Will sat very stiff at the center of a long oval-shaped table. Sitting along either side were a bunch of distinguished looking men, women; some old, some about as old as Rhys, and some just around Will's age. It was an odd mix to behold, but considering the age of the kingdom itself, it didn't really surprise Will.
He had changed into something more proper: a blue robe adorned his shoulders with white fluffy trim, a chocolate-colored vest over a beige long-sleeved shirt, and light brown pants. He wore white gloves on both hands, and his hair had been combed back to show his forehead clearly. He looked like he was wearing something that would fit Rhys, not him. On top of his head was a striking black short hat with a stiff brim, and down covering both his ears, as if to mimic small wings, were clips of white and crimson feathers that spread out several inches from his face.
“As I was saying,” stated one man, “we were here to discuss the transportation problems plaguing the port.”
“We can't get anything accomplished if His Majesty isn't even present.” Argued a woman immediately.
Will recognized the two without problem. The woman had a strict tone in her voice, but he remembered her sweet tone from the party earlier. Right, Adell was trying to see if he could set up her and Rhys.
“That being said,” Lady Edendira continued, turning her full strict attention on Will. “Are you good for anything besides taking notes?” Will felt his face slacken as he could only gawk at her rudeness. “Where is King Rhys?” She asked, thinning her eyes in a testing manner.
I better not say I don't know. How to lie and cover for him? Crap! How to even lie?! “He felt faint this morning.” Will answered, trying to sound as convincing as possible.
“And Adell?” asked a lord farther down the table.
“S–something came up with Alexander and I'm afraid he's been detained.”
“I hope the boy isn't too ill.” said a woman to Will's left, halfway down the table.
“Very well,” Edendira sat down once more, adjusting her skirt. “Then we should carry on and hope that there are notes being taken by all. The port is in chaos, yes?”
“No, just a few docks.” cut in one man.
Will sat for a few moments, listening to them intently. He'd never heard such serious discussions before. While they argued, they would also banter with wit at each other. Odd. There's no malice in their jabs. Could they really all be friends?
Rhys's voice echoed inside Will's head as a memory sprung up. “I want, I want to build a kingdom that connects the lost lambs in the forgotten lands. Vrans, Petraei, and Goln could care less about us. We have many rivers, little farm land, and the haunted wood of terror: the Toul Wood. Yet even so, I want to connect us– build something that we can share. That is why I went out to become king. That is why I used the pearl to create a miracle. Not a kingdom that would last forever, nor recover the ruins of a fallen palace. A miracle that would unite the lands. It's sad to say that I ended up embodying that miracle, but I hope that someone can follow my vision, Will.”
Follow his vision. To connect the kingdom.
“What about…” Will cut into their conversation absent-mindedly.
An old man, sitting a chair away from Will on his left, held up his left hand to silence the others. “What was that, Will?”
“Oh…” Will felt his voice get caught in his throat. “I just wondered about if we made a train system.”
“Why would we do that?” asked a woman far down away from him. “That would take money and resources away from the repairs at the port!”
“Be–Because, Rhys wanted to connect this kingdom. Not to the outside with ships and trade, but with itself.” Will stated in a firmer voice. No one said anything, just began to look at each other with confusion. “If… If we can connect our land with a train that would help move stuff from the port to the people inland who need it.”
“What is your idea?” Edendira asked carefully.
With a bit of confidence in his idea, Will smiled at her. “Just a few trains. Primarily three outside of the city. One to run east-to-west reaching to the mountains, and two to run south-to-north, with the central point for all three being here in the capitol. From there, we could set up two or three smaller trains and tram lines to connect the trains to the port, and the people to the trains.”
“Hm, it's a fine idea.” said a man, shaking his head. “But the costs of it would be outrageous.”
“However, not unheard of.” Edendira raised her hand at him. “I propose we all go and do some calculations and return with our highest offer of payment to accomplish this task of a train system. There's no harm in even seeing if it can be done for now.”
“A wasted effort when we already know we can't afford it.” said a woman across from Edendira, crossing her arms. “An idea like this would have to be supported by the king himself. And since he's not here, I'm not in the mood to go and run my staff ragged chasing after a nobody's ideal.” A few others nodded in agreement, and Will felt his smile crack.
