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The Prince’s Plaything

by juou no zan (女王のザン)

He’d actually always thought it was a myth, one of those stories people whispered about the royals because they were royals and you made shit up about them. But he sure did have a summons from the prince. The prince! What did the prince need with a candlemaker? The steward bought all the candles for the castle. It wasn’t like the prince could commission him for some great work of chandlery.

*

The prince was too attractive to need this. This fake thing, of course, that was not the reason for this summons. He had smooth skin and long blond hair and he sent the courtier away, so it was just Farran and the prince.

If Farran’s mind could just shut up about that stupid rumor, he’d be fine.

Then the prince said, “I’m sure you’re aware of our kingdom’s tradition for unmarried princes.”

*

The rumor–the fake story–the tradition–was actually pretty simple. A prince couldn’t be expected to rise above physical urges, but obviously he couldn’t risk impregnating some commoner and letting riff-raff into the royal line, and it would be insulting to any noble’s family to risk it for any less than a royal marriage. Thus, when a prince was unmarried and needed release, they paid a peasant incapable of carrying a child, usually although not always a man, to be the prince’s plaything.

*

Which is how Farran ended up on his knees in front of the prince, sucking a cock for the first time in his life. Like he was going to refuse a literal royal command. Okay, he didn’t know how to suck cock, and he had never had sex with a man, and he never really planned to, but when the prince tells you to suck his cock, you suck his cock.

It was weird and humiliating and more arousing than Farran would have suspected, when the prince came in his mouth. Some of it dribbled down his chin. The prince told him to come back tomorrow and dismissed him, and when Farran got back to his cottage outside the castle walls, he had to lean back against the wall and frig himself before he could concentrate at all.

*

The next day, the prince met him in a bedchamber and told him to strip. The prince’s face was impassive to the point of contempt. It was unnerving and strange. Maybe that was why his skin looked so good; he didn’t make expressions.

Once Farran was naked, the prince looked him over much slower than Farran thought necessary. But then, this whole thing seemed unnecessary to him. Couldn’t a prince just masturbate, like a normal person?

Of course, a prince wasn’t a normal person, so when the prince told Farran to get on all fours on the bed, Farran did it and didn’t argue. It seemed a lot better than a whipping, which would be the light punishment for disobeying a royal.

Weird question he could never actually ask anybody: was it all right for him to get off on the prince fucking him? Was it disrespectful for him to enjoy it? He had never given any thought to it before, but it seemed like it might come up now.

No pun intended.

Farran was not especially surprised when the prince got up on the bed behind him and rubbed a finger–a thumb?–against his asshole. He did suck in a breath in a rather gaspy manner, but that was not because of surprise.

The prince asked, “Have you done this before?”

“Mmhmm,” Farran said. “I mean, yes. Your Highness.”

“I was given to understand you hadn’t been with another man,” the prince said.

Who told him that? Which guards or whoever were reporting random peasants’ sex lives to the fucking royal family? “Well, everyone’s got fingers,” Farran said. “Doesn’t take a man to fuck someone in the ass.”

Did the prince notice, or care, that Farran was hard now? “I suppose not,” said the prince. One of his fingers was slick now, with some kind of oil or grease. The room smelled like lavender. He pushed that finger inside Farran, and gods above he hoped it wasn’t some sort of offense to have a boner in front of the prince, and the prince said, “Did you enjoy it?”

“Yes,” Farran said.

“Lucky,” said the prince, lightly.

The prince was a smaller man than Farran, not just because of the lack of hard labor, but in his frame. He was not heavy, even when he spent himself and collapsed onto Farran’s back. He was sticky with sweat, but he was not heavy.

The prince withdrew from Farran and rolled onto the bed next to him. “Gods,” he said, “you don’t need to wait for permission to touch yourself.”

Farran blushed. “I wasn’t sure if–I didn’t know–” He sighed, and dropped his face into the blanket, and took himself in hand.

“Personally,” the prince said, “I prefer to know someone I’m fucking is enjoying themselves too.”

How was I supposed to know that, Farran did not say to his prince, and moaned into the bed.

The prince was almost entirely dressed again by the time Farran came. He fastened his doublet and brushed his hair back into a tail with his hands, and watched Farran lay panting on the bed with more of an expression than Farran had yet seen on his face. It was a hungry, possessive sort of look. Well, at least he was good at his new job.

“I’ll see you tomorrow,” the prince said. “Clean yourself up before you go.”

*

The crown paid him for his new work, but people still needed candles, so Farran worked as late into the evening as he could without counter-productively burning more candles than he could finish for himself. Luckily, since he didn’t generally sell the candles himself, but let the shopkeeper across the street handle it, his absences and odd hours were not remarked upon, or probably much noticed.

Even if people consigned it to rumor, it would still be the first explanation anyone offered for his frequent trips to the castle.

*

None of the servants at the castle would look Farran in the eye. Well, of course they wouldn’t. Probably felt guilty about it, since most of them were local to begin with and would have heard the stories, the way people talked about this.

The prince undressed Farran himself that day. It felt more intimate, somehow, than having sex with him, even though the prince was quick and had him naked in hardly any time. He could feel he was blushing by the time the prince pushed him down on the bed.

Remembering what the prince said the day before, Farran didn’t make himself hold back his voice, or quiet his breathing. The prince murmured, “You do enjoy this,” like it was a question.

“Yes, your Highness,” Farran said.

“Hmm.” Then one of the prince’s hands was fondling Farran’s balls. Farran pressed his face into the bed to moan.

The prince hadn’t taken quite as much time to prepare him as before. Whether that was because he didn’t care or he felt less need to be careful with someone who enjoyed taking it up the ass, Farran didn’t know. It was hard to mind the burn and discomfort with the prince’s hand on his cock, though.

It might have been hard to mind the burn and discomfort anyway.

Farran fisted the blankets in his hands and pushed back against the prince’s thrusts. He heard the prince moan when he did, which was the most reaction other than heavy breathing that Farran had heard out of the prince.

He pulled out of Farran before he came this time, and spent himself on the bed linens. Then he pulled on Farran’s shoulder and rolled him onto his back, and straddled Farran’s legs while he brought him off.

He actually laid there, next to Farran, breathing, for a while. This was the least intimate Farran had ever been with someone he’d had sex with, and it felt strange, to lie next to someone after fucking, but not touch them or speak.

The prince said, “I’ll be away tomorrow. Can you stay the night overmorrow?”

Could he, Farran thought. A polite fiction. More than he had offered before, anyway. “Yes, your Highness,” he said.

“Good,” the prince said, and he dressed and left the room in silence.

*

Farran worked a long day the next day, to make sure he had enough candles to sell to the shopkeeper across the street. He filled his racks about as full as they’d ever been, and decided to do some of the fancier candles with his limited remaining space. Not that his candles weren’t comparatively fancy; there were two beekeepers who sold him wax, so he hardly ever worked with tallow anymore. It helped that the prince had been living in this castle instead of the capital lately and the castle steward preferred to burn beeswax for the royal family.

At any rate, all he had to do was take some of the water off the fire so he had water cool enough to put his hands in, and then he could twist the regular tapers into whatever he wanted. Some people liked two or three twisted together for special occasions. More was a little unwieldy and unsafe, though he’d done a good ten little ones twisted into sort of a flower once, to see if he could.

He did a few doubles and a few triples, and it had been easy to keep his mind on his work while he was prepping his wicks and stoking the fire and dipping, but sculpting the warm wax into twists needed to be done slowly, to avoid cracking or kinking the wax, and it gave him too much time to think while running his fingers over warm, solid yet pliable cylinders.

He felt like an adolescent, getting flustered by making candles like he’d just discovered the idea of sex and how some things looked like pricks. Which was ridiculous, because he was an adult, and if there was any human on earth whose prick looked like two candles twisted together, they needed to see a doctor.

After all the twist candles were done, he busied himself with the process of tidying up, and putting away the leftover wax, and all the other dozens of tasks that needed to be done before he went to bed.

*

A maid stopped Farran on his way to the bedchamber he had met the prince in before. “His ‘ighness wants you in his rooms,” she said. “C’mon.” She led him deeper into the castle than he’d ever been, and he realized the bedchamber they’d been in before must have been a guest room. The prince’s chambers were actually at the base of the castle’s lone turret, just above the rest of the castle. She pointed out the correct door to him, then said, “Good luck.”

There was no guard or other servant around, and he wasn’t sure if he should knock, so he compromised, and knocked on the door as he opened it.

No one ever explained any sort of fancy etiquette to you if you were a commoner, even one who lived in a town. Even, evidently, if you were chosen as the prince’s plaything. So when Farran didn’t see the prince in the room, he had no idea if he should go looking for him through the doors to other rooms or not. He tried calling, “Your Highness?”

“What is it now?” the prince yelled from the other room, and he sounded like he was having a bad day. No wonder the maid wished him good luck.

And luckily, before Farran had time to worry about bungling his response, a door opened and the prince stamped into the room. He stopped when he saw Farran. “Oh,” he said, and his shoulders dropped to a more relaxed position. “Right.” His hair was messy and down around his shoulders. He laughed through his teeth and put a hand to his face. “I invited you to stay the night, didn’t I.”

“Um,” Farran said. “Yes. Your Highness.”

The prince grunted, frustrated. “Come on, then,” he said, and went back through the door he’d come through.

Farran followed him into the other room, which turned out to be a study or library. There were shelves and shelves of books, and stacks of papers and scrolls next to and on top of a desk. The prince sat down at the desk and started sifting through sheafs of vellum and parchment.

“Do you read?” the prince asked, not looking up from his paperwork.

“Not very well, your Highness.”

“Hmm,” the prince said. “Too bad. Well, feel free to have some of the wine on the table.”

