It came three months ago. A letter came to his father the King of Delphi asking for one of his children’s hand in marriage to the prince of Erebus. The letter from King Hades specified a few key requirements. The marriage partner had to be male, and he had to have no children yet, no previous marriages or serious romantic engagements, and willing to be married into the Erebus kingdom. The requirements served to cut down the prospects of marriageable children his father had sired and Will was chosen.
Will stared at his royal attire for the engagement party. It was night and the party was starting but Will did not want to dress in such stifling attire. He didn’t want to meet the prince of the dark kingdom. All the gossips he and his siblings heard of the prince didn’t leave much for hoping of a good marriage. It was as though all the sunshine from his life would be sucked in by the prince everyone called the Dark Angel.
“Your Highness, it’s time.” His retainer Travis Stoll, an illegitimate son of his uncle, waved Will’s valet over with the royal garb in hand. Will would have shot Travis a smothering look for speaking to him so, but Travis was just doing his job. On a normal basis Travis was actually a very fun loving guy. There have been numerous times when Travis had snuck out of the palace with him before and ran down the hills laughing alongside Travis’ younger brother.
Will got dressed with the help of his valet, hating every moment of the stifling clothing. He walked down the hall with Travis at his side, wishing he didn’t have to meet his betrothed for the first time at their engagement party and especially in this ridiculous golden garb. Will took in a deep breath and then hardened himself for the bombardments of empty words and fake smiles.
Once he was announced into the ballroom Will was immediately approached by dozens of nobles congratulating him. Will was not first in line, he was closer to the thirteenth or the twentieth. Just as Uncle Hermes has many children outside of his marriage so did Will’s father. King Apollo was generous with his affections but strictly so. If his children didn’t have any value his father almost never remembered they were around. Being showered with gifts such as the expensive custom golden garb Will now wore was very uncommon without meeting some high standard of King Apollo of Delphi.
Will was not a good fighter like his brothers. He was not musical or artistic like his sisters. He didn’t have the perfect aim that his father was known for in archery either. His swordsmanship was average at best. Will was utterly disappointing to his father, and his only redeeming quality had been that Will was of age to be married off to Prince Nico, the Dark Angel.
“William,” a familiar voice reached out to him. Will turned around and smiled fully for the first time at his older brother Asclepius.
“Brother.” Will had always thought he would walk in his brother’s footsteps. When Asclepius’ mother was still pregnant with him she had fallen in love with a different man from their father the king. She had wanted to elope with him but Apollo struck them down in anger. It was then their father did something no one had ever thought of doing to a pregnant woman. Apollo cut the infant Asclepius from his dying mother’s womb and his older brother was born.
Asclepius was not raised by either of his parents. His mother had died and Asclepius would have followed. As a king their father did not have the time to meet all his children. Instead, Will’s father often sent out delegates and heard about his children from teachers and the men he hired. Asclepius was fostered to a trusted ally and then he became one of the most reputed man of medicine known throughout the kingdoms.
When Will first met his older brother Asclepius he had hoped to be able to travel the world with him in the future. Ten years later just before Will could finally leave the palace he was elected to be married off.
“Have you met him yet?” Asclepius asked curiously. Will was about to respond when he followed Asclepius’ gaze to the corner of the ballroom.
Standing alone and out of anyone’s notice despite the crowd stood a young man. He still carried a hint of youth around him. Perhaps it was his eyes. Coal black eyes, wavy black hair, and dressed in completely black formal. He had a black fur cape on and he was staring outside into the night as though there was nothing else more interesting in the ballroom of nearly two hundred occupants.
“That’s him,” Asclepius nodded to the dark haired mystery who Will stared at. “Prince Nico the Dark Angel. They call him the King of Ghosts.”
“King of what?” Will turned to his brother.
“You’ll learn about it eventually. It’s not important now.” Asclepius had this strange smile on his face. For a man nearly forty years old Asclepius sure hadn’t forgotten how to act coy.
“Do you know him?” Will turned back to stare at his betrothed once more. He quickly turned his gaze away, his face burning at being caught in the act. Prince Nico was looking his way. Those dark eyes staring right at him from across the room and crowd of people.
