by Dyna Dee
With a deep relaxing sigh, the dark haired prince of the Royal Kingdom of Bronwyn relaxed on the wide stone edge of the window sill inside his bed chamber and gazed contentedly down from his window to the busy courtyard below. The buzz and flurry of activity of merchants and the castle personnel was greatly increased from the usually more sedate daily pace of the royal dwelling because of this particular day. Today was his father's birthday. His fortieth birthday to be exact. Preparations which had begun days ago continued on, even as royal and loyal guests assembled for the annual feast in celebration of the king's day of birth.
Prince Heero smiled as he thought of his sire. He was a good and worthy king as well as a loving, doting parent. King Therrin Allaric Yuy was loved and admired by not only those devoted to him, but by all his people. In his sixteen years of life, the prince had never once heard anyone speak a harsh word, disparaging complaint, or criticism against his father.
The king was as noble as his position called for. He was tall and slender, his bearing regal, and his sandy brown hair and blue eyes were so different in contrast to his son's dark hair and skin that so closely resembled his mother's. Yet most notable was his sire's disposition; one of good cheer, kindness, and optimism. When his son had asked the reason for his good temperament, with full knowledge that his father had known some unhappiness in his life, his sire answered that, along with having the desire and ability to make a difference in his people's lives for the better, the secret to happiness as a king and as a man was that he had chosen wisely the best in the land to be his life-long companions. Heero knew that his father referred to his Four, and his Queen.
The dark haired prince recalled that moment when the king had put his hand on his shoulder as he continued their conversation, telling him softly that all his happiness trickled down from those decisions. His son, being the greatest of all joys, had come as a result of one of those choices. Heero still remembered the love he'd felt from his father on the day they had talked, just as he had every day of his life. He was blessed indeed. Not only did he have a loving father and mother, but his four "uncles" were always there for him, watching over him with a fierce protectiveness until he could gather his own Four.
The heir to Bronwyn's feeling of contentment continued as he considered the boys he had found and selected to be three of his Four. His first bonding had been with Wufei, the black hair, ebony eyed boy from a far off kingdom. He had come through Bronwyn while traveling with his uncle on a diplomatic mission. When the two boys met, Heero had his first "feeling" about the boy. His father had instructed him on his twelfth birthday that such a feeling would come from deep inside, and he would recognize those individuals that were destined be part of his Four, if they agreed. He'd always had a hard time explaining what exactly it was he felt when he'd met those who would be his bonded companions. The closest he could come to describing it was an overwhelming feeling of belonging, and invisible attachment to the other that felt as if they fit together like a sword and a perfectly matched scabbard.
Wufei had been trained as a young boy in the art of swordsmanship and hand to hand battle that was quite different than anyone in Bronwyn had ever seen before. He even managed to surprise his Uncle Rolf, the King's Hands, in a demonstration against his uncle to show his skills. Along with the feeling of rightness that Heero felt, Wufei's skills proved him worthy to be the Prince's Hand, his defender and protector.
At fourteen years of age, the Prince of Bronwyn asked Chang Wufei to stay and be his first bond, his Hands. The Queen had taken on the duty of explaining to the boy and his uncle what the title and honor meant from being asked to be a life-long companion and champion of the future King of Bronwyn. She answered their questions as best she could without giving any details of the bonding, but to give the boy and his uncle enough information to make a decision.
The ebony eyed boy confessed that, he too, had also felt a strong internal pull towards the Bronwyn Prince, and after a day's consideration and counsel with his guardian, Wufei accepted, choosing to stay behind in a foreign land, never to return home again. He began the six months preparation for the actual bonding the next day.
Six months later, shortly after the bonding was complete, Heero met his Second, his Eyes. The taller, reddish-brown haired boy performed in a traveling troupe that had become popular in the city that lay directly below the hill the castle sat upon. The Prince and his First attended a performance and both were amazed at the boy's agility in acrobatics and his outstanding abilities with knives. Heero had been quite taken by surprise at the feeling of rightness and belonging he felt towards the one particular boy as he viewed the performance, and that feeling grew even stronger when the boy made his bow to the royal spectators. He had felt this way only once before, and knew that this boy/performer belonged by his side.