There was a reclining couch across the room from the desk, and next to it was a small table. There was a wine bottle on it, with a fancy label and letters on it Farran didn’t recognize. There were two glasses next to it.

“Um,” Farran said, and glanced up at the prince. “Should…shall I pour you a glass as well, your Highness?”

“No,” the prince said. “Actually, you may as well take the bottle when you go. I certainly won’t have any.”

Farran jerked his hand away from the bottle. “I–why not?” The prince looked over his shoulder at him, one thin eyebrow raised a bit, and he added, “Your Highness.”

“I don’t enjoy reminders of attempts to bribe me into accepting a terrible marriage,” the prince said. “It’s not poisoned.”

Farran shoved his hands behind his back and flushed. “I’m sorry, I didn’t–”

The prince turned back to his desk and muttered, “Why on earth would I poison you?”

Farran poured himself a glass of wine, into an actual glass. He’d only drunk out of an actual glass a few times before. The wine smelled different than he was used to wine smelling, but then, this wasn’t just “better than ale” wine, this was “good enough to give to a prince” wine, so of course it smelled different.

He took a drink and nearly choked. The wine was much stronger than he was used to, and the taste was–fuller. It was good, of course, but he hadn’t expected it to be quite so different.

He sat on the reclining couch and sipped at his wine. He tried not to think about what else he could be doing, at the shop or with the prince.

After a while, the prince threw down his quill and made a disgusted noise. “Come here,” he said, and Farran set down his wine and went to him.

Instead of standing up, he reached under Farran’s tunic and looped his fingers through the laces of Farran’s pants, pulling him closer. He tugged on Farran’s tunic and said, “Take this off.”

Farran struggled out of his tunic, feeling clumsy, but distracted by the prince untying his pants and pulling them open. By the time he dropped his tunic to the study floor, the prince had Farran’s cock in hand.

Without ever touching himself or giving Farran another order, the prince touched him until he was hard, then brought him off, catching all the spunk on his hands. Then, as Farran stood, swaying because his knees trembled, and breathing hard from the force of his orgasm, the prince held his hands up to Farran’s face. “Clean up your mess,” the prince said, and Farran whimpered and leaned down to lick the prince’s hands.

He tasted like ink and vellum under the bitterness of the jism. He licked the prince’s palms and between his fingers. When the prince pressed one of his fingertips to Farran’s lips, Farran took that finger in his mouth and sucked on it. His eyes were closed, but he opened them to glance down at the prince, and the prince was flushed and had his own eyes closed.

He sucked on several more of the prince’s fingers, and licked his hands clean. Finally the prince pulled his hands away, and Farran opened his eyes.

The prince glanced at the papers on his desk and sighed. “This is pointless,” he muttered, and stood up. Standing, it was obvious his prick was hard. “Come on,” he said.

Farran grabbed his tunic from the floor and pulled up his pants to follow. On the other side of the first room he’d entered was a bedchamber. Unlike the one he’d met the prince in before, this one had rumpled bedclothes and things scattered over the surface of the dresser. One of the wardrobe doors was ajar. Nearly all the drapery was red and black.

The prince nodded at him, so Farran closed the door behind them. The light coming through the curtains tinted the room red. Next to the bed was a twist candle.

“Oh,” Farran said, “I made that.”

“Didn’t you make all the candles in the castle?” the prince said, not looking at him.

“Uh.”

The prince sighed and said, “Sorry.” Farran was so shocked he stopped stumbling over his own apologetic words. “It’s not you,” the prince went on. “I’m having a rotten day.” He shrugged out of his doublet and laid it on the dresser, on top of–gods, those were all the chains and rings of the crown prince. He just had them scattered across his dresser.

What did you say to that, when your prince told you he was having a rotten day? Farran didn’t know, so he didn’t say anything, just waited for the prince to turn to him and tell him what to do.

The prince kicked off his boots, bracing himself on the side of the wardrobe, and pulled off his hose. He looked as awkward and unsexy as anyone pulling off close-fitting hose ever did. It was odd to see a royal like this, awkward and normal. Human.

This was the first time Farran had actually gotten to look at the prince naked. He hadn’t really had the brainpower or the time before. The prince was pale, of course, and thin. His body hair wasn’t as light as the hair on his head. His cock was shorter and thicker than Farran’s. His knees were knobbly. For a second, Farran could almost think he was just some scrawny townie, not the heir to the throne of the entire kingdom. Surely the heir to a kingdom wouldn’t have knobbly knees and poor balance.

Then he looked up at Farran, and no mere townie could look so disdainful. “Why are you still wearing clothes?” he asked, and Farran flushed. He dropped his tunic on the floor and stopped holding up his pants, started to pull them off before he remembered he still had his boots on.

In the meantime, the prince crossed to the bed and sat on its edge, apparently less concerned with his erection than with watching Farran make a fool of himself and forget how to undress.

Finally, Farran was free of his clothes, and the prince held out a hand to beckon him closer. He pulled Farran down onto his lap, so Farran was straddling him, then put his hand on Farran’s jaw and pulled him into a kiss.

Farran made a noise out of surprise, and the prince pulled back. “Something wrong?” he asked, and did he ever sound sincere?

“No,” Farran said. If he hadn’t already been a blushing mess, he would be now. He could feel the prince’s cock nudging against his own mostly limp prick. The hand that wasn’t on his jaw was on his hip, warm. This was, once again, much more intimate than he’d ever expected to be with any noble. “It was nice. Just surprising.”

“You must be the least curious man I’ve ever met,” the prince said. The slight drawing together of his brows was probably as close as he got to frowning. “You’ve asked me one question, and it was about wine.”

Bewildered, Farran said, “You’re a prince.”

“That doesn’t stop most people,” he said, drily.

“Do you…want me to ask you things?” Farran asked. They were naked and alone, and even with common folk, there was sort of a script to follow. Confusing conversation was not part of the script.

The prince’s hand slid from his jaw down to his collarbone. His eyes followed. “You know,” he said, “I rather thought you’d find all this humiliating.”

“I mean, humiliating’s a strong word,” Farran said. “Your Highness.” The prince’s hand was drifting down his torso, through his chest hair. “Embarrassing, maybe.”

“Yet you’ve never even hesitated,” said the prince. He smoothed his thumb over one of Farran’s nipples, and Farran leaned into his touch.

“You’re my prince,” Farran murmured. He was glad the prince was watching his hand and how Farran’s body reacted to it, and not his face.

The prince huffed a laugh out of his nose. “Right,” he said. He looked up at Farran’s face, and that slight upturn of his mouth might have been a smile. “The fact that you enjoy this has nothing to do with it, then.”

“Well, your Highness,” Farran said, “we are about the same age. Peasants have urges too.”

The prince actually smiled at that, and laughed a little, and maybe Farran shouldn’t have felt so pleased about that, but he did. Then he pulled Farran into another kiss, and oh, Farran felt pleased about that too. It was so nice kissing him. Admittedly, it was nice kissing anyone, in his experience, but the prince was the one kissing him at the moment.

The prince pulled him closer, so his cock was pressed between their bodies, and Farran took the liberty of putting an arm around the prince’s shoulders, to draw the rest of himself closer. One of the prince’s hands was on his ass, squeezing, and Farran thought it wouldn’t take much more of this until his prick was ready for another round. The prince was warm and soft and didn’t smell like sheep or rancid tallow, and like Farran said, he was a young man too.

The prince laid back on the bed, then rolled them over so he was on top of Farran. He kept kissing him. He kissed him, and bit at Farran’s bottom lip, and caressed his chest, and Farran squirmed and moaned and grabbed the prince round the waist to pull him nice and close.

There was no more confusing conversation. The prince took him like that, on his own bed, facing each other, frigging Farran’s cock once again. Farran had an arm over his eyes most of the time, and his head turned to the side, because he found he couldn’t look at the prince. Contrary to the rest of the time, with subtle or impassive expressions on his face, the prince looked quite intense as he fucked Farran. It was overwhelming, and rather than look at it and come quicker and deprive the prince of his reactions, Farran looked away and covered his eyes.

The prince spent himself inside Farran again, and Farran shivered, because he could feel it inside him. The prince rested his forehead on Farran’s shoulder, cock still seated in his asshole, and barely had to stroke Farran before he was coming again, all over both of their stomachs.

*

They laid on the bed and the prince kissed him and touched him until he was hard again and Farran was squirming from resisting touching him or demanding things.

Lips against Farran’s neck, the prince asked, “What are you moaning about?”

Farran twisted his hands into the quilt under him. “Noth–nnngh.”

The prince poked him. “Lying to royalty,” he said. “Tsk tsk tsk.”

“Mmngh.” Farran said, “I want to touch you.”

“No one ever said you couldn’t,” the prince said. He bit down on Farran’s shoulder.

Farran groaned. “I don’t know how many commoners you’ve met, but I’m never going to risk it with someone who could have me executed.” Still, he let go of the quilt and put his hands on the prince’s waist.

“Again,” the prince murmured against his skin, “it would be counter productive. Have you ever swived someone else without touching them?”

“No,” Farran muttered. He slid his hands down to the prince’s ass and squeezed. The prince did that thing where he looked like maybe he was smiling if you were generous, and kissed Farran again.

Farran reached between them and grasped the prince’s cock. When he slid his hand down its length, the prince grunted into Farran’s mouth a little. Slowly, leisurely even, as though it wasn’t the prince’s cock in his hands and it wasn’t leaking pre-come, Farran stroked him until the prince gave up on kissing him and just panted into his shoulder.

Then, feeling daring, he stopped. The prince groaned and looked up at him. “What are you doing?”

Farran said around the lump in his throat, “I thought you might want to bugger me again.”

