laurent stared up at it, a pinched expression on his pale face. “Are you done?”
“It’s coming from up there,” Laurent said. Auguste stared at the pile of rocks. It led into a cave.
“We can’t go in there.”
Laurent set Eevee on the ground, and the little squirt hopped up onto the rocks. Auguste grabbed for Laurent, but Laurent was out of his reach and following his Eevee up the rocks, letting Eevee pick the safest path.
“Damn.” Auguste scrambled up after him, and by the time he made it to the top, Laurent was entering the cave. “Laurent! Stop this instant.”
Laurent, to his credit, did stop. He turned to Auguste and waited for him to catch up. Eevee was back in his arms, tail quivering in excitement. Laurent said, reasonably, “We’re already up here.”
“We’re up here because you are disobeying me,” Auguste said. “Father will be hearing about this.”
“But-” Laurent twisted towards the cave again. “Auguste, do you not hear it?”
“I hear nothing but my little brother being a nuisance,” Auguste said. “And fixing to get himself lost in the woods and eaten by a Nidoqueen.”
“Nidoqueen don’t eat humans,” Laurent said. His lips twisted down. A few strands of blonde hair had come loose from his horsetail. Auguste did not smooth them down because he was irritated. “Can we please just look? I promise we can go straight home after.”
“You never want to venture,” Auguste said. He frowned, growing concerned. He took a long, searching look at the cave. Leafeon was here. If anything lived in the cave he would be able to hold it off for long enough to escape. “Okay, but you are to stay by my side the entire time. The instant you run ahead, we are going straight home and you will have to explain to Father why your trousers are torn.”
“Fine.” Laurent grabbed Eevee to his chest and took a step, hesitated, and then looked over his shoulder at Auguste, who hadn’t moved. “You said.”
Auguste snapped a branch down from a dying tree and wrapped his scarf around it. He snapped a piece of flint across a rock, and ignited the makeshift torch. With his light in hand, Auguste reached his free hand for Laurent. With a petulant frown, Laurent slipped his tiny hand into Auguste’s. When they stepped into the cave, Laurent’s grip tightened.
Zubats hummed overhead, but they did not attack humans unless first disturbed. Auguste kept Laurent’s gaze on the ground in front of them as they walked. Leafeon’s ears perked up straight as he listened for anything that might want to attack them.
“There, there!” Laurent tugged hard at Auguste’s hand, and led them to a cove off the main pathway.
“Okay. We need to go back,” Auguste said. The darkness was pressing in on him, and even the torchlight could not relieve it. “Laurent, that’s enough. Laurent!”
Laurent’s hand ripped away from his, and the ground fell out from beneath his feet. He bit back his yelp of surprise, and gripped his torch so tightly his arm ached as he plummeted through the air. He freefall stopped when he plunged into water so cold it sucked the wind out of him. He clawed for the surface, gasping, and panicked.
“Laurent! Laurent!” He spun, splashing. His hair stuck to his face and his fingers were numb and he couldn’t find his brother-
“Auguste! Over here!”
Auguste whirled, and saw Laurent standing on the bank. He held something in his hands. Auguste could see it. He could see Laurent even though his torch was floating several yards away. This cavern seemed to be reflecting light from everywhere. The ceiling and water shone a clear, icy blue, and Auguste fixed his eyes on what Laurent held in his small hands.
It was an egg.
Auguste’s heart slammed against his chest. Laurent held an egg in his hands. The egg was inscribed with ancient writing, and it glowed slightly, casting Laurent’s features in a haunting light. That was not just any egg. That was the egg of a legendary bird. An Articuno.
“Auguste, you are going to freeze to death,” Laurent said, his voice shrill as it rang off the cavern walls. “What are you doing?”
Auguste pushed through the water and hauled himself up onto the wet rock. Leafeon sat behind Laurent, dripping, and Eevee was shaking himself like a vibrating bow string to dry his fluff. Auguste carefully approached Laurent. His brother smiled, wide. “Look!”
“Where did you find that?” Auguste asked, breathless.
“It was sat there.” Laurent pointed to a pedestal that rested against the wall. “The noise stopped when I picked it up. What is it?”
“It’s a very special egg,” Auguste said. “A very special Pokemon comes from it.”
“Can I keep it?” Laurent asked. His pale face looked blue in the odd light, and his hair was plastered to his face from the fall.
“Yes, Laurent. I think you’re meant to have it,” Auguste said around a lump in his throat. It was becoming hard to breathe. Leafeon watched him with pity in his eyes, and Auguste could not stop himself from shaking as he knelt and cupped his hands around Laurent’s new egg. “This egg is extremely special. You cannot tell anyone that you have it, not even Father. Do you understand?”
“Can I tell Ponyta?” Laurent asked.
“Yes, you may tell Ponyta. But promise me, Laurent,” Auguste said. “You must swear that you will tell no one about this egg.”
“But how will I hatch it?” Laurent asked. His blue eyes went wide. “And how will I feed it and care for it?”
“I will help you,” Auguste said. “Swear to me, Laurent. Swear that you will tell no one.”
“I swear it,” Laurent said. He trembled in Auguste’s hands. “I’m cold.”
Auguste dragged him close, and wrapped his arms around Laurent. He pressed his face to Laurent’s soaked hair and sucked in a breath. Releasing it, he kissed the crown of Laurent’s head and let him go. “Okay. Okay, let’s find our way out of here.”
The only door in the cavern led straight outside, but on a different side of the small mountain. Laurent trudged beside him stubbornly until they reached Ponyta and Auguste lifted him into the saddle. Laurent slumped forward over Ponyta’s neck and promptly fell asleep.