Before the performances were over, the prince had Wufei arrange for the young performer to meet with him and his First in a private audience. The meeting was arranged to take place inside a covered traveling wagon that the performers used and immediately after the conclusion of the show. As the taller boy stood before him, looking quite uncertain, Heero observed that he seemed quiet by nature, yet appeared to be at ease with the inquisitive Prince and his Hand. At the end of their interview, Heero asked the boy, named Trowa, to stay behind as the entertainers moved on. If they both agreed after getting to know each other better, Trowa would become part of Heero's Four. He was destined to become the future king's Eyes.
A slight knock on the door to his room pulled Heero from his reverie. He turned his eyes away from the bustling activity below him and called out in reply and, as the door opened in response, Trowa came into the room, smiling at Heero as he rested on the window's ledge. Walking up behind the prince, and being careful to stay in the room's shadow, he wrapped his arms around his prince from behind and kissed the top of his head. Heero placed his arms on top of those circling him and lay his head back to rest on the other's shoulder.
"What news do you bring me from the busy courtyard?" the prince asked softly with a pleased smile.
"Your gift to your father is about to enter the castle walls," Trowa reported, his voice warm with affection.
The prince stood and turned in the other boy's arms and smiled happily up at him. "That is indeed good news. I know my father favors this particular bard's songs and his presence here tonight will make the feast even more joyful."
Trowa turned his head slightly to the side in thought. "Not as joyful as our bonding next week," he countered as he looked deeply into the princes dark blue eyes.
The prince tilted his head up and kissed the other's lips lightly. "I, too, look forward to it," he murmured after the kiss was ended. The two boys held their embrace. Trowa, the taller of the two, could see over the other's head and out into the courtyard. "Here comes your gift now," he calmly announced.
Heero reluctantly stepped out of the other's hold to look down at the entry of the courtyard. He instantly recognized the famous singer. He wore the trademark purple cloak of a bard, brightly decorated with yellow banding on the sleeves and hood. That alone made the man stand out in the crowd. Heero recognized the older man's wavy shoulder-length brown hair which was sprinkled liberally with grey, as well as the bushy eyebrows of the same color which seemed to stand as an oppressive guard over the deep-set brown eyes. At this distance it was impossible to notice the crows feet that Heero knew edged those eyes, nor the kindness that always emanated naturally from them.
Master Rem had visited the castle at Bronwyn at least twice every year since Heero could remember. His visits usually coincided with the harvest and winter solstice. His songs of kingdoms, battles, heroes, and maidens were always a favorite, and he was readily welcomed with open arms in many lands and establishments.
Prince Heero had sent messages through traders for the bard in hopes that one would eventually reach the singer requesting his presence at his father's fortieth birthday. He was pleased to see the message had reached the talented performer. As his eyes followed the famed singer, his eyes narrowed. "Who's that?" he asked the boy behind him.
Trowa peered into the direction the prince was looking. "Where?" he questioned.
"There's a child .... a girl hanging onto Master Rem's cloak like a shadow. Has he sired a child we knew nothing about?" he wondered.
Trowa studied the small figure wrapped in a grey cloak From the distance he could see small delicate features and a mass of long brown hair secured in a braid that fell well past the girls waist. "Would you like me to inquire?" he asked.
Heero thought a moment before he replied. The Bard never did speak of his personal life, only of the tales of his travel and songs of the past. "No," he replied. "I think it would be best to send Quatre to befriend the child. All feel comfortable in his presence and he's bound to learn the story from the girl."
A frown creased the taller boy's face. "It's nearly time for us to prepare for tonight. Do you think he'll have enough time?"
Heero nodded. "Have him dress for the banquet, then inquire after the girl's welfare. Be sure to charge him to find out who she is and why she travels with the bard. She could be his child or an apprentice, though a female bard is very rare."
The taller boy nodded, and with a slight squeeze of affection before he released his hold on the prince, turned to find their smaller companion.
Wufei entered the room only moments after Trowa's departure. "So, you've sent our little Ears out to gather information." he said as he approached the prince, a smile on his handsome face.
Heero nodded and, as always, admired the stride of the boy-warrior. His gait spoke of strength, confidence, and surprising grace. He moved forward to greet the other boy and they embraced each other warmly, sharing a brief kiss. "I think Quatre could get a toad to open up and talk to him." He smiled into the other boy's shoulder as he thought of the small blonde boy who was to be his Third, his Ears.