The prince huffed a laugh out of his nose. “You wanton slut,” he said, but the faint hint of a smile rather removed any bite it might have had. He pulled away from Farran and eased onto his back. “Get up there then.”

Even without any preparation, his asshole was still loose enough from earlier that the prince’s cock slid right in, lubricated by the evidence of the prince’s earlier orgasm. His hips met the prince’s, and he couldn’t help moaning.

“I must say,” the prince said, breathy, “you do look good like this.” He bent his legs, which threw off Farran’s balance and pitched him forward.

“I feel good like this,” Farran said, and bent down to kiss the prince.

*

After the prince spent inside him again, then refused to let Farran’s half-hearted erection go unattended, Farran dozed for a while. The quilt was a mess, but the bed was still nicer than the moldy old straw mattress he had at home. The pillows were stuffed with down, he thought.

So he fell asleep, and when he woke up the prince wasn’t there. The candles were lit, and it was almost full dark. He found the washbasin, next to the scattered crown prince jewelry, and awkwardly attempted to clean himself up. Then he pulled on his pants and wandered back into the room he’d first entered.

It was dark, but he could see the study was lit and the door was open, so he went over to it. The prince was inside at his desk, hair loose around his shoulders, also only wearing pants, and behind him on the table next to the wine was a tin dome covering a serving dish. It smelled like food.

Farran knocked on the door frame. The prince glanced up at him, then waved a hand vaguely over his shoulder. “I had dinner brought up,” he said, and went back to his paperwork.

Farran poured himself another glass of wine before he sat down on the edge of the couch. Then he picked up the tin lid and his eyes widened. Obviously some of it had been eaten, but there was still a generous amount of food; a slab of nice, dark bread, stained on one side from the juice of the beets next to it, what looked like a whole onion, and a slab of beef.

“Well damn,” he said.

He concentrated on eating. The prince didn’t say anything to him, just went on sorting through letters and scrolls and whatever else needed a prince’s attention. Eventually, he was stuffed and his head was swimming a little, and the prince was still sitting at his desk.

“Uh,” Farran said. “Your Highness?”

“Tiede,” said the prince.

“Prince Tiede,” Farran amended.

“Close enough,” the prince muttered.

“Prince Tiede,” he said, “was there–um. Is there anything else I can do for you?”

The prince looked over at him, the corners of his mouth quirked slightly upward in that faint suggestion of a smile. “Ready for more already?”

Farran flushed. “No–I mean, if you–I just wondered what I should…do.”

The faint suggestion of a smile vanished, replaced by the slight drawing-together of his eyebrows that passed for a frown. “I suppose if you don’t read, there isn’t much else to do.”

“Well what are you doing?” Farran’s mouth asked, without consulting his brain. He was opening his mouth to apologize when he saw the prince sort of smiling again.

“Work,” the prince said. “Reading things, signing things. Once in a while I actually get to make a decision or answer a question.”

“And you said it was boring without reading,” Farran said, again before thinking.

The prince smiled a real person smile, and chuckled. “Unfortunately, it’s not optional. Although, it is easier when I’m not so…distracted.”

Gods preserve him, the weird dry insincerity of the prince’s words was starting to sound appealing to Farran. Emboldened by the prince’s smile and, to be entirely honest, the wine buzzing in his head, he crossed the room to the prince and sat on his lap. “Maybe it would help to explain it,” he said.

The prince smiled and ran a hand up Farran’s thigh. “Maybe,” he said.

He humored Farran for at least an hour, explaining letters Farran couldn’t read and talking about written oaths. At one point he complained of tingling legs, so they switched places, with Farran sitting in the chair and the prince sitting in his lap. Towards the end, he did less explaining, and just sat in Farran’s lap as he read through and signed things. Farran watched the way his hair slid across his shoulders, the way he tapped his quill on the edge of the desk when he was reading, listened to him mumble words to himself even when he wasn’t reading aloud. Farran spent so much time alone since his family moved to be with his stepfather, he’d forgotten what it was like to spend time with someone for no set purpose.

Eventually the prince set aside his quill, stretched, and then draped his arm around Farran’s shoulder. He raised his other hand to Farran’s chest and ran his fingers through the hair there. “That’s enough of that,” he murmured, and leaned in to kiss him.

He stood up and looked at the door, and Farran said, “What about the food?”

“Mm,” the prince said. He went into the room with the door to the rest of the castle, and leaned out into the hall. “Aelfred? My mistake, Henry–Henry, could you see that one of the maids cleans up my study? I’ll be in bed, she can just go right in. Thank you.” He closed the door and turned to the bedroom without looking to see that Farran followed.

Farran sat on the bed and watched while the prince did all the business of getting ready for bed. He hung up the clothes he’d left on the floor earlier, combed his hair and braided it, and snuffed all the candles except the one next to the bed, the twist. Obviously this was a smaller castle, and the prince notably didn’t bring many servants with him from the capital, but it was still odd to see the future ruler of the country hang his own clothes and snuff his own candles.

Then he sat down on the bed next to Farran and tugged on the leg of his pants. “Don’t wear your pants to bed,” he said, doing both his slight frown and his slight smile. Teasing, maybe.

Farran wriggled out of his pants. The idea the prince might be teasing him made him very self-conscious. How did a normal person move their arms while removing their pants, he wondered, because he could not remember.

The prince pulled him down on the bed once he was naked again, and kissed him some more, until Farran was breathing heavily. The prince kissed him as he stroked his cock, and all through his orgasm. When Farran went to do the same for the prince, he murmured, “Don’t bother, I’m too tired.”

“Oh, um,” Farran said. “Speaking of which, uh, my sisters tell me I’m a clingy sleeper. I can sleep on the floor…”

“Don’t be stupid,” said the prince. “It’s not like I haven’t shared a bed before.”

“Oh,” Farran said.

The prince yawned and stretched his arms above his head. His bed was big, there was room. “When we had lots of visitors at the castle growing up, they’d give my brother’s room to guests and he’d sleep in with me. And of course when I was very young, I slept with the other children during the winter.”

“Oh,” Farran said.

“And I asked you here, didn’t I,” the prince said. “If I didn’t want you here, you wouldn’t be here.”

“Yes, your Highness.”

The prince sighed and rolled over to face Farran. “You are impossible,” he murmured, and put an arm around him.

*

In the morning, the prince had breakfast brought up as well. They ate in the room that led to the rest of the castle, which the prince called the sitting room. It did have more chairs than the other rooms Farran had seen, but he wasn’t sure how it was a sitting room if they also ate and met people in it.

The prince had him another time after breakfast. While the prince fingered his asshole, Farran blurted that he’d like to suck the prince’s cock again. The prince let him, of course, and it was even better than he remembered. It probably helped that he wasn’t pants-pissingly nervous.

The prince’s prick went noticeably soft after he came in Farran’s mouth. “Don’t worry,” the prince murmured, and hauled Farran up into his lap, and that was how, with one of the prince’s hands on his cock and the other fingering his asshole, Farran came all over the nicest doublet he’d ever been near. He tried to apologize, but the prince kissed him again, and his attempts to speak petered out.

Finally, after the prince changed into a less fancy doublet, he asked if Farran could find his own way out of the castle from here. Then he sent a passing maid with him as an escort when Farran admitted he wasn’t sure.

His cottage seemed small and stuffy after the castle. He put his wine with the leftover wax, put the whole thing out of his mind, and got back to business.

*

A few days went by before he saw the prince again. Once more, he was sent to the prince’s actual chambers. The prince was in his study, at his desk, but he met Farran in the sitting room after he heard the door.

With little talk other than politely phrased orders, the prince got them both undressed and into his bedroom. Again, he fingered Farran’s asshole until he was panting and whining and Farran said, “Would you fuck me already?”

“I can’t believe I thought you’d find this humiliating,” the prince murmured. He rolled onto Farran, and they both gasped as their cocks rubbed against each other. “Ask me again.”

Farran moaned. “You spoiled–please, your Highness, please fuck me.”

“It’s like you have no shame at all,” the prince said, and damn him, that was nearly a real smile. Farran pulled him down for a kiss with both hands.

He pulled away, barely, and, with his lips brushing against the prince’s with every word, said, “Please fuck me now.”

The prince actually shivered, Farran could feel it. “Gods,” he muttered, and adjusted the way he was straddling Farran so he could actually push inside him.

It was easy to be shameless in front of the prince, actually. After all, the prince was never going to think of him as a real person, or someone worth having opinions about. He didn’t go to the same tavern or see Farran on the street in town. Who cared what a prince thought of his manliness, or his pride, or his lacks thereof?

There was no worry in the back of his mind that the prince would tell all the village women he didn’t know what he was doing, or stop coming by his shop, or complain to the castle about some insult. Apart from the thing where the prince could have him whipped, imprisoned, or executed on a word, there weren’t real consequences to anything he did with the prince.

And he did enjoy it, and the prince enjoyed it, and it seemed like the prince enjoyed that Farran enjoyed it, so why bother with petty concerns like shame?

This time, the prince did not frig him as he fucked him. In fact, he had Farran’s hands pinned most of the time. Farran still came, without anyone touching his cock, when he felt the prince come inside him. His orgasm was so intense, in fact, that in addition to coming all over his chest and stomach, he managed to get his own spunk on his face.

He was going to laugh about it, make some joke maybe, and then the prince bent down and licked it off, and he wasn’t even standing and he could feel his knees go weak. Shit, he’d just come so hard it got on his face and it still turned him on.

“Gods,” he had time to murmur, before the prince was kissing him again, deeply. He could taste himself on the prince’s mouth, and fuck if that wasn’t hot too.

But the prince pulled away, and pulled out of him, and rolled onto his back on the bed. It was a hot day, and even in the cool stone walls of the castle it was warm.

