Once upon a time, in a far away kingdom named Breuckelen, there lived a king and queen. They were just and kind rulers, who loved their only child, a son named Steve, very much. They were also cursed.
The king was cursed with a war against an evil, magical foe and he died far from home. The queen was cursed with a spirit too strong for her body. She contracted a fever and died soon after. The prince was cursed with many ailments and the kingdom knew he would die young.
But, Howard Stark, Lord Protector of the realm, had loved the king and queen and vowed that their child would live. He devoted his life to the care of his friends' child and kingdom. Both flourished, but the prince was ever sickly.
Lord Stark searched endlessly for any cure for young Prince Steve, mundane or magical. When he was not traveling or bringing in foreign wizards, he was nursing Steve through sickness at all hours of the day and night. There were even rumors he'd missed the birth of his own son to tend to one of Steve's fevers.
The Great Enemy attacked with renewed venomous vigor and Howard was forced to send his wife and child far away to safety. Steve refused to leave his parents' palace, instead committing the works of the great strategists to memory, and arguing to be allowed to lead his troops into battle.
Then, Howard Stark found a wizard, who had fled the enemy's grasp, filled with horror at what had been done with his magic. He wanted nothing to do with the war, and even less to do with the desperate and brash Lord Protector. But, he met the young prince and changed his mind.
That story was told many times in many ways, but there was always: a cursed prince, a man of science, and a wizard with one last spell of hope. The truth was lost in all except that the prince was now the strongest hero in the kingdom.
There were adventures and even, sometimes, a love.
But, in truth, there was just a war. The prince became another lost hero in a far away battlefield of ice and death, sacrificing himself to save the kingdom. Price Steve defeated the enemy but did not live happily ever after.
But, this was not that story.
Lord Stark lost a piece of his soul in the ice with the fallen prince. Not even his returned wife and child could completely heal the wound. Within a year, Lord and Lady Stark were also lost. Their carriage was found mangled at the bottom of a canyon. Some blamed weather, or horses, or the carriage, although none alive could ever recall such things hindering Lord Stark before.
Lord Tony Stark was too young to assume the title of Lord Protector. Obadiah Stane, a brilliant politician and distant cousin of Tony's mother, came forth to claim guardianship of the young Stark and the grieving kingdom. If Lord Stane was harsher than the late Lord Stark or the barely remembered past king and queen, well, these were darker times.
The young lord grew wild under his guardian's indulgent care. When Tony's twenty-first birthday came, he had no interest in being Lord Protector and Stane had no interest in asking him to take it. They both grew rich beyond measure, and if some in the kingdom grew poorer, surely that was ever the way of the world.
Tony Stark wandered the kingdom with the army and haunted the smithies in every city and village, becoming the kingdom's darling, a last link to an age of glory. His mind was full of science and machines, like his father's, and it earned him the army's loyalty.
Until one day, Tony disappeared from the army's encampment. The army mobilized faster than orders could direct, finding the enemy who dared to attack a Stark. The Seven Rings originally thought to kill the prodigal, but the plan quickly turned to kidnapping. Tony Stark was their only shield against the surrounding army's wrath. His mind was a resource and the kingdom held its breath in fear, waiting for the day Tony would be forced to attack his own.
After a year, however, Tony simply walked home, returning very changed and with a magical suit of armor. He used it to protect the realm and become a darling of the masses once more. Gossip abounded that he was finally ready to claim his birthright from Lord Stane.
But, this was not that story either.
20 years after all believed he'd perished, and 17 years after Howard Stark's own death, Prince Steve was found alive! He returned to his kingdom with a brother-in-arms, a knight named Sam. The pair appeared in the palace on the day of open Common Court — the word spread throughout the land like wildfire. The prince had not aged a day since he had disappeared, but all scientific and magical exams confirmed he was the prince.
It meant that Lord Stane was no longer the rightful ruler. As the kingdom waited to see if Lord Stane would step aside, Prince Steve explained that he had been frozen alive by an evil magic and had missed much. He proclaimed that he would not take the throne until the Lord Protector and the Parliament declared him fit to do so. Some proclaimed him wise beyond measure, while others proclaimed him a fool for allowing Stane time to rid himself of the inconvenient heir.
Prince Steve made Sam the Royal Falconer and the pair moved into the royal apartments in the palace. If Lord Stane did have nefarious intentions to his newly named ward, he was careful to keep them private. Outwardly, all appearances were that he took Prince Steve's proclamation seriously, setting up legal examinations before Parliament.
The first exams were public, but there were a series of "accidents" associated with them. The public called them assassination attempts, but, both Lord Stane and Prince Steve assured all who asked that they were merely unfortunate occurrences brought on by the large unchecked crowds. Future exams were conducted only for Parliament and the royal household. The accidents did not stop, but the gossip of them did.
Prince Steve and his ever present Falconer appeared oblivious to the dangers that apparently stalked their every move. Prince Steve certainly showed no signs of concern, as he continually impressed the assembled nobility with his knowledge of the most obscure of the kingdom's bylaws. In fact, the only signs of concern at the palace were tales of late night shouting emanating from Lord Stane's apartments and an oddly growing number of open positions in his household.
The prince's relationship with Lord Tony Stark was an odd one. Upon returning to the palace, Lord Stark took up new residences in Prince Steve's apartments rather than return to his old ones under Lord Stane's roof. Before Prince Steve had left for war, Howard Stark had gifted him a shield made of a magical metal, vibranium. Lord Tony Stark gifted the prince with a wondrous mechanical carriage, made of the same rare metal. The number of mishaps that befell the Prince and his Falconer were reduced in number from that time on.
Yet, the two royals did not adventure together and were, in fact, rarely seen together. Lord Stark still worked daily and appeared socially more with Lord Stane. Lord Stane openly referred to Tony as his heir and heart's son. Those who felt a conflict was brewing between Lord Stane and Prince Steve did not know what to make of it.
Without consulting Lord Stane or the Privy Council, Parliament threw the royal court into confusion by suddenly declaring Prince Steve fit for rule. The nobles declared that they would expect a plan of Coronation from the Lord Protector and the Privy Council by end of winter.
This was where the story began.