Carefully, Auguste placed the egg into Ponyta’s saddlebag and lashed it shut. At his feet, Eevee swayed, his eyes heavy-lidded and his ears drooping. Auguste scooped Eevee up and tucked him into the other saddlebag. He was also asleep.
Auguste spent a precious moment gathering himself. He stood beside Ponyta, stroking the horse’s neck, and struggled to make sense of what had happened. The legendary birds heralded Veretian royalty. All the kings in history had partnered with one, and been chosen by them just before ascension. The king did not find the bird. The bird chose the king. And for Laurent to be called…
Auguste was first born. The throne was his birthright. For Articuno to choose Laurent, the second brother…
Auguste stared at his brother’s sleeping face, relaxed and easy as he dreamed. His cheeks were pink from the cold water, and his hair was tangling as it dried. If Articuno had chosen Laurent, then something would prevent Auguste from taking the throne. And Laurent had found it so young- Was something going to happen to their father?
The thought was too bleak to consider. Auguste squared his shoulders and whistled sharply into the dark woods. A few moments later, Blitzle trotted into view, easily making his way through the dense undergrowth. He greeted Auguste, bumping his muzzle against Auguste’s chest. Auguste weathered the familiar tingle of a small spark, and rubbed his hand over Blitzle’s muzzle and neck.
He swung on to Blitzle’s back, and grasped Ponyta’s reins. He tethered Ponyta to Blitzle’s saddle, and nudged Blitzle into motion. Together, they made their way through the forest and back to Arles.
That night, Auguste sent Laurent’s guards to the front of his apartments, far away from where the young prince slept. He carefully took the egg from Laurent’s bags and followed his brother into his bedroom.
“Laurent, this is like a baby,” Auguste said. He sat on Laurent’s bed and watched as Laurent scrambled up behind him. Eevee jumped up from the floor and stared curiously at the egg. “You must be very gentle with it, and speak softly when around it.”
“Okay.” Laurent scrunched his nose, concentrating. He nodded. “Mother sang to me when I was a baby. Do I have to sing to the egg?”
Auguste slid to the centre of the bed and folded his legs, resting the egg beside him for a moment. Laurent scrambled across the sheets to him and sat down in the nest of Auguste’s legs, as he did when Auguste read stories to him. Auguste pulled the egg into Laurent’s lap and cupped his hands over Laurent’s.
“What shall we sing to it?” Auguste asked.
Laurent leaned back against Auguste’s chest and fidgeted. “The one about the pirates and the storm.”
“That is not a bed time song,” Auguste said, smiling. “What about the one about the sleeping mountain?”
“That one is boring,” Laurent said. He was smoothing his hands up and down the egg’s surface.
“Then it is a good song to fall asleep to,” Auguste said. He cleared his throat and began to sing, and Laurent followed, his blue eyes never once leaving the egg in his hands.
Eventually, Laurent drifted off, and his head tipped back against Auguste’s shoulder. Auguste moved the egg safely from their legs, and shifted Laurent until he was half-buried in the fluffy pillows at the head of his bed. Auguste took the egg and wrapped it in a small blanket before tucking it under Laurent’s arm. Eevee lay curled at the foot of the bed.
Auguste ran his hand through Laurent’s hair, memorising Laurent’s features. His brother was kind, brilliant, and strong of conviction. He would make a great king one day.
He left Laurent’s room and entered his own apartments. He dismissed his servants and guards, and sat down at his desk to put to paper what had occurred that day. If word got out that the next legendary bird had been discovered, there would be unrest. Father and his Moltres still reigned with authority and respect. The people adored him, and would not react kindly to the idea that his time was near an end.
Laurent’s legitimacy must be maintained. Auguste was the only witness, and to keep him safe, Laurent could not tell anyone about his discovery. So, Auguste needed something to ensure Laurent would be recognised.
Auguste quickly recounted the story of the discovery, and his realisation of what the egg was and what it meant. His last paragraph implored the Council to recognise Laurent’s claim to the throne, and honour it as tradition dictated. He signed the parchment, sealed it, and sat back in his chair with one hand resting heavy over the paper. He needed someone he could trust. Someone who would not betray Laurent if Auguste was not able to stand between them.
A soft knock on Auguste’s door drew his attention, and Paschal, his father’s physician, entered. “I heard you and the princeling took a tumble into cold water today. I was sent to inquire to your health. Do you feel chill or cold at all?”
“You’ve checked on Laurent?” Auguste asked.
“Yes, just after your return when you were training with Jord,” Paschal said. “He was wet, but fine. And now I am here for you.”
“I am fine,” Auguste said. He stared at the sealed parchment under his fingers. “Paschal, I am going to ask something odd of you. You must humour me.”
Paschal smiled. “Odder than the time you asked me if your father also pooped?”
“You swore never to speak of that again,” Auguste said. He pushed to his feet and held the parchment out. “I need you to keep this for me. But you must not read it until the time it becomes necessary.”
“And when will it be necessary, your Highness?” Paschal frowned, and took the paper. He turned it over in his hands.
“When Laurent needs it the most,” Auguste said. He met Paschal’s eyes and held his gaze. “Please.”
“I will do as you request, though I must ask to what brought this request on,” Paschal said. His expression softened. “What do you fear?”
“Everything,” Auguste said. He clenched his fist. “I cannot speak more on it. Please just keep that letter safe.”
“I will do so.”
Several months later, the egg had hatched and Auguste helped Laurent set up a quiet nest in the forest where he could visit his fledgling Articuno. Auguste ensured that Ponyta could find the way regardless of weather or terrain. And then the war started again.
Auguste rode to the front lines and fought, as was his duty. When the young Akielon prince, Damianos, punched through his defenses and armour with a steel blade, Auguste sank to his knees, realisation flowing through him before the pain even hit.