“Uh,” Farran said. “So about that bottle of wine you gave me…”

“You would be among the first to know if I was getting married,” the prince said.

“Oh,” Farran said. The prince always seemed to know what he meant, even before he said it. “All right.”

After he got dressed, the prince bent down to kiss him again. Farran didn’t want to stop, but the prince did stop, and then the prince dismissed him, so he got out of the prince’s bed, got dressed, and left.

*

The next time he went to the prince’s chambers, the prince met him there, the prince kissed him and stroked him, the prince fucked him until they were both spent, the prince dismissed him. Again, Farran found himself reluctant to leave.

Maybe the prince felt the same way, for he lingered until Farran was dressed too, and pressed him against the door to kiss him again. Without thinking about it, Farran clutched at his tunic and rubbed against his hip.

The prince smiled against his mouth and pulled back. “Maybe you should come back tonight,” he murmured.

“I could just stay,” Farran said.

“If you like,” the prince said, and kissed him again. “I still have to go now.”

Farran groaned. “Of course,” he said.

“Are you going to stay?” the prince asked.

“I shouldn’t,” Farran said.

“Mm,” the prince said, and if he was disappointed, he hid it well. He kissed Farran again, though, slow and long. He looked up at Farran when he pulled away and said, “I’ll see you tomorrow, then.”

*

The next day Farran cleaned everything up and set things in his shop aside, in case the prince wanted him to stay. In case he wanted to stay. He had never thought this might be a duty someone would enjoy. That never entered into the jokes about this people told, working in the fields or drinking in the tavern. He wondered if others had enjoyed this job, if other men had knelt on the plush carpets in the castle in front of a prince and been reluctant to stop.

He felt a little like a traitor. It was one thing to do what a noble told you to, that was just sense, but to like one was something no sensible commoner would do. You couldn’t trust them.

He still readied this things so he could spend the night with his prince.

*

He tried to drop to his knees in front of the prince, and the prince fell to his knees along with him, seized the front of his shirt, and kissed him. He made a noise, and the prince pulled away just enough to murmur, “I’ll let you suck my cock later,” before he resumed kissing him.

The prince kissed him, and kissed him, and barely groped him. It was still enough to get Farran panting for more and squirming in his trousers. The prince’s arms were around his waist and for the first time that Farran had noticed, his chin was prickly against Farran’s. He was light-headed with all this kissing, and it was wonderful, but it wasn’t enough.

Rather than stop kissing to say something about it, he reached out and grasped the prince’s prick through his hose. The prince moaned and pulled away enough to say, “That’s not fair.”

Farran smiled at him. He could feel the prince’s cock stiffening in his hand, and that was more delightful than he’d expected. “My most sincere apologies, your Highness,” he said, in his best approximation of the prince’s dry tone.

The prince groaned and kissed him again. “I have a request,” he said, breathily. He was as flushed as Farran had ever seen him.

“Of course, your highness,” Farran said, and the prince laughed. Farran kissed him again, because he’d never seen the prince laugh like that, and he didn’t know how else to react. The prince laughed, and it delighted Farran, so he kissed him.

“Fuck me,” the prince said, and Farran paused in the middle of leaning in for another kiss. “Really,” he said, and his ears were definitely pink.

“Um,” Farran said, thinking about it for the first time. “Sure. Of course.”

The prince was silent long enough that Farran started to worry. Eventually the prince said, “If you don’t want to…”

“No!” Farran said. “I will, I want to, I just. Hadn’t thought about it.”

The prince sort of raised one eyebrow. “Really,” he said. He lowered his voice and smiled a little. “You like taking my cock that much?”

It was more complicated than that, Farran wanted to say. He had lots of reasons to not think about the prince like that, not just the admittedly compelling fact that he did very much enjoy it when the prince buggered him. Instead of saying anything explanatory or eloquent, though, Farran said, “Mnngh.”

The prince ground his thigh into Farran’s cockstand. “This is promising, at least,” he murmured.

He led Farran by the hand into the bedroom. Farran managed to undress himself even though his fingers were clumsy and uncooperative.

The prince started to use his own fingers to stretch himself, and Farran managed to stammer out an offer to do it. Then, without asking, he bent down to suck the prince’s cock at the same time. The prince groaned and fisted a hand in Farran’s hair. Farran pulled away and the prince said, “No no, don’t stop, don’t–”

The prince spent in his mouth, and Farran kept fingering him. He began to see why the prince could do this to him for what felt like hours; it was extremely satisfying to make him pant and moan and writhe. It was almost, though not quite, enough to distract him from his own persistent arousal.

“Farran,” the prince said. “Farran, please.”

“Right,” Farran said. “Yes.”

It was weird, to be on this side of things. He pushed into the prince, and was not quite distracted from how good it felt by the prince’s moan. “Gods,” the prince murmured, quiet enough that Farran wasn’t sure if he knew he was doing it. He pulled out a little, and that drew another appreciative noise from the prince.

It felt good, yes–gods it felt good–but it was the prince’s reactions that interested Farran. If the prince had been subtle and quiet before it was clearly because he didn’t enjoy it as much as he could. Like this, with Farran’s cock inside him, he moaned, and panted, and said things like “Harder,” and “Faster,” and “Don’t stop,” and grabbed Farran’s arms to pull him closer. Every time Farran pushed back in, against him, the prince let out a noise that was embarrassingly similar to the sound Farran made when the prince swived him.

Farran shifted to make his knees feel better, and the prince cried out on the next stroke. As though his cry hadn’t been enough, as though the way his entire body twitched hadn’t been enough, “There,” the prince said, “right there, just like that.”

“Gods,” Farran said, “gods, your Highness–”

“Tiede, dammit Farran, use my name,” the prince groaned, arching his back to push back against him.

“Tiede,” Farran murmured, “I’m about to–”

The prince dug his fingernails into Farran’s skin where he was hanging onto him. “Farran,” he breathed. “Fuck, Farran.”

So Farran spent, inside the prince, inside the future ruler of his country, then collapsed onto him. They were both slick with sweat and breathing hard. Farran had held out as long as he could, since the prince so enjoyed having him this way, but he found the prince rather attractive like this, which made it difficult.

The prince patted his hair and nuzzled into his neck. “Sorry,” Farran mumbled, and made to move off him.

The prince grabbed him again. “Don’t,” he said. “Not yet. I’m fine.” Farran hummed acquiescence, even though it was warm and sweaty. The prince smelled nice, even sweaty like this. He smelled good. He smelled very good.

Eventually the prince squirmed and Farran removed himself over the prince’s objections. The prince rolled over to look at him. If Farran didn’t know better, he’d say the prince was looking at him fondly.

“You really liked that,” Farran said.

“Mm,” the prince said, and smiled his subtle little smile. “I did.”

“Good,” Farran said.

The smile vanished and the prince looked serious again. “You can’t tell anyone about this,” he said.

Farran was confused. “I thought I was already not telling anyone about all this.”

“Good,” he said. “But you especially can’t talk about this. It’s technically treason.”

Farran choked on his next breath. “What?”

“It’s a hanging offense,” the prince said.

“Gods above, Tiede!”

The prince smiled, a real smile, and Farran flushed. He’d never seen the prince make that obvious an expression. “Sorry,” said the prince, and he didn’t sound sorry at all. “At least I’m not about to tell anyone.”

“Well, thank you, your Highness,” Farran muttered, and the prince laughed. Farran kissed him again. The prince put a hand in his hair again, and one on his shoulder, and held him to keep kissing.

“Can you stay the night?” the prince murmured against Farran’s lips, and Farran was gratified to be able to say yes.

*

Farran spent the night in the prince’s bed, in the prince’s arms. The castle cooled off much better at night than his cottage did. He slept soundly and comfortably, and when he woke, the prince kissed him good morning. They broke their fast in the sitting room and then the prince leaned into him for more kissing.

“Why do I bother getting dressed?” Farran muttered, while the prince stripped off his shirt.

“Because I like undressing you,” the prince said, and caressed his sides. “First I can’t see you…” He ran a hand up to Farran’s neck, which made him shiver. “Then I can.”

They had sex again, there on a couch in the sitting room. The prince took him in again, and held him close, and kissed him while Farran was inside him, and it was sweaty and should have been gross. It wasn’t. It wasn’t sweaty and gross even though it was certainly sweaty, probably because Farran liked the prince. He wanted to kiss him when he laughed. He wanted to make him laugh.

He was in love with the prince, who would eventually have to get married to some woman, some noble woman who would have royal babies for him. One day he was going to be the king and married and living in the capital.

But he hadn’t gotten married. He’d turned down every offer he’d gotten. If all he wanted was sex, he could have taken one of them. Yet he hadn’t.

The prince sat up and stretched. Farran loved watching him move while naked. He loved him.

Without thinking too much about it, he said, “Can I ask why you haven’t gotten married?”

The prince looked back at him and made a face, an uncontrolled expression of disgust. Well, uncontrolled for him. He twisted his mouth and wrinkled his nose. “I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I rather prefer men.”

Farran hadn’t wanted to assume, but he wasn’t exactly surprised. “Sure,” he said, “but there’s gotta be ladies who’d just be happy to marry into the royal family.”

“Plenty,” the prince said. He stood up and walked away, toward the windows. He had a lovely back, which was maybe a weird thought. Farran felt like half his thoughts lately were weird thoughts. The prince went on, “Unfortunately I find it difficult to stomach the idea of celibacy.”

No fooling, Farran thought, but managed not to say. He’d never even had this much sex before. Usually people had other things to do, or nowhere to do it. The prince certainly didn’t have the latter problem, and apparently could rearrange his schedule enough to eliminate the former problem too.

“You know,” Farran said, “it’s not like you’d be the first king to keep a lover. Even a” –he steeled himself– “male one.”