Wufei nodded in agreement. "We were fortunate to have found such a sweet boy with a remarkable gift."
Pushing back just enough to search the other boy's face, Heero studied the ebony eyes. "Are you alright about the bonding next week?" he asked with concern.
Wufei looked squarely and honestly into the deep blue eyes without hesitation. "I accepted the eventuality of sharing you with others when I became your Hands," he stated as he lifted a hand to brush his fingers through the unruly dark brown hair that topped the Prince's head. "I understand the necessity and reasoning of the Four, and I am honored that I was chosen as your First. I, too, look forward to your bonding with the others. I have a genuine affection for both of them as well."
"We all belong together," the Prince said with conviction, placing his hand on his chest. "I feel it in my heart and mind."
Wufei nodded. Through the bonding he shared with the Prince of Bronwyn, he too felt the rightness of the soon-to-be-bonded brothers. He pulled himself out of the other's arms and tried to straighten his prince's hair again. "Do you need help in preparing for tonight?" he asked.
Heero shook his head as he turned from the other's fussing and moved to the large chest that sat at the bottom of his large bed. Opening the lid, he reverently removed a deep crimson cloak lined and edged with ermine fur. "Do you think he'll like it?" he asked his Hand as he placed the regal garment on his bed.
"Of course he'll like it." Wufei scoffed. "It's a gift from you, isn't it?"
After gazing at the garment a moment in thought, the prince lifted it carefully from the bed and turning offered it to Wufei. "Would you present it to him for me?"
Wufei nodded and putting both hands out, allowed the prince to carefully place it in his trusting hands. As his role as the Prince's Hand, he not only protected the prince, but completed many tasks for him. This task was an honor for him to be asked and to be accepted. "It is my honor to deliver this to the King," he answered with a slight bow. He then turned to leave. "I'll be back to escort you to the hall," he called out as he opened the door to leave the room.
As the sun began to set in the western sky, the large assembly hall, lined with tables and benches, began to fill with excited guests. The brightly lit hall was filled to capacity when the Prince of Bronwyn made his entrance. All within the room stood to acknowledge the heir to the throne as the walked to the front raised table and stood at his place, awaiting the rest of the royal entourage. He was accompanied by two boys wearing the blue vest identifying them as two of his Four.
The King and Queen arrived shortly after that, flanked by the King's Four. As they moved towards the upraised platform on which the royal table sat, three pairs of anxious eyes scanned the crowd for the missing Third who had been absent from their presence for several hours.
Trowa spotted the top of his very blonde head among the many assembled near the back of the large room, and saw the frantically waving hand just as the Royal party entered the side door. The hall, filled with invited guests, hushed instantly and stood again to welcome the royals. Every eye watched the procession as it progressed to the front of the large hall. Once there, the King aided his wife to her seat at his left and next to their son, then sat himself, a signal for all in the room to find their seats.
As they took their seats, Heero spoke in a quiet but amused voice across Wufei to Trowa. "You better go help him through the crowd." He told his Eyes. They continued to find it amusing that Quatre's small stature small always seemed to get him tangled up in a large group, unable to push his way through. Even with the royal blue vest marking him as the Prince's own, he still managed to get lost and tossed about in a crowd.
Trowa immediately nodded and rising, moved away from them. Satisfied that the small one would shortly be returned to his side, the prince turned his eyes to rest on his father. A warm smile was exchanged with his sire as their eyes met. Heero was greatly pleased to see his father wearing his gift. The king smiled his appreciation of it.
Heero returned the smile and nodded to his mother sitting to the left of the King who, in return, exchanged the silent greeting. His eyes next moved to the right of his father where his uncle Jens, his father's Heart, was always seated. His uncle looked particularly handsome tonight, Heero thought. His red hair fell loose and straight to his shoulders. He had a kind, gentle smile, much like the king when he was at ease and away from the formality of the court. Jens' pale blue eyes sparkled as they turned upon the dark haired prince and he smiled warmly, his cheeks dimpling as he gazed at the prince like a parent looking at their beloved child who had made them proud and happy. Heero returned the gaze knowing his uncle would read his own feeling for the man who made their lives so much the better, with his enthusiasm for life and his devotion and love for his father.