“Rhys said,” Will tried once more in a soft voice. He looked down to the bit of papers in front of him. They were covered in odd notes he didn't really understand, handed to him to try and follow the conversation for Rhys. “That he made this kingdom to connect people. If we can connect with ourselves better by creating a train system,” he lifted his eyes up to glare at the lord knights sitting about him, “then why shouldn't we at least look into the possibilities of making it a reality?”
“Hey!” Viau snapped at Crow as he strode past the up-tight knight. “He said he didn't want to be disturbed!”
“By you maybe.” Crow grinned at the knight, going up the staircase.
The two were arguing at the end of a long hallway lined with large decorative vases, with every other one inside an alcove sporting a fresh bouquet of gentiana and gypsophila flowers. The walls were cream and white, mostly stone, with a tall arched ceiling. A crimson narrow carpet ran the length of the hall after it separated from a larger one.
At the base of the stairs, where the carpet ended, stood Viau and two other knights; one woman and one man. Crow recognized them from the group of King's knights earlier. Most of the others were loitering in the larger hallway, while he imagined the rest were outside patrolling the area by the window. Will wasn't being kept in Rhys's personal bedroom, but it was a special room set aside for just him.
“He said no one was to go in.” Viau argued back, grabbing Crow's forearm.
Crow, dressed in a crimson coat with a round sapphire at his collar and brown slacks, turned on the knight immediately. He jerked him off, his eyes turning from a soft cobalt to a striking gold. “I said I'm going in.” Crow iterated in a dark voice full of threat. It caught Viau by surprise, enough that Crow could turn and head up the short staircase.
“You'd better just wait.” said the woman knight, uncrossing her arms to adjust which leg her weight was resting on. “He's an idiot who'll likely fight you til he's in his own blood on the floor, and then still fight you.”
“So we just let him go up?” Viau snapped, turning a glare on her.
“He is Will's personal knight.” the other man tried to reason with Viau.
Crow heard them arguing while he went up the staircase, snickering the whole way. At the simply decorated wood door at the top, he caught his breath to stop laughing, then knocked gently on it. “Will? Coming in.” He opened the door slowly, taking a step in.
The room was wide, but narrow. At the right was a comfortable looking bed, to the left was a large window with a ledge so the window was almost set-out. Between the two was an iron floor lamp painted white with its glass covering sitting on the simple swirled metal to hold up the single candle. On either side of the door Crow stepped in were two lanterns hung on the wall, and one at the far left next to a chair and a small table.
Will was sitting on the ledge at the window so his back was against the right wall, and his left foot was propped against the left wall. He had his arms and legs crossed, still dressed in the earlier fancy attire, and was completely focused looking out the window.
“Hey,” Crow greeted, walking over to Will's legs so he could look at his face. “How'd the meeting go? They ask about Rhys?”
Will didn't look to him, and from what Crow could see, his expression was rather glum. Crow stood and waited for an answer for a moment. Finally, Will spoke in a clear, yet soft voice that sounded exhausted. “I don't… really want to talk right now.”
“Ah,” Crow nodded, taking a step back. “Then I've got a few questions for ya before I leave you alone.” He waited to see if Will would look at him before continuing. When he didn't, Crow just asked anyway. “First, want something to drink?”
Slowly, Will scanned his eyes over to Crow's figure, and then up to his face. He met Crow's blue eyes, focused on them for a second, and then spoke. “Water.”
“Got it.” Crow smirked at him. Got him to look at me. That's a plus. I was scared he was shutting down again. “And second, when do you want me to take you home?”
“You don't plan to stay here all night, do you?”
“Hm,” Will mused, turning his attention back out the window immediately.
Well that was obvious. Avoiding my question. Crow propped his hand on his hip, lowering his eye lids while he waited a moment to see if Will would continue to speak.
“Get me in a bit when it's not raining. I'd like to go for a walk at least.” Will replied softly.
Guess that's as good as I'll get. Crow nodded, “All right. Be right back with that water for you.” Crow reached over, picking up the black hat and feathers off of Will's head. He carefully brushed Will's pink locks back into their usual place, then dropped the hat onto the table by the chair.
“Thank you.” Will answered. As Crow went to leave the room, Will turned his head to watch him.
After Crow left, Will turned to look back out the window. His attention was caught by the darkening sky as the rain clouds were mulling their way over the port and onto land. Although the clouds looked heavy, and it was darkening the early-evening sky, it was still fairly light out otherwise.