The prince turned and looked at him. His hair shone in the sunlight coming through the window. “And how would you feel if I married, say, the Duchess of Isling,” the prince said, “and asked you to move to the capital to continue this?”

“I would do as you wished,” Farran said, hoping that example was entirely hypothetical, and hoping further his worry it wasn’t didn’t show on his face.

“I didn’t ask if you would do it,” the prince said. “I asked how you would feel. Or perhaps, how do you think the Duchess would feel, knowing I wasn’t satisfied with her?”

Farran stared at him a moment before deciding he was sincere. “Rotten,” he admitted. “Guilty. I wouldn’t want to face the Duchess at all.”

“Exactly,” the prince said. He turned away again and began brushing his hair back into its customary neat tail. “I’m not going to turn some poor woman into my mother,” he murmured.

Farran had never heard any hint of the king being unfaithful to the queen, but he had noticed the prince avoided speaking of him as much as possible. He was always “the king my father,” never simply “father.”

“Is the king…” Farran didn’t know how to finish that sentence. What could he say that wasn’t ultimately treasonous in its implications?

“The king my father is a fine ruler,” the prince said. “He is less satisfactory as a father or husband. My mother truly loves him, only the gods know why.” He pulled on his hose, and Farran did not think he was imagining the prince moving more stiffly than usual. “I have no desire to repeat that pattern.”

“Couldn’t you abdicate?” Farran asked. “It’s not like there’d be a war, you have a brother.”

The prince pulled his doublet off the back of the couch. “No prince in two centuries has abdicated for anything less than a religious calling.”

“You don’t think your happiness is as important as a religious calling?” Farran asked.

“No,” the prince said.

“Wh–no? Why not?” Farran demanded.

“I have duties to the kingdom,” the prince said. He turned to Farran. “Did I miss any?”

This was the doublet with the dozens of square buttons. Farran had never imagined the prince might miss some, although anyone with buttons on their clothes did at some point. It was as divorced in his mind from the concept of princeliness as knobbly knees. “I don’t think so,” Farran said. “You have duties to yourself, too.”

“I’m afraid I don’t have the privilege of thinking that way,” the prince said. He sat back on the couch, next to Farran, to pull his boots back on. His boots were more expensive than anything in Farran’s home, except maybe the biggest vat he used for ceremonial candles. They were tall and snug and frankly ought not to have been allowed in public, the prince’s calves looked so good in them.

“You’re a prince,” Farran said.

“Exactly,” he said. “I don’t get to be just Tiede.”

“That’s stupid,” Farran said automatically, and immediately wished he hadn’t.

“Is it?” the prince asked, looking at him and catching his eye. Farran thought of all the times the prince told him to use his name, or reminded him of it, and the closest he’d gotten was “Prince Tiede” instead of “your Highness”. How the only time he’d used the prince’s given name at all was during sex. He blushed. The prince did a thing with his mouth that couldn’t qualify as a smile, even from him. “You see?”

He kissed Farran on the cheek and rose. On the way to the door, he said, “I’ll see you tomorrow,” and then he was gone.

The prince had never kissed him on the cheek before.

*

The next time he went to the castle to see the prince, the prince asked Farran to bugger him again. It wasn’t exactly a hardship, though Farran was perhaps a little disappointed to not feel the prince’s cock inside him. It was just so easy to get the prince excited and reactive like this.

He thought back to how the prince had been with him, and risked imitating him. He said, “You like this? You like my cock inside you?”

The prince groaned and shuddered. “Yes, Farran, gods.”

“Say it,” Farran said, feeling daring. The prince groaned. Lower, Farran repeated, “Say it.”

“I–fuck, Farran–I love your cock,” the prince moaned, “I love having it inside me.”

Oh shit, Farran thought to himself. The prince looked so good like this, flushed and sweaty and–gods–saying he loved Farran’s cock. Farran bit his lip to keep from losing himself. He took a deep breath and pushed in again, and the prince made a frankly obscene noise, and Farran said, “And you called me a slut.”

“Takes one,” the prince said, smiling, “to know one.”

Farran bent over, pressing the prince’s legs nearly double, with his knees up by his ears, to kiss him. The prince moaned into his mouth with every movement.

Afterwards, as they lay panting on the bed, Farran said, “So you’ve done that before.”

“Sure,” the prince said. “How do you think I knew it was a hanging offense?”

“How did you talk anyone into it?” Farran asked. “Did they know?”

The prince shrugged. “I don’t lead with that,” he said. “When we were younger, being crown prince didn’t mean as much. Then when one of them started talking about ruining my reputation, I got to tell him it was treason if he did.”

Farran wanted to ask who it was, but it really wasn’t any of his business. Even if the thought of anyone else being with the prince like this made him nauseous and angry. He didn’t have the right to be jealous. “That’s one way to avoid a scandal,” he said instead.

“Yes,” the prince murmured. “Especially since there’s no provision in the law for if he wanted it. It’s an easy way to skirt being disowned by the king my father.”

“You really think he’d disown you?” Farran asked.

The prince shrugged again. “It would be stupid, but he might, since he has Arden to take over as heir.”

“Why would he do that?”

“Embarrassment,” the prince said. “It would wound his pride to have a son like me. I don’t think he’d risk a civil war over it, but…” He shrugged again, then rolled onto his side and started playing with Farran’s chest hair. He did that a lot, actually. His own body hair was light and thin, so Farran supposed his dark curls were a change. It felt pretty nice.

“You think people would fight over it?” he asked, trying to keep hold of the conversation even though he knew a fraction of the politics the prince did. Even though the prince touching him was distracting. Even though the prince being within visual range was distracting, to be honest.

“Some people would use any excuse to try to overthrow the royal family,” the prince said, as if he was discussing the weather or dinner or something else inconsequential, instead of treasonous conspirators who would probably murder him if their overthrow attempt were to succeed. “If the king my father disowned me, there would be no way to avoid accusations of coercion even if I did genuinely abdicate. At least one of us would wind up dead, eventually.”

“Gods above, how can you talk about that so calmly?”

The prince looked up at him, not quite smiling. “Because it’s not going to happen,” he said. “The only remotely wild card is you, and I think you’ve made your position on dying fairly clear.”

“Committing suicide by admitting to treason does not sound like a good time,” Farran said.

The prince’s mouth widened into a real smile. “And continuing to swive me does,” he said.

“There is that,” Farran said, and the prince moved in to kiss him. He caught the prince around the waist and held him there. The prince was lazier with his kisses post-buggering, sloppy. It was cute, and made Farran think the prince was content. He was already much less stiff when they were alone in a room now, but especially so after he had Farran in his ass.

The prince pulled away long enough to murmur, “I should go,” and then kissed him again.

It was several more minutes of kissing before the prince finally pushed himself off Farran and got out of the bed. As he was getting dressed, he glanced over at Farran and said, “I suppose it would cause talk to have you move in here.”

“Uh,” Farran said. “Talk. Probably. Yes.”

With his doublet only half-fastened, the prince turned back to Farran. He leaned over the bed to kiss him again. “It was so nice,” he murmured, “knowing you were here waiting for me.”

Farran had finally started to cool down, and now his face warmed right back up as he flushed. “That would cause talk,” he said.

The prince sighed, a little exhalation of breath Farran would hardly notice from anyone else. “I know,” he said. “Maybe once I’m married.”

Farran frowned, but didn’t say anything.

The prince noticed, of course. “What’s wrong?”

“I thought you didn’t want to get married,” he said.

“I don’t,” said the prince. “But I don’t have much of a choice.”

“Mm,” Farran said.

“You disagree?”

“A little,” Farran said. A month ago–hell, a week ago–he wouldn’t have dared openly disagree with the prince. “You could abdicate, after all. Or simply not marry and name your brother your heir, right?”

“I could,” the prince said slowly. “In the same way that you, or any of the other men I’ve been with, could tell someone about it.”

“That’s not the same,” Farran said. “You don’t get executed for it. You’re allowed to be happy.”

“I’m not,” the prince said. He turned away to finish fastening his doublet. “I’m a prince first, a person second. If my unhappiness is what the country requires, so be it.”

“That is such bullshit,” Farran said.

The prince whipped his head around. “Excuse me?”

“It is,” Farran said. “We’ve had kings that didn’t marry before, and kings that didn’t have children. I don’t think anyone cares as much as you think they do.”

“I don’t really want to be history’s next Lonely Lloyd,” the prince said. “Besides, things were different then. The Council wants stability.”

“The country, the Council, the king,” Farran said, rolling his eyes. “None of your reasons involve what you want at all.”

“No, they don’t,” said the prince. He tugged his doublet down. “I don’t get to marry whoever I want or do whatever I want or live wherever I want. That’s not the deal.”

“You can make it the deal, though,” Farran said. He sat up in the bed. “Your Highness, if you told everyone you weren’t getting married or were–marrying another man like a commoner, and if they didn’t like it they could go hang, I’m pretty sure most everyone would just shrug.”

“Your insight into the mind of the nobility is astounding,” the prince said, and it was the first time in a while that Farran heard that dry tone and did not feel secure about being in on the joke.

Farran set his jaw. “All I know is all your reasons are about other people. I bet you could fight for it if you wanted to. Ain’t like you don’t know how to be mean.”

“Oh, pardon me,” the prince said, “for thinking I have a better read on the situation than a candlemaker who doesn’t know how to enter a room.”

Farran flushed. “Yeah, it must take real ignorance to think everyone deserves to think about themself once in a while, even stuck-up nobles.”

“It’s more complicated than that,” the prince said, rolling his eyes. “I have much more to consider than a commoner, or even lesser nobility. What’s best for the kingdom, the country, my family, the people, not just what I want.”