“Blushing because of your handsome fiancé?” Asclepius leaned into his ear and chuckled knowingly. His brother was mistaken. Will was not blushing. He was just embarrassed for being caught staring. It had nothing to do with thinking of his future husband.
When Will said nothing his brother decided to answer his question. “I have met him here and there. He is the only surviving child of King Hades, and he’s been said to be a very ruthless individual.”
“Next you’re going to tell me he killed his siblings for the throne,” Travis rolled his eyes with a sigh. Travis loved hearing gossip as much as the next maid did, but he was often very skeptical about the absolute truth in them.
“Of course not.” Asclepius stared at Travis appalled. “Prince Nico fetched me himself a few times. His life was not an easy one.” Again Will didn’t say anything. He turned back to look at Prince Nico and fortunately the man was back to staring outside the floor-to-ceiling windows out into the veranda and garden beyond.
“Fetched you from gods know where?” It was easy to be appalled and to disbelief such an idea. That young man searched high and low for Will’s brother Asclepius when even their own people took weeks just to inform Asclepius of Will’s engagement. Sometimes it took months just to locate Asclepius from some beast infested mountain, or in some fog-covered marsh, investigating new plants and herb properties for medicine. “He can’t be more than eighteen there’s no way he could have gone to fetch you from anywhere himself.” Travis was quick to deny the possibility but Will and he both knew the truth.
Silence laid between them for a moment. If Travis and his younger brother Connor were able and allowed to go off on their own when they were twelve years old, then even a small twelve-year-old Nico could have fetch Asclepius. It was just hard to believe someone so slight and so young as the prince known as the Dark Angel could travel across lands and sea to fetch Asclepius.
“He did.” Asclepius left the topic at that.
After catching up on what his brother had been up to since they last saw one another a month ago, they both went their separate way. Will wasn’t sure whether he was meant to approach the prince or not but he certainly wouldn’t move close to Prince Nico unless he was ordered to do so.
Instead, Will danced with countless women and with some men but not once did his betrothed approach him. The man stood in the shadows, or would lean by a pillar or stand aloofly in a clutter of people speaking to him. Prince Nico would always stare at him from afar but never approached.
Once most of the guests have finally left Will collapsed into a chair and laid his head into his hands on the table. “I could do with three days of sleep.”
“Considering you’ve been awake for nearly three days getting that impeccably shiny gold uniform made.” Travis pulled the chair next to his out and sat down. Will groaned loudly as he sat up and winced the moment he saw another of his older brothers walking towards him. This one was just a couple years older and unmarried, but because he has had previous children before he was ineligible for marriage to the Prince. No one more than Keith had wanted to marry Nico of Erebus.
“I heard your brother Lee was found in the woods after he left for his hunt this morning,” Travis whispered to him. “Dead,” came the whisper in his ear as Travis stood up in the presence of his brother.
Keith made it to where Will sat. Standing, Will shook hands with his brother in greeting.
“So I noticed you haven’t greeted your fiancé yet,” Keith said to him, but it sounded closer to a sneer. Will looked away. Keith had always been talented but he had twice the level of arrogance their father usually displayed.
“No, it’s been a busy night.” Will forced a smile. Travis hovrtrf closer to him, their shoulders bumped. Will almost wanted to kick Travis in the back of the knee. He was making it too obvious what he thought of Keith’s presence there.
“Excuse me,” a quiet voice came from behind him.
Will steeled his heart at the unrecognized voice and turned around. There stood Prince Nico, the Dark Angel of the Kingdom of Erebus. He wasn’t exceptionally tall, and he was younger in appearance than Will had first thought having seen him from afar. Will stared as Prince Nico walked up to them. His skin was like a woman’s, porcelain in color and seemingly soft like a child’s.
“Nico di Angelo.” The Prince first shook hands with Keith who introduced himself, then Travis, and finally his gaze turned to Will’s. When Will took his hand Prince Nico bent down and kissed his knuckles. Soft lips.
Seeing Prince Nico’s face close to Will’s own skin made him uncomfortable. Will’s hand was tanned showing how long in the sun he spent while the Prince’s skin obviously proved his affinity to be in the shadows. They couldn’t be any more different from each other.