His eyes then moved to the man sitting next to his father's Heart, to Uncle Rolf, the King's Hand. Wufei's mentor was a big, burly man, with a shock of black hair and matching beard. His whole demeanor spoke of a warrior that was fiercely loyal to the royal family and to the Four. His size, talent with weapons, and his fearsome frown made him a fearful man to be reckoned with by any who looked suspicious. Yet to those he loved, his frown was replaced with a warm smile and a friendly demeanor. He was the only one of the Four to marry. His wife Afton, sat at the table of honor in front of the royal table. Her delicate figure, dainty features, and blonde hair were a decided contrast to that of her husband's appearance.
To the right of the King's Hand was Uncle Terrell, a small, wiry man with light brown hair and deep brown eyes. He was Trowa's mentor as the King's Eyes. He skillfully taught the boy under his direction how to be in a crowd and not be seen, and how to gather information without anyone detecting his intentions. He was handsome in his own way, yet none of the Four could hold a candle next to Jens. Not even Terell's life partner, Uncle Thad, the King's Ears.
Quatre's mentor sat at the end of the table. He was also small in statue, with shiny black hair that was cut short, framing his lean handsome face. He was a quiet and gentle man who was sensitive to the feelings of others and lent his astute observations to the King. He was a calming influence to the small blonde boy's active and friendly nature. His uncle's eyes met his, but immediately strayed to survey the room and returned questioningly. A smile lit his face as Trowa emerged from the crowd pulling Quatre out of the mass of people towards the front dias. It was obvious that his uncle was already fond of his counterpart in the Prince's service.
As the two boys joined them at the table, Quatre mumbled his apologies as he took his seat next to Trowa.
Heero realized his curiosity about what Quatre had learned would have to wait as the King stood to greet his guests. His speech was warm, welcoming and brief. He publicly thanked his son for the beautiful cloak he wore and for the gifts his guests readily offered him on this day of celebration.
At last, the food arrived, served on large platters that were heaped with food and carefully placed on the tables by the serving staff. They were each filled with the best food the Kingdom of Bronwyn produced.
As the prince and his Three filled their platters, Heero turned his attention to the blonde seated three down from him. "Did you learn anything from the girl?" he asked curiously.
Quatre smiled and chuckled behind his hand. "Indeed, I did, and there is quite a story to tell." He replied highly amused.
"Your cousin, Treize, is attempting to catch your eye." Trowa interrupted, his eyes trained on the front table where guest of honor were seated.
Heero turned to nod to his cousin giving him a brief smile in acknowledgment.
"I'm surprised he attends," Wufei said aside to the prince, his head was down so that the prince's cousin could not read his lips. "It's only been a few weeks since the death of his Fourth."
An involuntary shudder ran up the prince's spine at the thought. There was a definite lack of closeness between himself and his cousin, and each year that gap seemed to widen. But despite that, he sympathized with his cousin's recent loss. To lose one of the Four would be devastating. He had met Treize's Fourth, Kellen, his Ears. He had been younger than Treize's other chosen, but he seemed a nice enough fellow. It had been reported that he had fallen off of his horse and broken his neck in the awkward landing.
"He'll be on the lookout for Kellen's replacement," Wufei observed as he picked up a piece of meat from his platter and brought it to his lips.
"The Bard comes." Trowa announced quietly. The others followed his line of sight towards the back of the room.
The crowd at the back of the room parted to let the well-known singer through the throng. He walked, as always, with confidence, his head held high, his eyes bright. Along side him was the brown-haired girl, covered once again in her grey woolen cloak, clinging tightly to the bard's hand, her eyes cast demurely to the floor.
"You're in for a surprise," Quatre warned with a mischievous smile and a twinkle in his eye.
As they approached the royal table, Prince Heero stood to bow to the bard, then turned to his father. "Father, in honor of this day, I summoned Master Rem to attend and entertain you this evening. This is my second gift to you."
The king nodded and smiled happily. "Thank you son." Then he turned to address the minstrel. "Welcome Master Rem. As always, I look forward to the gift of song you grace us with."