Glum, but not raining. Just a gentle mist, although it looks like it could pour. I haven't seen the clouds like this in a few years. So much of my time was devoted to cleaning dishes, and being inside. Will felt himself sigh, shutting his eyes in defeat. I kind of miss hearing Matéas's comments on my random thoughts.
“I hope they're okay…” He mused aloud, opening his eyes. “I had no idea the lord knights could be so… intense.”
But I still think a train system is just what we need. I wonder if Adell and Rhys would agree?
Once more, Will made a mused sound, this one akin to a whine, as he opened his eyes to scan out across the thick clouds. “'Henceforth you seek, round the trunk of death.' But why would he say I need to go to the Toul Wood?” Will frowned, furrowing his brows deeply as he tried to think like Rhys. “Argh!” He groaned after a moment. “I'm not coming up with anything!” He sulked his shoulders, sliding down against the wall bracing him up against the cold glass of the window. “I should stay in the palace complex, at the least, in absence of both the king and the grand duke. So I should have no reason to leave to the Wood. And if I did, that would put Mia in charge, right?”
Will sighed after a long silence. “The letter sounded like an order. I'll have to head out in the morning then, when the weather is a little clearer. I hope.”
“Head out where?” Crow asked, stepping in through the door with a cup of water.
“Oh,” Will felt the urge to be quiet again. Instead, he lowered his tone to a softer one. “The Toul Wood. That's the trunk of death Rhys's letter mentioned.”
Crow handed him the cup before crossing his arms across his chest. “That's not an easy place to get to. It'll be quite the walk if we can't get a carriage to take us even part of the way.”
Will nodded, taking a sip from the cup, turning his head to look back out the window. But, Rhys wouldn't ask me to go there for nothing I feel.
“You're going anyway, right?” Crow guessed. When Will didn't respond, he chuckled. “Fine, but save it til morning.” He waved at Will with a smile on his face, when the other turned to look at him slowly. Crow gave a brief nod, then left the room.
He's okay with me saying I want to go to a dangerous, haunted, and potentially deadly wood? Seriously? Well, it's no Threshold, but that still has to bother him? Or does he think I won't go?
A few hours later, after night had set in, the clouds began to clear as they headed north. The wind died down and the mist stopped falling. Crow came up and poked Will's shoulder playfully.
“Hey, what'd you want?” Crow asked nicely.
“I wanted to get a walk in of fresh air.” Will answered with a slight smile on his face. He looked tired from the day. The idea of laughter filling the morning seemed like a very far away memory now. “Want to come with?”
“Sure!” Crow yipped, following Will down the steps and through the hall. The King's Knights were there, but they kept their distance as they followed the two through the palace.
Once the two were outside, they walked side-by-side on a stone walkway at the back gardens they had looked out at with Noire previously.
Crow cursed in his mind. Shit, what am I doing even thinking about that sociopath? He's almost as bad as Phyte! He felt his tongue click in an amused chuckle as a thought struck him. Maybe that's why the two get along: sociopaths play well together?
“Crow.” Will said plainly. “Do you ever think about promising to meet in the next life?”
Crow stopped. Well shit! That question caught me off-guard. He relaxed his knees, propping his hands onto his hips as he exhaled, his back still to Will. “I hate that question.” He shook his head, hanging it down. “It assumes something really dark.”
Will furrowed his brows, but didn't ask anything.
Crow exhaled, looking up to the sky above them. “Look at that– the night's sky: filled with so many stars, we can't even begin to count them.”
Will relaxed his face he turned his head back to look up into the sky curiously. The stars were dim, but sparkling, blanketed in parts by clouds bringing in the cool mist rain of the season. The air felt crisp, which made the darkness behind the stars pop in a way that intrigued Will.
“You know, in the Threshold – there's no stars.” Crow said plainly. He turned on his heel, back to Will. “That question – it assumes that right now we're ready to die.”
Will's eyes went wide as he dropped his head to look at Crow with shock. “I didn't–”
Crow closed the distance between them easily, stopping a half-step from Will. “I know. Death isn't something you think about.” He paused, watching the confusion and curiousness muddle together in Will's eyes. Crow could read it – Will wanted to know more, but wasn't sure what to ask.