“Apologies,” the dark prince said as he straightened up. He didn’t smile, joy didn’t even reflect in his eyes. It was obvious that although he needed a consort he did not seem to be interested at all in who. “I could not find the right moment to introduce myself.”
Will merely nodded. He turned to Travis to help him. What was he supposed to say to his fiancé? Were there appropriate conversation topics? Were there etiquettes? Travis shrugged back with a smug smile.
“Music is still playing,” Travis pointed out absentmindedly. “Perhaps I shall ask Sir Kahale for a dance. Man never seems keen to dancing at these functions.” Travis patted Will on the back, inching him towards the Prince of Erebus, before walking away and towards where General Michael Kahale of the Roman Empire stood.
Will watched Travis approach Sir Kahale among his friends and confidently bow and ask the man for a dance. Will felt a groan coming on. Dear gods he was going to have to answer to this wasn’t he? Travis wasn’t at the right station to be approaching Sir Kahale on his own or for that matter asking the man to dance, even if he was the illegitimate son of a duke.
Michael Kahale took Travis’ hand in his and led them onto the quiet ballroom floor. Travis turned to Will and winked at him as the Roman General swung Travis into his arm. Will breathed out a sigh of relief.
“Come.” Without so much more than the simple command, Prince Nico put a hand at the small of Will’s back and led him to the ballroom floor.
“Have not danced yet.” Nico, though a head shorter than him, glanced up at him as if telling Will not to say any more. Will begrudgingly quieted and allowed the young prince to lead them into the Waltz.
As they danced Will did everything he could not to stare at Nico. The best thing he could do to keep from gazing down at the prince was to watch Travis and the general’s dance. He kept his eyes specifically on Travis. Normally when he was on duty Travis was well behaved. Not always when they were alone, of course. It wasn’t often Travis relaxed in front of others. He was smiling and laughing as he spoke to the usually stern faced General.
“Our wedding,” Nico spoke quietly against Will’s neck.
Will couldn’t find his voice. He felt his shoulders stiffen as Nico leaned closer towards him. Suddenly Will was acutely aware of Nico’s fingers on the small of his back, his hand cradling Will’s own, the way Nico moved in a flow just a little off from the formal stiffness of a Waltz, and how Nico seemed to dominate the area around them simply by the way he carried himself.
“There is something I must do before our wedding,” Prince Nico said. Will wanted to ask why or for what but didn’t. The prince was quiet again. Moments past and then the Prince spoke again. “It may take a year.”
Will must have sounded shock because Nico’s hands tightened just a bit around him and then relaxed again. Although his facial expression didn’t tense his body still reacted. Looking closely at his fiancé, Will saw Nico’s tightened lips and the slightest look of frustration on his face.
“Is it too long?”
Will considered it. He wouldn’t have to get married soon. That would mean he didn’t have any more royal duties to rush into. He shook his head.
“Yes.” Nico pulled Will just a little closer even though there were barely a dozen couples on the floor. They continued to dance until the song was over and then Nico lead Will off the floor towards the veranda outside.
“Um, I don’t think we should-” Will turned to head back to the table he previously sat down at. Although Will was of age and they were engaged Prince Nico was still just newly eighteen years old.
“Come.” Nico moved his arm from the small of Will’s back to his elbow and pulled him into the veranda. He felt the chill immediately and braced himself for the cold. His clothes weren’t exactly made to hold in the heat despite how thick and stifling the golden garbs were. “Look, your retainer can see us through the window.” Nico nodded toward Travis where he stood just a couple steps away from the veranda entrance.
Once they stood in the middle of the veranda away from the glass door Nico turned them to face one another. Will felt the way Nico held them apart but close. His hand was still on Will’s elbow. Nico stared up into Will’s eyes and his dark gaze went from hard and cold to that slightly frustrated look.
Nico picked up Will’s left hand and then something warm slipped onto his ring finger. Will looked down to find a simple band around his finger. The gold band had an intricate engraving design of what seemed like a sunset. Will held his hand closer and stared at the design. A sun setting in the middle and spreading elaborate clouds and skies around as the rest of the band.
“Someone I know made it,” Nico said. Will broke out of his trance and looked at the Prince. “I will come back for you.” His eyes stared unwaveringly into Will’s eyes and he found his breath hitching.
“It’s a promise then.”