The bard bowed deeply as did the girl at his side. As he straightened, a motion of his hand signaled the child that she was to sit quietly by his feet. The girl complied, pulling the cloak closely around her, her eyes still trained to the floor.
"Thank you, Your Highness." The singer straightened and smiled with familiarity at the King and Queen. "It's always my pleasure to serve you, and an honor for me to share my small talent with you on this special day," he said eloquently, and immediately brought up the stringed instrument that he had carried in his other hand, opposite the child.
His first song was a lively tune, a ballad about a noble lord and an elusive lady. Two more songs followed. One told of a fabled enchanted kingdom and the other of a long forgotten battle.
As the sound of fists pounding on the tables in appreciation of the songs finally calmed, the bard motioned for the child on the floor to stand. The room once again stilled in anticipation.
"Sire." Master Rem bowed again. "May I present to you my apprentice, Duo. A sweeter voice I have yet to hear anywhere." As the bard stepped away, the small cloaked figure stepped forward and bowed low and courtly to the king, her long chestnut colored braid fell forward over her shoulder. As she straightened, her hands moved to unfasten the clasp that held her cloak together. Once released, the grey garment fell unheeded to the floor, and the large stunning eyes raised for the first time to meet the startled faces seated at the royal table.
"It's a boy!" Wufei gasped in surprise.
Indeed, before them stood an impossibly beautiful boy. His heart shaped face and full lips, as appealing as they were, paled in contrast to the unbelievable large violet-hued eyes that were rimmed by long black lashes and topped with delicately arched brows. The boy stood straight, his chin held high. He was dressed entirely in black, including the leggings that encased his slender straight legs, and billowing black sleeved shirt. A sleeveless black tunic covered the shirt and laced up the front of the boy's chest. In contrast to the somber attire, a red sash at his waist and tie at the end of the long braid broke the monotony of his dark clothing.
At a slight nod of the boy's head, indicating his readiness, the bard pulled a wooden lute from his pocket and placed it to his lips and began to play a haunting tune. The boy opened his mouth, and surely, thought the majority of the crowd, not even the fey ones with their magical voices could sing with such purity of tone and sweetness of voice. The entire room stood silent, mesmerized by the sight and sound in front of them.
As he watched, Wufei looked aside at the prince, whose eyes never strayed from the boy singing. Yet, soon after the song began, he felt his hand encased by the Prince's, tight and urgent. Taking full advantage of the bonding, Wufei closed his eyes and understood what the prince needed to be done. He turned to speak quietly to Trowa, who in turn spoke to Quatre. The small blonde smiled widely and nodded enthusiastically.
As the song ended, the room remained silent and still for several moments, as if the assemblage was afraid to break the spell the boy had woven. Then suddenly, it erupted in a cacophony of cheers and pounding of fists and cups on the table and feet on the floor. The boy seemed to flinch slightly as the abrupt sound, but composed himself and bowed respectfully to the royal table, then turned and offered the same bow of gratitude to the audience who got their first look at the boy's beauty.
The bard moved towards the boy, smiling his pride and approval of a song well sung. With a motion of his hand, his apprentice gathered his cloak and, once again, sat upon it on the floor at the bard's feet.
Two more songs were offered by the older singer, before the King commanded that he sit and partake of the feast. He was escorted to a table were honored tradesmen were seated, a place at the front of the table had been reserved for the two of them.
"Treize." Trowa said in a quiet tone of warning to the prince. Heero looked down to the table where his cousin sat. Like nearly everyone else in the room, Treize and his Three stared after the boy as he followed Master Rem to their table. Zechs, Treize's First and his Heart, was nearly drooling with lust after the boy.
"Send Quatre. Now." Heero ordered in a low voice, and at his word, Trowa sent the small blonde scurrying immediately to the table just a short distance from where they sat. At the same time as Quatre approached the Bard and the boy, Lady Une, Treize's Hands, stood from her seat and moved likewise toward the table that had everyone's attention.
Quatre was addressing the bard, who nodded his head. The small blonde extended his hand to the apprentice, who timidly extended his hand in acceptance of the other boy's invitation and rose from his seat. The entire royal table watched events unfold as Lady Une's steps faltered just slightly as she observed the two boys. Yet she continued on, approaching the bard even as the boy was escorted to the Prince of Bronwyn's side. She leaned over and addressed the older singer even as Quatre and Duo stood before the Prince of Bronwyn.
