Previous story: https://forums.candarion.com/topic/1119/prince-in-waiting
Song for Dance Scene: https://open.spotify.com/track/43WlKT0CG9Yl8UvyGIr9oF?si=FGK2UftEQUCBwPwHjUX2vg
Our friendship came all at once after that, as sudden as a spark of flint on tinder. Our days became filled with adventures outside of the palace, claiming every piece of it as ours alone. Here the mountain we would climb to rest our feet on its springs, there the olive groves we would laze under the sun. Gozdarz would see us some days, and offer a disapproving smile. But that did not matter to either of us. My tongue became loose with giddiness and my heart would laugh and leap with us. We felt as if we could eat the whole world raw, and nothing could compare so brightly but the mirth of our eyes.
He would teach me how to string a bow, plucking at the string with his finger until it strummed like a lyre. I taught him how to cut stone, and to carve it with whatever tools we had stolen from a visiting artisan that had come to work for Gozdarz. The days became numberless and felt all too short before we would find ourselves in our room, listening to the cicadas and giving up sleep for just another hour to ourselves.
I asked if he could dance one day as we pilfered the great hall for some food and wine late at night. He looked up at me with a mouth full of grapes, carefully balancing plates of cheese and watermelon in his arms.
“Yes.” He told me without so much of a hesitation as he quickly wolfed down his grapes, rummaging inside of a chest behind the throne and handing me over a bell-less frame drum. “Do you know how to play?” He asked.
“Do I know how to play?” I scoffed, taking the drum from his hands and running my palm across its taut skin, mustering my memories of playing it so as to not embarrass myself now.
He stood in front of me still, his eyes flickering towards me and nodded lightly. Then I struck the drum, filling the empty room with its noise.
He began slowly circling me with shuffled steps in tandem with the drums, his boot heels clicking against the floor as his eyes watched me intently, breaking as I struck the drum loudly and he began to dance. Gracefully in practised form, his anklets and bracelets chimed to the drums as he moved in the way a bird-of-paradise might dance. The floor rasped to the dragging of his feet, and his hair flew wildly like a flame as he spun. His eyes were closed now, but I could see a hint of a smile forming on his lips in between the flashes of his movements, thinking nothing at all but the music - of me - lost to the swirl of movements he’d been born to move to. He leapt into the air, arching his back to the form of the bull leaper painted behind him, his rings catching the light of the flame for a moment as he seemed to float there in my eyes.
He landed on one knee in front of me, arms spread out and his head bowed. His face was flushed as he caught his breath, lifting gold-speckled eyes to look at me once more. And then we smiled.
We sat on the olive groves overlooking the land one afternoon, doing nothing at all. We found ourselves here more often recently as the winter slowly gave way for the coming spring and warmer days. Khoroush had been brooding and uneasy lately, enough so that I couldn’t pretend to not notice any longer.
“What are you thinking about?” I asked.
He looked up from the knife he was toying with idly in his hands. He had been leaning on a boulder we had carved a jackal and a hare upon. Khoroush carved himself as a jackal, on my suggestion, and I carved myself a hare, riding upon its golden back.
“Home.” He mumbled after a while.
I stood up to sit next to him on the boulder, grabbing the knife from his palms and placing it back in its leather sheath. He opted to cross his arms in its absence.
“Do you miss it?” I asked him tenderly. It was becoming harder to miss home when I was around him. Yet some days it would come, and those days were the worst.
“Not like that.” He muttered, turning his head to look at me. Our eyes lingered on one another's gaze, and for a moment, I could see no uneasiness behind them. Then he looked away once more as if realizing that we had been staring. “It’s almost spring. I’m supposed to go back. Every spring. For the new years.”
“And you don’t want that?” I asked him.
“I do! I miss Shahristan. But...” He trailed off, leaning his head back against the boulder and closing his eyes. “Every year I come back feels like a year I’ve spent just… surviving.” He opened his eyes to turn to me once more, this time with a look of shame. “You don’t understand what I’m talking about do you?”
I shook my head, and shifted so that I was standing on my knees in front of him. “Would it be easier if I came with you?” I told him.
His eyes lit up despite himself. “Would you?” he asked me, and I had to ask myself the same question. I was free to leave anytime, to go back home ‘below the winds’ as they called it. I could ask anything I want that a prince could offer, and find my way through the Gold Expanse with his protection. I could find myself kneeling before the Blood-Chief of Kaiaomec, I could have brought riches and gifts, and brought Hetu to live with me there in our new home.
What home? Where the gifts and riches that I could bring back in glory and splendour? Where was Hetu? It was foolish of me to even think Kaiaomec would take a runaway slave and disregard the caste. To think I could cheat fate by bending it to my weak will. It all seemed so long ago now. I was here, with this prince who looked at me as if I were the measure of his world now. I would stay, so long as he stays with me.
“I would.” I answered him, placing my hand firmly on his forearm - the sign of a promise. He held onto my forearm as tightly then, his eyes remaining on mine, pulling me forward suddenly to press our lips against the other.
It was a stiff and awkward kiss. The kind you would cringe and never forget for the rest of your life. And I would not have had it any other way.
We pulled away from each other, our soft measured breaths seeming to become louder than the world around us. “Would you?” He asked me once more.
“I would.” I answered, and his smile was brighter than pearls.
“I swear. I’ll tell you more. Soon.” He told me.
But there would be no time for that. Before I could answer, his eyes had drifted past behind me, and as I looked to follow them we could see an orange banner in the distance, fluttering in the harsh wind on the valley below as it slowly slithered upwards towards the palace.