Will hadn’t meant for it to mean anything more than mere words. Nico’s unwavering eyes didn’t move and he nodded. “A promise.” Then Will felt this bright light spread in the core of him. It was like this hope igniting across his entire body that warmed him in the cold. He shivered from the feelings threatening to overflow in him.
Something warm wrapped around him. It felt heavy around his shoulders and came with a ticklish feel. Will looked around his shoulders to see Prince Nico’s black fur cape set around him. The ruthless Dark Angel of Erebus was very gentlemanly clasping his cape around Will’s shoulders.
“You are cold.”
Will grabbed Prince Nico’s hands to stop him but felt the chill of his fingers. Although he was still warm if they stood outside any longer one of them might catch a cold.
“It’s fall. Summer just past, it might rain.” Will didn’t travel much, he wasn’t sure how the weather was like for Erebus but in their country the transition between summer and fall often was accompanied with rain. This kind of fur cape was meant for winter, he could tell from how heavy and warm it was. “Let’s go inside.” He moved to lead them both back in but the prince shook his head.
“We need to talk,” Prince Nico said as he stepped away from Will.
Staring up into the night sky Prince Nico had this contemplating look. Then he turned to face Will and said, “I will be gone and you will be here.” He had a harsh gaze and it confused Will. The tone of his voice sounded quiet and lost but his gaze said he was angry.
Prince Nico didn’t say anything for a moment. “Perhaps longer, but I aim to be back by a year.” And it was like the prince lost his voice when he said those words. Will couldn’t make out of Prince Nico was sad or if he was bothered or if he was glad for the length of time.
Will couldn’t hope for more. He could avoid all those royal expectations.
“I won’t be around so we won’t have time to be together,” Nico added. He looked away again and stared off into the garden. Will followed his gaze so he would have something else to look at but Nico’s dark and lonesome form. “I am the last heir of Erebus, Prince William. I am not short on enemies. You will be targeted.”
Anxiety bubbled at the bottom of his stomach. Will wasn’t a good fighter. He was proficient with a sword, but not excellent. In a real pinch Will could likely protect himself, but he couldn’t imagine exactly being alert for 24/7 for an entire year. Was this the reason he had been picked to be the betrothed of the Dark Angel? His death would at least be meaningless as he held no real value.
“Travis Stoll is a good fighter, but you may need another,” Nico said. He walked back to Will and this time his cold hand touched his face. “You must stay safe until I return.” Will found himself only able to nod. Nico stood on his tiptoes and kissed Will.
Without realizing Will stepped into the kiss and wrapped his arms around Nico’s waist. His eyes slowly closed as he pulled Nico’s smaller frame towards him.
The kiss was gentle and inviting. It was also warm despite how chilled Nico felt. Will let himself fall into the kiss. It was like a warm light enveloped him and a great heat burned deep inside. And then Nico pulled away. Will immediately hugged him closely, sharing warmth with Nico.
“I have to leave soon. This will be our last meeting until my return,” Nico whispered into his ear. They stepped away from one another.
Will started to unclasp Nico’s cape but the Prince stopped him and told him to keep it as a gift. Will bit his lip.
“What is it?” Nico asked, stepping just a little closer again.
“I don’t have anything to give you.” Will was still the man’s fiancé. On the night of his departure there must be something he could give the Prince. The fact that he didn’t even prepare an engagement gift was appalling.
“A kiss was good enough.”
The Prince said it so easily and so simply that Will stared at him with shock. Seriously? Just like that. No hint of underlining meaning. No look of decadence or wanton meaning. Will felt his face flushed. This young man was serious. He genuinely took a kiss as worth a ring and a fur cape.
“It is time.”
The Prince turned to leave. Then it dawned on Will there was something he could give the Prince.
“Prince Nico.” Prince Nico stopped before the door back into the ballroom and Will quickly stepped towards him. He pulled the pendant from his pocket. “It isn’t much.” Will took Nico’s hand and placed the item into his palm. “You gave me a promise with a ring. I will exchange it for this.”
When the Prince looked into what Will placed into his hand he said, “This is important to you.” The Prince stared once more at the arrowhead pendent tied to a string.
“So bring it back.”
And that was the last time Will saw Prince Nico of Erebus, the Dark Angel for near four years.