Heero turned in his seat to greet the boy as they approached. Quatre still held his hand as he led the way. They stopped in front of the prince and Quatre smiled broadly. "Prince Heero." The small blonde boy's sweet voice called out formally. "May I present to you Duo, apprentice to Master Rem. Duo," he turned to the quiet boy at his side. "Prince Heero Odin Yuy."
The boy, not having looked up, bowed low before the royal prince.
"I enjoyed your song very much, Duo. How long have you been Master Rem's apprentice?" Heero asked warmly, trying to put the boy at ease.
To his disappointment, the boy kept his head and eyes down as he answered. "Thank you, Your Highness. I've been with Master Rem for five months now."
"How came you to be under his tutelage?" Heero bent down a bit hoping to see the other boy's eyes again.
"He stopped at the tavern I lived in. He taught me several song and then bought my freedom from my indenture." He paused for a moment and the quietly added. "He's been exceedingly kind to me."
"Do you have any family?" Heero asked, bending a little lower, still not seeing those eyes.
Duo shook his head. "I'm an orphan." he replied without emotion.
"Duo." Heero spoke his name with a trace of exasperation in his tone.
"Yes, Your Highness?"
"Would you please look at me?" the prince requested.
Slowly the head covered by the thick chestnut colored hair raised, the large eyes opened fully to quizzically stare deeply into the cobalt blue ones before him. Both boys felt a quick intake of breath as they searched the doors of each other's soul.
Heero's hand moved cautiously to cup the right side of the boy's beautiful face. "Will you do me a favor, Duo?" he asked in a voice barely above a whisper.
"If it is in my power, sire." The boy replied in a shaky voice, obviously not understanding what a prince could possibly want from him.
"While you are here at court, would you wear an article of clothing that would extend my protection to you?" The prince asked.
The fey boy's brow creased in confusion, trying to comprehend what dangers would lurk in the King's castle. He didn't understand, but seeing the earnest look in the prince's eyes, he relented. After all, it was a simple thing, wasn't it? He nodded his head.
Without exchanging a word, Wufei stood and removed his distinctive deep blue vest and placed it on the smaller boy. It was too large for him, but the violet eyed boy expressed his thanks for the honor and offered protection.
"Come." Heero smiled and motioned to the table. "Join us at our meal."
Duo hesitated for a moment, doubting the propriety of a commoner breaking bread with the royals. He looked down over the table nervously at his master. The bard had watched the entire scene play and nodded his head in approval. The boy with the black hair who had given him his tunic to wear, took his elbow and directed him to take his seat at the prince's side.
After that, the attention turned once again to the food, and the assemblage ate and drank heartily. The feast lasted well into the night with entertainment throughout to entertain the King and his many guests.
The prince kept the bard's apprentice at his side the entire time. There were a few at the royal board who were aware of the glare aimed at the prince from his cousin and his Three. He was definitely unhappy that the prince was occupying the singer for the entire evening.
Food and wine were plentiful and Duo's plate and cup were constantly filled. He protested quietly to those around him that he wasn't very hungry, but he couldn't refuse a prince, could he?
Slowly the hall thinned out, and the bard stood and moved to approach the royal table from behind. The wizened man had watched his young charge throughout the evening and observed the prince's reaction to the beautiful boy. He smiled as he reflected on the look of satisfaction on the heir to the throne's face. It seemed that as Duo became sleepy from the late hour and full stomach and had fallen asleep, leaning his body and head against the prince, who seemed quite content with the boy's familiarity. The old singer knew that bringing the lad to court had its risks. He was a complete innocent, and his beauty was bound to attract many, well-intentioned and not. Several people had already inquired after his apprentice and as to his availability. He sighed. He would not easily give the boy up. He had grown too fond of him, a feeling that had begun the moment he had laid eyes on the beaten and bruised child who was unkempt and dirty. At first glance, the Bard had come to the quick conclusion that Duo looked to have been badly treated by the tavern keeper and he suspected maybe by the inn's guests and kitchen workers as well.