“Here, give me your hands.” Crow looked down, holding out both his palms for Will. Will looked down with him, then reached up and dropped his left palm onto Crow's. Immediately, he felt the smoothness of Crow's fingertips as his hand embraced his. “The other one, too.” Will did as instructed, feeling a tingle shoot up his arms at how gently Crow was adjusting their hands.
Crow adjusted them so their fingers weren't laced together but touching, palm to palm, down by their sides. He stepped closer to Will until they were forced to have their ears next to each other, their chests almost touching as they breathed.
“Now, close your eyes.”
“Crow.” Will asked, almost whining at how odd this was.
“I've got mine shut.”
Will tried to arc his head to the side to see, but gave up. He let out a sigh, then shut his eyes.
It's strange standing like this. Everything's dark. I can't tell if I'm even upright?
A full minute passed in silence.
Then, Crow asked softly into Will's ear without turning his head. “Can you hear my breath?” Will immediately held his breath to listen. “Stop holding yours!” Crow playfully snapped, his words soft, a few seconds later. Will let out a giggle, breath bursting through his teeth and lips until his jaw broke open. It took a few more seconds, but Will got quiet again to listen.
“Yes.” He tilted his head as if he would look at Crow's face, with his eyes still shut. “Can you hear mine?”
“Yeah.” Crow replied. After another second of silence, he asked, “What about my heart? Can you feel it?”
Will made a noise of confirmation in his throat. His hand is pulsing his heartbeat up my arm.
“Well, good.” Crow said. “See, even though we're all alike, our breathing and hearts are a little different. Only people who are drawn to each other have this – their breathing and hearts sync up. Feel it? Hear it?”
Will let out a breath, turning his face away from Crow's out of shyness. He's right! I didn't notice when my heartbeat matched his!
“We're drawn to each other, Will. This life, the next, and probably ones before.” Crow spoke softly, trying to be still and quiet in the intimate mood. “I look forward to the day I die, hoping that when I do collect my memories, I find that I've been with you all along.” Crow took a step back, opening his eyes to look at Will's blushing face. Continuing to speak in a soft voice that wasn't much more than an intimate whisper, he said, “I want to spend the next ten, thirty, fifty years… with you.”
Will opened his eyes, his lips parting as he took in a breath to steady his posture. Tears were glossing his eyes, well enough that Crow could see what he had said was making Will start to cry.
“I'm not in a hurry for this life to end.” Crow continued.
Will hung his head forward, dropping so his hair pushed against Crow's chin and his forehead braced against his collarbone. Still, his hands were being gently held by Crow's, but now they'd adjusted so Will's were on top, gripping Crow's wrists tentatively.
“You said so much, all I can say back is: me too.” Will answered with his voice shaking.
Crow looked ahead of him, then up a bit toward the sky. A bit of guilt set in as he heard Will let out soft breaths as he was trying to not sob. He could feel Will's body quaking a bit against him. “That's … all I want to hear, Will. Let's focus on this one before we worry about any others.” He shifted one arm up to wrap around Will's shoulders gingerly. In response, Will wrapped that now free hand around Crow's ribcage, his fingers pawing into the fabric of his jacket at the opposite side.
“Just stop talking already.” Will croaked out softly, some parts of his words getting lost as he spoke downward. Crow's shoulders jerked involuntarily as he chuckled with no sound, but he lifted his hand from Will's shoulders to gently hold the pink hair at the back of Will's head. He shut his eyes to enjoy this content moment with Will to the fullest.
After a few minutes silence, Crow took a step back from Will. Shit – I want the intimate mood to last but if my nose is cold, he must be cold, too! “C'mon.” Crow smiled at Will, opening his eyes steadily. “Let's get in and warm!”
Will chuckled a bit, nodding his head weakly. As the two started back inside, Crow stuck his tongue out childishly at Viau as they walked past him. The knight glowered at Crow in response but didn't say anything. He just merely turned to follow after them after they were a few paces ahead.
Back upstairs, Viau cleared his throat. “A sleeping chamber's been prepared for you.” He said to Will. Crow crossed his arms with an angry pout on his face. “Your room is near his, but not the same.”
“Oh, so it's like that. Knights can't sleep in the same room as their charges, huh?” Crow grimaced.
“It's what's been set-up.”
Will offered Crow a weak smile. “It'll be fine. You can check on me in the night if you're worried.”
“Yeah,” Crow looked at Will, his frown immediately fading away. He's trying to appease me. “I guess.”