“It doesn’t sound like you’ve even considered what you want,” Farran said.

The prince snorted, a less delicate sound than Farran might have expected, based on his otherwise understated expressions. “I have considered it at length,” he said. “You wouldn’t be here if I hadn’t. I would like nothing more than to let everything else hang and just be with the man I love, but I can’t ignore everything else.”

Farran frowned. “Don’t say that,” he said.

“Why not?” the prince asked sharply.

“Because,” he said. “It’s…you’re a prince.”

“So I don’t have feelings?” the prince asked, not even bothering to pretend to be calm. “Or is it that you’re not worthy of love because your father didn’t have a title?”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Farran said. “I’m, you know, flattered, but you’re going to go back to the capital and be the damn king some day.”

“Oh, I see,” the prince said. “You don’t want me to be in love with you because then you can’t be the tragic and miserable one.”

“I don’t want to be tragic and miserable,” Farran said.

“Oh please,” the prince said, rolling his eyes again, more dramatically. Of course this was where he’d be emotive, expressing disdain. “You told your mother to remarry and move all your sisters away.”

Farran’s chest went cold. “You don’t know anything about my family.”

“I know you’re miserable without them,” said the prince.

His hands were shaking. “It’s not any of your business,” he said.

“It is when you’re trying to do the same thing now,” the prince said. “You think it’s fine for you to suffer as long as everybody else is happy, and you never stop to think maybe we don’t want you to suffer for us! I’m sure your mother wouldn’t want you to be miserable! I don’t want you to be miserable!”

“Don’t talk like you know anything about my life,” Farran said. “Or my decisions. You’re a spoiled brat who’s never had to make a hard choice in your life.”

The prince laughed, and it was not cute, and it did not make Farran want to kiss him. It was cruel, and it made Farran want to punch him. Or perhaps cry. “Spoiled!” he said. “First I’m not selfish enough, and now I’m spoiled. You don’t know anything about my life.”

“Why am I here?” Farran asked. “Why am I here? You think normal people get their own personal whores?”

The prince clenched his jaw. “I don’t think of you that way.”

“It’s what I fucking am,” Farran said. “Isn’t it? Isn’t that what you call someone you pay to swive?”

“So it’s not that you want to be miserable, then,” the prince said, and something happened to his eyes that made him look very cold and far away. “I was laboring under a false impression.”

“I–no–gods, why are you like this?” Farran said.

“So you do want to be miserable,” the prince said.

“No, I just–” He sighed, and sagged, and felt like the fight drained out of him. “How is this going to work?” he asked. “If it’s–if we’re–”

The prince echoed his sigh, and his shoulders slumped a little too. “I don’t know,” he said, and the cold drained from his look. “I don’t want you to be miserable, though,” he said, quietly. “And if all we’re doing here is making you miserable, we can stop.”

Was that a sincere offer? He supposed that depended on whether the prince really did love him. He thought–he hoped, really, let’s be honest–he hoped the prince was sincere. He didn’t know, of course, if the prince had been in love before, or knew for sure. He wanted to believe him, though.

But if he did, he had to think about the offer seriously. And…did he really want to stop doing this? Stop seeing the prince? Would he be happier stopping now, before he got any more attached? Could he even do that, just go back to making candles in his lonely cottage and never see the prince again?

He said, “I’m not miserable now. I’m not miserable being with you.” One corner of the prince’s mouth twitched upwards a bit. “I don’t see a reason to stop,” Farran said.

“All right then,” said the prince. “I really do have to go.” He sat back down on the edge of the bed and leaned in for a kiss. It was not actually any different, but knowing the prince loved him made it feel new again. Farran’s heart beat faster and his head swam.

The prince pulled away, and Farran asked, “Tomorrow?”

“Sure,” the prince said, and finally left.

So he was left to dress himself, as though nothing had changed at all, even though the prince was in love with him. Even though he’d fought with a noble–with a royal, even–and never worried about the consequences.

He pulled on his leggings and tunic and made his way out of the castle without even needing a guide. For the first time, he wished he could tell people about this. He loves me, he wanted to tell each maid and courtier he passed. He loves me, he did not say to the gate guard. He loves me, he did not say to the innkeeper loading his trashbins onto a wagon.

They had no possible future, but it was hard to think about that when all there was in his head was the prince kissing him with the promise of tomorrow.

*

The steward came down to Farran’s cottage in the morning to pick up the week’s worth of candles. He brought with him the rather sizable sum Farran earned with the prince. He almost didn’t want to accept it, but that would entail talking to the steward about it, a man twice his age who had never seemed especially fond of him.

Besides which, if he could get space on the royal mail coach next time it came through, he could send his stepfather money for his sisters.

“If you and the prince are going to continue this arrangement,” the steward said, as he counted the candles to make certain he was paying the right amount, “perhaps you could bring these up to the castle yourself, save a trip.”

“Um,” Farran said. “Sure. I could do that.”

“That would be nice,” the steward said. He counted out additional coins for the candles. “And if you ever intend to stop,” he continued, “I would appreciate a warning.”

“A warning?”

“He gets sulky,” the steward said. “It’s easier to deal with when we’re ready for it.”

“I don’t think it would be up to me,” Farran said. He was blushing, dammit.

The steward stared at him. Maybe he was where the prince learned that incredible impassiveness. “Nonetheless,” he said, and inclined his head in farewell.

Gods only knew what the rest of the castle staff thought was going on, if the steward thought he was going to somehow break the prince’s heart. That would only get worse over time. For a moment, he worried what it would do to his reputation in the village, before he realized he didn’t really care. The prince was in love with him; what did it matter what anyone else thought?

It was a good thing he hardly spoke to anyone for any length of time these days. He might not be able to hold a conversation, with his head so full of the prince, and how they were in love. He loved the prince and the prince loved him.

Oh, he was stupid with this.

*

The prince greeted him with a kiss. Farran messed it up by smiling, and the prince drew back to say, “Missed me, did you?”

“It’s only been a day,” Farran said, knowing all the while the prince would see through that.

“Mm,” the prince said, and kissed him again.

At Farran’s hesitant request, the prince fucked him again. He pressed Farran into the bed and pounded away, catching Farran’s spunk on his hands. He had Farran lick it up again, while he continued to thrust. Farran had another orgasm without spending anything at all, at which point the prince gripped his shoulder so tightly Farran could tell it was going to bruise, before he himself spent.

Afterwards, they spent a great deal of time kissing before the prince reluctantly pulled away. Farran tidied up after them, dressed, and went back to making candles.

*

They fell into a routine. They had sex, Farran spent one or two nights a week at the castle, and they did not speak again about marriage or abdication or being in love. They talked a lot about unimportant things, told each other about childhood escapades or overheard gossip. The prince talked about his younger brother taking ages to get the hang of shaving, and how the castle staff helped him hide that fact from the king. Farran told the prince about playing hide-and-seek with his sisters, and how they lost their youngest sister and worked themselves into a frenzy worrying what they would tell their mother, only to find her safely curled up in the inn’s hayloft sleeping. The prince told him about balls and court dances, and he talked about county fairs he’d been to and impromptu dances at the inn when a musician passed through. There were times when it felt more intimate to stay up late talking to each other than when the prince fucked him against a wall or he sucked the prince’s cock until it was completely soft again.

The prince teased him for being jealous when they talked about past partners. He held the prince in a headlock for nearly five minutes when they argued about who had eaten the last jellied orange until the prince admitted he had. They spent more time with the prince sitting in Farran’s lap while he read through his correspondence. One night, Farran combed and braided the prince’s hair while he did so. The prince saw it in the looking-glass later and suggested Farran should be a hairdresser instead of a candlemaker, and laughed when Farran protested he only knew how to do it that way because his oldest sister liked to wear her hair like that. Afterwards, though, the prince asked him to braid his hair before bed more often than not when he spent the night.

Farran slept much better on nights he stayed at the castle. The bed was nicer, the blankets were nicer, and he always had slept better cuddled up with someone. Even if sometimes he woke up with the prince’s hair coming out of its braid and sticking to his lips, it was nice. The prince took longer and longer to get out of bed when he stayed. Sometimes he would go back to sleep, face nestled against Farran’s neck. They didn’t talk about him staying there, but Farran thought about it almost every night he spent at the castle, and every morning the prince rolled over and snuggled up to him and went back to sleep.

*

Farran only had a little wheelbarrow, not a real cart, but it was good enough to take the weekly candle shipment up to the castle. It wasn’t like he’d be able to keep a mule or horse anyway.

The first few times, the steward directed him to the prince’s location once the candles were accounted for. Today, the steward said, “His Highness is actually meeting with the Baron of Adalfort at the moment. However, if you’d wait in his rooms, I’m sure he’d be happy to see you afterward.”

“Ah,” Farran said. “I didn’t know the Baron of Adalfort had a daughter.”

“A sister,” the steward said. “I expect his Highness will be in a particularly bad mood.”

He was right, on every count. Farran dozed on the couch in the sitting room a few hours, and when the prince walked in and saw him there, he could almost see the bad mood fall off the prince like a coat. Granted, he was still annoyed, and rougher with Farran than usual, but that didn’t bother Farran. It reminded him of when the prince first called upon him. The prince took him hard, and bit him as much as he kissed him, and Farran thoroughly enjoyed it.

“Sorry,” said the prince, breathing heavily, when they were finished.

“No, don’t be,” Farran said. “It’s fine. Are you all right?”

The prince let out a lengthy sigh. “That woman is older than my mother,” he said. “This wasn’t even an heir thing.”

“What would be the point of that?” Farran asked.

“Tormenting me,” the prince murmured. “No, she’s a nice woman, but it would just be a connection to Adalfort. I’ve no idea what he was thinking.”