His mind went back to the night he met Duo. He had spied the small figure lurking in the shadows as he performed his songs for his keep that night at the tavern in a nameless busy village. He'd seen the disheveled child earlier working about the tavern, but paid no attention to the unfortunate, dirty urchin. He didn't think much about it until later, after he had been shown to his room. Tired and weary from his travels that day, he had been irritated when a small, timid knock sounded at his door, almost a tiny scratching. Opening the door, he was surprised to see the boy standing apologetically in front of his doorway. He barely recognized him as the same child for he had washed his hands and face and re-braided his unusually long hair to make a presentable appearance. Yet even in the shadows of the flickering candlelight, the bruises on the boy's arms and face could not be washed off nor hidden. In a quiet voice, the boy shyly stated his business. He had come to tell the bard of his appreciation of the songs he'd heard that night, and wondered if he had a simple song or two to teach him.
Feeling compassion for the sorry state of the boy, the bard pulled him into his chamber, and even though he himself was weary, he sang a comforting lullaby to him as they both sat on the edge of his bed. The boy closed his eyes, soaking in the sound and words of the simple tune. Then, to the bard's surprise and shock, the boy opened his heart and mouth and sang the song back to him--in perfect pitch, his voice clear with pure and sweet tones. He was a natural.
The bard then sang several other songs to the boy, varying in different degrees of difficulty, to test the boy's talent. The amazing child sang them back again, word for word, note for note. It was hard for him to let the boy leave that night to return to the kitchen, knowing his talent was unnoticed and unappreciated. But he knew the course that was now laid out for him. This child was a gift, not only his voice and ability, but his sweet nature in the face of his difficult life was astounding. As he closed his eyes to sleep, the famed singer came to the only conclusion possible.
He approached the tavern keeper in the morning and bought out the boy's indenture. That day, Duo had a new lease on life, and his true inner and outward beauty began to come forth and shine.
"You've come for your apprentice?" The Prince's Second asked as he approached the table.
"Yes," he replied with a smile. "I can see he's tired from the excitement of the day. He's never been to a royal court before." he explained as he gazed fondly at the slumbering boy.
"I'm reluctant to let him go," The prince said honestly, pulling the bard's eye upward, away from the boy in question to himself.
The older man nodded knowingly. "He is a wonderful companion. As comely on the inside as he is in his outward appearance."
The prince nodded his agreement. "In this short time, I've found that to be true also. I would have him come to my rooms mid-morning to speak with me."
The bard nodded and eyed the blue vest. "I see he wears your protection. Tis wise as many others have expressed an interest in him. T'will keep him safe." The older man's smile faded and he took on a more serious demeanor. "He is too comely for his own good," he stated even as his eyes softened as they embraced the sleeping boy. "I do not know how much longer I can keep him safe from other's advances, those more powerful and influential."
"He will be safe in our court." Heero stated firmly. "If my interview with him goes well tomorrow, I would come to speak to you regarding his future."
The bard nodded. He understood perfectly what the prince had in mind. He was very familiar with the workings of the court and royal family. He had secretly hoped the boy would catch the Prince's eye, knowing the prince had three of his Four. He had yet to find his Heart. He hoped for the boy's sake, for a positive outcome from their appearance tonight.
The prince moved to gently wake the sleeping boy, who blinked open his large amethyst eyes, clearly trying to recall his whereabouts. "Master Rem is here to escort you to your bed." The dark haired prince gently explained to the dazed boy.
Duo lifted half lidded eyes, dulled with sleep, and lazily smiled up at the prince. He then dropped his forehead onto Heero's shoulder, falling instantly back to sleep. Those at the table watching the exchange chuckled with amusement. The bard moved behind the table and gently reawakened the boy, eased him to his feet, and with support, Duo managed to stumble reluctantly to his feet.
"He's a heavy sleeper." The bard chuckled in good humor.
"Obviously." The Prince's First snorted.
"I'll send Quatre mid-morning to escort him to my rooms." Heero told the retreating man and his charge.
"He'll be ready." Was the old man's reply.
Quatre turned his eyes up to Trowa. "Do you think he's the one?" he whispered.
The taller boy shrugged slightly. "I don't know, but Heero has reacted strongly to him."