Viau nodded to them, then started to lead the way down a hall toward the room Will would be spending the night in. Crow whistled as he looked inside the room, making Will give him a funny look.
“What? It's big and fancy.” Crow smirked playfully, opening his arms out to either side to show his sarcastic joy.
The room had a bed, a chest at the foot, a table, a large seating area, and although it was decorated to look cozy and quaint, it's large rectangular size made it abundantly clear this was a room left over from the original ruins of the palace that was brought back. This was a grand bedroom, not meant for a king, but certainly meant for someone of relation to him.
“We'll be stationed outside and in the hall for your protection during the night. If at any time you feel ill at ease, please come and let one of us know.” Viau stated systematically to Will. His tone had professionalism all throughout it, but it was lacking a sense of genuine care that Will could hear.
“Yeah, like, me.” Crow butt in immediately, crossing his arms as he glared at the knight. Viau glared back at him but didn't say anything.
“Thank you, that'll be all.” Will addressed Viau in a strict manner, though his actual volume was soft. Viau glanced at Will, nodded, and then left the room.
Crow shook his head after him. “Can't believe some guy like that is a King's Knight.”
“You sound like you'd be up for the job.” Will stated. A playful smile snuck its way into the corner of his lips when Crow looked at him with shock. Seeing that smile however, made Crow smirk. “No?”
“Not really.” Crow crossed his arms while putting his weight onto his right leg. “Maybe if it involved a cutie who held a genuine sense of curiosity about the world. Then maybe.”
“Why still maybe?”
“Because being king for that kind of person would just be a drag.” Crow stated bluntly, implying Viau's crummy attitude wouldn't change if Will were king. He gave a brief bow with his head, swinging one arm in front of his torso as he leaned forward to exaggerate the motion even further. As he straightened up, he winked at Will. “Anyway, I'll be sure to check on you in the night. G'night~” He turned, taking a step to the open door.
“Oh,” Will took a step after him, lifting his hand up to grab the cuff of Crow's crimson jacket sleeve. The motion halted Crow immediately; Him turning to look at Will. C–crap – I just grabbed him without thinking!
“Y–Yes?” the word came out of Crow's mouth slowly and carefully as his eyes moved to meet Will's.
“Uh,” Will stammered. He looked clearly shocked that he had reached out to grab Crow in the first place. It took a second, but he released Crow's sleeve. I think I was going to ask for a good night's kiss? That sounds stupidly childish! “G–Good night.” His cheeks were painted pink from his blush.
Surprise was painted across Crow's face as he took in the sight of a flabbergasted Will. He only gets shy like this if it's an unconscious attempt to flirt with me. Hang on! The little cutie wants a kiss, I'll bet! Crow lifted his right hand so his index finger ran between his lips in a short brushing motion as he thought. “Would you mind if I gave you a kiss?” Crow tried asking in a way that didn't sound like he was onto Will.
“Uh,” Will could only stammer out a response as his cheeks turned a deeper shade of red. Well, he was the one who asked… I really, really do want to. But nothing – nothing indecent! “Yes, please.” Will's voice was cracked and shallow, carrying his hesitation with it.
With a happy smile plastered to his face, Crow stepped forward. It took a second for Will to adjust that they were suddenly standing right in front of each other. As soon as his expression relaxed, Crow tilted his head and gave him a soft kiss on the lips. It was rather brief, but as Crow pulled away he made sure to leave a gentle suction on Will's bottom lip just in time as their lips parted for air.
Shyly, Will reached up to cover his lips. J–just how many different kinds of kisses are there?!
Crow cocked his head to one side, lidding his eyes slightly with a smile at the corner of his lips. He was turning on the full suave charm as he bid Will to sleep. “Night~” He said, then took one step back, turned and left the room, shutting the door quietly behind him.
Will took a few steps back, easing onto the edge of the bed to sit dumbfounded for a few minutes. He fell back, stared at the ceiling for a moment and then rolled to stand back up, stretching his arms up. He's getting more and more comfortable with flat out turning me into a shy ball of mush. Wonder if I should get back at him? Will felt himself smirk as a playfully devious idea crossed his mind. Just have to find my opening to comment on his adorable fluffy curly hair.
“Hey there~” came a voice behind Will. It felt cold, and heavy. Just hearing it's playful tone, he recognized it immediately.