Farran brushed a stray wisp of hair out of the prince’s face. It had come mostly out of its tail while they were busy, and was all over the place. “How long are you going to do this?” he asked.

“Ideally, until the king my father dies,” the prince said.

“Uh huh,” Farran said.

The prince stared up at the ceiling. “I don’t know,” he said. “I suppose I won’t be able to get away with it much longer. Arden is nearly of marrying age, my parents will want this settled so they can worry about him.” He sighed again.

“Were you…” Farran bit his lip, then made himself say it anyway. “Were you serious about moving me to the capital?”

The prince rolled onto his side to look at him. More of his hair fell into his face, and he blew at it fruitlessly. He pushed it behind his ear and said, “If you want to. It would be closer to your family.”

“The thought had crossed my mind,” Farran said. His stepfather lived in a town near the capital, on the other side of it. It was less than a day’s journey from the capital, in good weather. “But…”

“What?” the prince said.

“This is nice,” Farran said. “This is–really nice. I just don’t know if it would be the same. I mean, you’re going to be unhappy.”

“I’d be more unhappy if you weren’t there,” the prince murmured.

“I know,” Farran said. “But…I wouldn’t have to see it.” He looked down at the quilt. It was faded from age and washing so the reds were more the color of redwood, and the blacks were mostly gray. “I know it’s selfish, but I…I don’t like seeing people I–know unhappy.” He picked at a loose thread and forced a laugh. “Besides, what would I even do in the capital? There’s already plenty of candlemakers, and I don’t wanna get knocked back down to apprentice. The castle’s got its own private candlemaker, right? I suppose I could live outside the city and be someone’s farm hand.”

The prince grunted. “I guess I couldn’t really get you a position in the court,” he said.

“Not one that’d last,” Farran said. “Can you imagine? ‘Your Highness, some old guy is here to see you.'”

The prince huffed a laugh. Farran glanced up at him in time to see the amusement leave his face entirely, and under it, he looked almost sad. Farran wasn’t sure what it was, exactly; something about the eyes, maybe. “So you wouldn’t really want to move there when I leave,” he said, softly.

Farran looked back down at the bed before the prince caught his eye. “Not really,” he said. “Sorry.”

The prince shrugged. “You’re allowed to be selfish,” he said. “I did ask.” As opposed to ordering, which was the plan when he brought this up before, Farran recalled.

“Yeah,” he said. He rubbed at his face. This was still all in the future, he told himself. “That’s actually why I told my mom to say yes to Dirk,” he said. “She was working so hard, but the girls want to go to school. Ma wants the girls to go to school. Lots of tradesmen out here won’t take girls as apprentices.”

“But schools are expensive,” the prince said.

“Yeah,” Farran said. “And no matter how hard I work, there’s only so many candles people need at one time. We got one of the traveling teachers to teach Alivia to read, and she taught Siwan and Meraud, but…y’know, once Meraud knew how to read there just weren’t enough books in town. So they were all unhappy, especially Ma and Merry. And, well, you were right, I miss them all the time, but Dirk said there was a school right in town he’d send the girls to. And he don’t need Ma to work, he even offered to hire a housekeeper if she wanted.”

“So now everyone’s happy but you,” the prince said.

“No, I’m happy,” Farran said. “I miss them, but they miss me too, I hope.”

The prince murmured, “I’m sure they do.”

“So it’s better,” Farran said. “It is. I don’t have to watch my mom work herself to death.”

“I guess that would be nice,” the prince muttered. He reached out and took Farran’s hand. “Well, I know one thing,” he said normally. “I’m not about to marry the Baron of Adalfort’s sister.”

“Praise the gods,” Farran said, and bent down to kiss the prince’s hand. He missed and kissed his own hand instead, which made the prince laugh. So he kissed the prince’s smiling mouth, and they ended up going another round, and once back on more familiar ground, Farran could put the whole idea of the prince leaving back in the back of his mind where it belonged.

*

One of the older maids was pregnant, so the steward sent her home to rest until the baby was older, and someone’s younger sister came in to replace her.

Farran knew this because she walked in on them one day, obviously unaware of Farran’s role in castle life. Of course, it was the absolute worst time and place to walk in; the prince was behind him on the couch in the sitting room, they were facing the door, and Farran was stark naked and hard as a rock. The prince paused his thrusting when she opened the door, but did not release Farran’s wrists, which he was holding behind Farran’s back. The maid dropped the tray and tea set she was carrying and turned very red, considering her skin was even darker than Farran’s.

“I’m so sorry, your Highness,” she said, and tried to close the door. Unfortunately, it caught on the dropped tea set and tray, and she had to open the door again to gather up the pieces.

“It’s all right, Morgan,” the prince said. “Leave the pieces.”

“Oh thank the gods,” Morgan breathed. She swept the whole mess out of the doorway and fled.

“You asshole,” Farran said, tugging at the prince’s grip on his arms, although not hard enough to break free. “That was humiliating, you could at least let me cover up.”

“I was testing a theory,” the prince said, and used the hand that wasn’t restraining Farran to reach around and grab his cock. Farran gasped, and he felt the prince’s grin against the skin of his shoulder. “You certainly are stiff for being humiliated.” He rubbed his palm on the head of Farran’s cock, and Farran moaned. “And awfully wet,” he murmured. Farran bit his lip and ground back against the prince as much as he could, which wasn’t a lot with the prince already deep inside him. “I’ve been thinking maybe you actually enjoy being humiliated.”

“That’s ridiculous,” Farran said, even though he definitely was flushed and hard and, yes, almost dripping with pre-come.

“I don’t think so,” the prince said. He nibbled at Farran’s ear and stroked his cock. “I should have kept going,” he said. “I bet you would have had a hell of an orgasm if she’d watched you getting fucked.” He started moving again, and Farran groaned. “I could do that, couldn’t I,” the prince mused. “Order someone to come in and see what an utter slut you are.” He pulled out, slowly, and Farran whined. “How does that sound, hmm? Just…like…this.” He moved his hips and his hand at the same time, pumping Farran’s cock and fucking him in unison. “I’d fuck you,” he said, “and you wouldn’t be able to do anything. They’d see exactly what kind of man you are.”

“Tiede, gods,” Farran groaned. “Please–”

“I wonder if you’d spend on command,” the prince said. “We could really put on a show then.”

Farran twitched so hard he jerked right out of the prince’s grip as he came. He collapsed onto the arm of the couch. “Don’t stop,” he said, and the prince laughed but he didn’t stop.

Afterwards, on the other end of the couch, they laid together, cuddling. The prince was mostly on top of Farran, as the couch was not really wide enough for two people lying that way. Farran had a faceful of wispy blond hair but he found it difficult to mind.

“You know,” Farran said, “it’s just as perverse to want to humiliate someone as it is to enjoy being humiliated.”

“That’s possible,” the prince said. He snorted. “No, that’s–that’s why I chose you.”

“You said something about that once,” Farran said. He spat some of the prince’s hair out of his mouth.

“Mm,” the prince said. “Yeah, I thought…if I wasn’t going to get what I really wanted out this, I might as well have some fun. I thought it would be funny to get a big straight guy, the kind who used to–hm.”

“What? The kind who used to what?”

“Make fun of me,” the prince said. “Not that any commoner did, at least not to my face.”

Farran frowned. “Make fun of you for what? What’s to make fun of?”

“Oh, lots of things,” the prince said, and his casual tone made Farran angrier than anything else could have. “Mostly for being a sissy.”

“What the fuck,” Farran said.

“Calm down,” the prince said. “It’s not like they were wrong.” Farran huffed and started to say something, but the prince poked him in the ribs. “Don’t act like you wouldn’t have done the same. You’d have pushed me into the mud first chance.”

“Everyone pushed everyone into the mud,” Farran said. “That way no one got in trouble for playing in the mud, it wasn’t their fault.” He brushed the prince’s hair off his face, behind the prince’s head. The prince took the opportunity to steal a kiss. “If you really didn’t like someone, you pushed them out of a tree,” Farran said.

“I would have died if I’d been born common,” the prince muttered, and Farran laughed.

“So instead of getting to humiliate a bully,” Farran said, “you got me, who had to go home and frig himself before he could concentrate after that first day.”

“Really?” the prince asked. “The first day? All I had you do was suck my cock. Oh, but you love sucking cock.”

“Mmhmm,” Farran said. “So you fucked that one up.”

The prince laughed and kissed Farran on the cheek. “No,” he said. “I didn’t.”

*

A few days later, Farran met Morgan the maid on his way out of the castle. She flushed when she saw him and said, “Sorry about the other day.”

Farran shrugged although his face was feeling warm too. “I’m sorry no one warned you so you could avoid it. D’you need help with that?”

“I won’t turn it down,” she said, and handed him one of the bags she was carrying. It was heavy and felt full of fabric. “Actually,” she said as he followed her wherever she was taking these bags of probably laundry, “I was warned, I think? But I thought they were joshing me. You know, teasing the new kid.”

Farran laughed. “I guess that’s fair,” he said. “That’s a rough way to find out it’s not a joke, though.”

“Not as bad as the way you did, I bet,” she said.

“Eh,” Farran said, “I think walking in on your boss swiving someone is a bad way to learn anything.”

She glanced over at him. “I guess,” she said. She stopped in front of a stairway leading down and said, “You don’t need to come down to laundry with me. Thanks for the hand, though.”

He handed the bag back to her. “Sure,” he said. “See you around.”

Most of the rest of the staff no longer avoided Farran’s gaze. They mainly ignored him these days, or pointed him in the direction of the prince. Some of them would nod or smile at him, not in an especially friendly way, but the way you did when you acknowledged someone else’s presence. Morgan actually said hello to him, and chatted sometimes when neither of them had something pressing to do. He wasn’t sure if that was because she felt more guilty or less guilty around him than the rest of them.