"As have others." Quatre added with a frown, his hand clasped to his chest in memory of all the emotions and sensations that had rippled through the room. Glancing back at his friend, he saw the look of worry on his handsome features.
The small blonde put his hand on his friend's arm in a gesture of comfort. "Even if he proves to be Heero's Heart, it won't interfere with your bonding or mine." Quatre assured the older boy. "Our prince needs us all."
Trowa's face registered surprise, then softened as he put his arm around the slim shoulders. "I wasn't worried about that, but for you," he told him. "I know how large gatherings tax your strength. There are so many emotions in such a large assemblage."
Quatre nodded. He was tired from trying to block most of the room the entire evening. But he was acutely aware of the emotions of the Prince and his other two friends. Though not bonded with the prince yet, he had the natural ability to sense other's emotions. He was perfect as Heero's Ears. From his heart to the Prince's ears, the Prince could use his ability to help his people and rule an organized court. Quatre could protect the Prince and the others if someone had anger or hatred towards them. He had picked up both of those negative emotions, combined with jealousy, envy and lust as eyes and emotions focused on Duo as he stayed by Heero's side. Many in the room coveted the boy. He would need to speak to the Prince about the emotions that had emanated from the guests at the feast. His fatigue caught up to him and he yawned deeply.
"Come." Trowa took hold of his arm. "I'll take you to your room."
Quatre shook his head, even though he felt sleep quickly approaching. "I haven't told Heero all I learned from the boy."
The taller boy turned to speak to Wufei and a moment later he turned back. "Heero says you are to go to your bed and relate what you learned in the morning. Then you'll be sent to deliver Duo to his chambers."
As Trowa stood, he pulled Quatre up with him.
"I can make it by myself, Trowa," the smaller boy said stubbornly. "Why don't you stay and enjoy the rest of the evening?"
The taller boy shook his head as they started to leave the dining hall. "Too many strangers here, and Treize is still a bit angry at Heero for finding you in his domain and taking you as one of his Four."
"But he already had his Four," Quatre said puzzled by all the strong emotions that had surfaced that day. "Why was he so angry?" His mind dashed back to when Heero had come upon him in the fields with the sheep. He was the only boy with more sisters than he could number. Prince Heero was visiting his cousin during a hunting trip when he came upon his father's fields. Quatre was not only watching the sheep, but also playing with the little children that always came in search of him when he tended the sheep. Evidently, Heero, with his Two at his side, had watched him from the shelter of a grove of trees. He still recalled how frightened he'd been when the three of them approached him on their massive horses. He'd almost leaked on himself thinking they meant harm to him or the little ones surrounding him. But the Prince of Bronwyn introduced himself and made pleasant conversation, asking him about his home, family, and their humble circumstances. The prince then asked if he would be interested in going with him back to Bronwyn to live in the castle. He explained that he would have a position of honor, as his friend, and life companion. He was puzzled, but his "feelings" told him the prince told the truth and that he was trustworthy. He meant only good for the small shepherd boy. And he had this funny feeling that the prince was someone special to him. After speaking to his family, Heero gave his father a large bag of gold, and after saying his goodbyes, brought Quatre up onto his horse behind him, along with his meager belongings, and they rode to his cousin Treize's holdings. When Heero introduced the smaller boy to his cousin, the taller and older Treize flew into a rage. He had heard of young Quatre's abilities at reading other's emotions and was not pleased his cousin was taking him back to Bronwyn. He accused his younger cousin of stealing the boy from under his nose, and from his lands. The heated argument that followed frightened Quatre and he cowered behind Trowa. Though the King's Hand was present, having accompanied the three in order to add protection to the royal heir, when the Prince saw his new Third's fear of the situation, he insisted that they leave immediately.
"Jealousy is the great divider." Trowa answered his question and brought Quatre out of his thoughts of the past.
The blonde silently agreed as he thought about, not only Treize's jealousy causing a rift between the royal cousins, but the legacy that had been handed to him by his father, the king's twin brother, and the act of jealousy that forever separated them. His first lessons by Master Thad after he arrived in Bronwyn was that jealousy had no place among family, friends, and especially in the Four. Saddened by the thoughts he was having, Quatre meekly followed his friend as he led him to his room.