“How do you stand it?” she asked him one day.

He frowned. “What do you mean?”

She rolled her eyes. “Come on,” she said. “It’s one thing to be a servant, it’s another thing to be–a thing.”

“He doesn’t treat me like that,” Farran said. “He’s not like that.

Morgan looked doubtful. “He didn’t even stop when I walked in that day,” she said.

Farran flushed and said, “That’s–that was different.”

“Just because you get off on it doesn’t make it different,” she said. She was clearly trying to sound authoritative, but she was blushing again.

“That’s not–that’s not why I’m defending him,” Farran said. “He’s a good man.”

“My gods,” she said. “You like him?”

“Don’t you?” Farran asked.

“As someone to work for,” Morgan said. “He’s nobility, though, you know they don’t think of us as people.”

“Tie–Prince Tiede does,” Farran said.

She raised her eyebrows. “On a first name basis, are you? Does his Highness know that?”

Farran thought he must have been as red in the face now as she was when she walked in on them. “Yes,” he said. “Because he treats me like a person.”

“If you say so,” she said, as though she didn’t believe him even a little bit. She shook her head. “You’ve got it bad, don’t you?”

“I’ve got it just fine,” Farran said. “I have to go. I’ll see you.”

As he walked away, he heard her laugh. Was he that transparent to everyone?

*

An out-of-breath guard flung open the door to Farran’s workshop. Farran jumped and banged an entire line of candles against the side of the tub. “Shit!” he said. He pulled the rack out of the water and set it aside. “What?”

“The–the prince–Hang on,” the guard said, and doubled over, panting and clutching his side.

“What?” Farran’s insides went cold. “What’s wrong with the prince?”

“The guard held up a hand. “Fine–letter–from the king.”

“Oh, shit,” Farran said.

“Yeah,” the guard said. “Albert said–I should get you.” Albert was the steward’s name.

“All right,” Farran said. “Can I–no, you can–can you put out the fires and cover the wax for me?” The guard nodded. “I’m going, then,” he said. “Thank you!”

He ran the first part of the way to the castle, then slowed when he reached the walls. The gate guards looked relieved to see him, and pointed him toward the great hall. On his way to the great hall, a maid stopped him and redirected him to the steward’s office.

He ran into the prince coming out of Albert’s office. Literally, ran into him and stumbled, and just managed to catch the prince before he fell.

“What are you doing here?” the prince asked.

“Are you all right?” Farran asked.

The prince rolled his eyes and muttered, “Albert.” Then he said to Farran, “I’m fine.” Farran frowned and the prince sighed. He added, “I am glad you’re here, though.”

Farran leaned in and kissed him. At first the prince was still and unresponsive, and Farran realized this was by far the most public place they had kissed. He started to pull away, but the prince grabbed him around the waist with both arms and pulled him closer.

Behind Farran, someone cleared their throat. They broke the kiss, but the prince didn’t let go of Farran. He looked over his shoulder, and there was one of the older maids, Tilda. “Excuse me, your Highness, Farran,” she said. “I need to speak to Albert.” They stepped out of the way and she went into the steward’s office. Though the prince let go of him to get out of the way, he grabbed Farran’s hand and held onto it.

“The king my father,” the prince said, as though it tasted bad in his mouth, “sent me an ultimatum.”

“That’s terrible,” Farran said.

The prince looked at him and said, “Do you even know what that is?”

“I know you’re upset,” Farran said. “So it’s bad.”

The prince laughed a little and brandished the paper he was holding. “He’s given me until Arden’s birthday to get married, or he will choose a wife for me.”

Farran frowned. “Isn’t…isn’t Prince Arden’s birthday next month?”

“Indeed,” the prince said. “And I have less time than that, even, since I’m expected at the party.”

“That’s…” Farran bit back the words he wanted to use, since although he was talking to the prince, they were still in the public halls of the castle and he was not keen on being accused of treason. Funny how he no longer cared if he was, just if he got caught. “That’s not a lot of time,” he said finally.

“No,” the prince said. “It’s not.” He sighed. “I supposed I should draft a response.”

“Oh,” Farran said. “I guess I should let you do that.”

The prince squeezed his hand. “Don’t go,” he murmured. “Please.”

Farran stayed with the prince the rest of the afternoon. Most of it was spent in the prince’s study. He paced and muttered to himself, sometimes saying things aloud to Farran to see how they sounded. He wrote very little of it down, especially once Farran started suggesting things he could in no way send to the king. It made him laugh, though, and some of the tension in his shoulders melted away. Not all of it, but some, which Farran supposed had to be enough.

When Farran said he needed to go home, to clean things up and put away his work, the prince offered to send someone. He ended up asking one of the maids to tell Boyd, the smith, to tidy up Farran’s workshop. They ate together and then went immediately to bed. They did not have sex, only held each other. Farran stroked the prince’s hair while he muttered darkly about the king, until the prince fell asleep. He only cried a little bit, which was ridiculous because he’d always known this wouldn’t last, they didn’t have a future. He knew that. They both knew that.

He braided the prince’s hair without waking him up, then put out all the candles and crawled under the prince’s arm to sleep.

*

The prince was busy the next few days. Farran tried not to worry, but he was not good at not worrying. He never had been. But of course the prince was busy, he had letters to write and proposals to review.

Eventually, he got a summons. Not one of the staff stopping by on the way to or from the tavern in the inn, the way he had been finding out the prince wanted to see him, when they didn’t work it out ahead of time. An official written summons, like he got the first time. He recognized it, so he didn’t have to go over to Boyd’s workshop and get him to read the details.

Confused, and now nervous, Farran put on his nicest tunic and did his best to comb his hair. It wasn’t quite long enough to tie back, so it usually just did what it wanted. He wasn’t used to this official stuff. At least the prince wouldn’t judge him for getting it wrong.

He walked up to the castle. The gate guard who’d run to get him and put out his fires for him directed Farran to the great hall.

The castle halls were practically empty. He’d never gone this long on the main floor without running into someone going about their business. This was doing nothing to curb his worry.

“There you are,” said a courtier, waiting outside the doors to the great hall.

“Here I am,” Farran agreed. “What’s going on?”

The courtier shrugged. “No one tells me nothing,” he said. He opened the doors and ushered Farran inside.

Here was where everyone was; all the local and visiting nobility were on one side of the hall, with most of the castle staff on the other side. In the middle of the hall stood a table, the prince, and the steward.

The steward beckoned Farran to him. Farran glanced around the room, but everyone, nobles and servants alike, looked more or less as confused as he was.

On the table were some candles and a roll of parchment. Farran looked over at the prince, but the prince didn’t look back. Farran wished he knew what the hell was going on.

The steward glanced at Farran, then started to unroll the parchment. “Can you write?” he asked.

“Well enough to sign as a witness,” Farran said, annoyed. Everyone knew how to at least make their mark, it wasn’t like it was something specific to the nobility. Commoners had contracts and wills and other legal needs. “That is what we’re doing here, isn’t it?”

“Indeed,” the steward said. He frowned at the parchment. “Um, your Highness, is this…the right document?”

The prince leaned in to take a look. “Yes,” he said.

“I see why you needed witnesses,” the steward murmured, quietly enough so only Farran and the prince could hear him. He cleared his throat and asked, “Shall I read it or would you?”

“I believe I can recite it,” the prince said. “I, Tiede Hainsmont, Crown Prince of the kingdom of Wessindon, current heir to the throne, do abdicate my responsibility as Crown Prince and heir, and remove myself entirely from the royal line of succession.”

There was muttering around the room. Farran understood the impulse; if he wasn’t at the table, he’d mutter to his neighbor too. The steward laid the parchment down. “Your mark, Highness,” he said. The prince signed his name, absent any titles, at the bottom of the document, then passed the quill to Farran.

What the fuck was he doing? Hadn’t he said he didn’t see the point in abdicating? Farran signed in the witness’s spot, then handed the quill to the steward, who added his mark as witness. The prince rolled the document up and sealed it with a blob of wax and his ring.

“There,” the prince said, and turned to Farran. “Farran,” he said, “will you marry me?”

Farran felt like his heart had stopped. There were so many people here. They were all muttering now, louder than when the prince announced his abdication. Except the steward, who seemed much less surprised by this than the abdication.

“No,” Farran said. Some people gasped and the murmurs grew louder. The castle staff he could see, except the steward, looked outraged; the nobles in his field of view looked more shocked than upset.

The prince, as ever, looked calm. Farran knew him well enough now to doubt that he was. The slight clench of his jaw, the miniscule tightening of his brows–he was confused. “May I ask why?” he said, ignoring everyone but Farran.

“You keep doing things because you think it’s what other people want you to do,” Farran said. “I’m not going to help you do that again. You deserve to do things for yourself.”

The prince rolled his eyes and let out an exasperated sigh. That sent another susurrus of shocked murmuring through the watchers. Farran was taken aback himself; he’d never seen the prince be so expressive when they weren’t alone. “Farran,” the prince said. “I love you. I would like very much to spend the rest of my life with you. I want you to be happy, because as I said, I love you, but I assure you, I would not marry anyone simply to please them.”

Distantly, it seemed, the murmurs of the gathered witnesses grew louder. Farran could hardly hear anything over the sound of his own heartbeat pounding through his being.

The prince took his hands. Quietly, so the only people who could hear were the two of them and probably the steward, he said, “Please marry me.”

“Oh,” Farran said, and promptly felt stupid. “All right then.”

The prince smiled his tiny smile and squeezed Farran’s hands just a bit. “Good,” he said. “Thank you.”

Read this piece’s entry on the Shousetsu Bang*Bang wiki.

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