Nico tilted his head at Will, trying his hardest not to laugh at the knight on bended knee in front of him.
“None of that, now,” said Nico. He motioned upward with his hand and smiled as Will rose to his full height. Nico felt a stirring somewhere in his loins at the sight of Will’s stomach muscles flexing. “Approach your prince,” he said, without a second thought.
Nico could see the hesitation in Will’s every step, but eventually, Will came to stand in front of him. Will loomed over him by a full head in height. Inwardly, Nico couldn’t help but grit his teeth. They had been the same height when they were younger. What the fuck had happened to make Will significantly taller than he was?
It took all of Nico’s willpower not to run his fingers over Will’s chest in admiration. Even his build was much slighter than this. Then again, he fought with quite a light weapon and forwent a shield. Instead, Nico forced himself to embrace Will.
Will’s skin was warm against Nico’s, and again, he felt that stirring between his legs. It didn’t help that he could feel Will stiffening against his leg, too. How many times, Nico wondered, had he imagined how he would be reunited with Will? Truthfully, this was far beyond anything that his mind could have come up with.
Nico pulled away, smiling. He felt the sting of tears at the corners of his eyes but he wilfully ignored the sensation. “Qarë linnë darra fitë idë endë d’karra fitë`re1” Nico whispered, as he placed his hand on Will’s bare chest.
Nico could have sworn he felt the thumping of Will’s heart. He wondered how fast his own was beating. He could hear his pulse thundering in his ears.
Nico wanted nothing more than to ravish Will where He stood. However, fortunately—or unfortunately, depending on which part of Nico was asked—he knew well enough that as a noble, and a prince no less, he had to maintain his composure. At least for now. He was well aware that he could have his merry way with Will whenever he wanted once Will won the tournament.
“Endë d’karra idë siltanë fitë`re2” said Will, taking a step forward. Nico stood his ground, blushing fiercely as Will leaned forward to touch their heads together. “I have missed you, my prince,” said Will, softly, “I did not think that you would remember me.”
“How could I forget the only boy that came to find me when the festivities were over?” said Nico. “The only one that begged for the chance to know me, instead of acting like he deserved my time to begin with?” Nico smiled. “How could I have forgotten the one boy that had thought to befriend me before trying to woo me?”
Nico’s blush deepened as Will took a lock of his dark hair, which had been plastered to his face with sweat, and tucked it behind his ear. “I have missed you, too,” he said.
Nico slapped Will across the face, leaving a very noticeable red hand print on the knight’s bronzed skin. “I suppose I deserved that,” said Will, with a nervous laugh.
“You are damn right you deserved that,” said Nico, trying his best to sound exasperated but unable to help the smile that tugged at the corners of his mouth. “You do not steal a boy’s heart and then disappear for ten years.”
“One would think that a man with an ambition to be a knight,” said Nico, “would have some honour. By the Nine! Do you know how difficult it was to figure out exactly who you were?”
Nico was definitely not the type to vent, and yet here he was, spouting all of his frustrations at the object of them. “You could have at least had the decency to write!” He was keenly aware that he had considered anger disingenuous before he entered the tent, but now that he had confronted Will, it felt good to let it all out. “How difficult was it to find some parchment, pick up a quill, write a few words, and send a courier to the palace?” Nico shook his head. “By the Nine! Your village is no more than a day’s ride away!”
Will was blushing fiercely by the time that he straightened, fingers lingering on the spot where Nico had slapped him. “I did say I deserved that, did I not, Nico?” he said, with a smile. “I was afraid that you would find out that I was not actually a prince but just a lowly son of a minor lord.”
“Did you take me for a fool ten years ago?” said Nico, smiling. “I have always known that you were not who you said you were, but I liked you enough that I let it go.”
“I understand why it is that you did what you did,” said Nico, tracing his fingers over the curve of Will’s shoulder. “While that does not make lying to me right, I know that were I in your position, it was what I would have done as well.”
“I… um…” Nico trailed off, not sure where else to take their conversation. “I ran into an elf named Nari outside. He seemed very… protective.” The blush on Will’s face deepened, and Nico couldn’t help but feel a pang of jealousy.
“He always is,” said Will, motioning for Nico to take a seat on the small cot. “He always will be, I feel. I tell him that I am a capable knight, and he always seems to just laugh at me.” Will chuckled, and again, Nico felt a twinge in his chest. “He has been my best friend for the last ten years.”
“Is that all he was to you?” said Nico, softly. It was not like him to lose control of his tongue, but he had blurted the words out before he could even process them.
“Yes,” said Will, emphatically. Will reached over and placed his hand over Nico’s knee. “He is but a friend. We have shared a bed many times in the last ten years, so I hope that you can forgive me for that. Once, I might have entertained the thought of being with Nari, but my mind and my heart have always wandered back to you.”
“There is nothing to forgive,” said Nico, blushing deeply. “I have had a number of men share my bed over the last ten years, as well. There is only so much pleasure a hand and the mind’s eye can bring, no?” Nico shook his head. “I hope that I am not being inappropriate, but I found Nari somewhat… odd.”
Nico looked up and saw a knowing smirk on Will’s face. “Did he come up to you and start speaking in Common Tretalleri?” said Will. Nico was somewhat surprised. “Do not worry. It is something that everyone wonders about, whether they admit to it or not.” Will’s face drooped for a moment. “However, it is all that he knows, Nico.”
“Give Nari a sword and he will show you a hundred places on a man that will bring him to his knees. Give him a pen and he would not be able to tell one end from the other.” The smile on Will’s face was small—and a sad one, at that. “He understands formal Tretalleri, but he understands Dominean only partly.”
Nico could tell that Will was deep in thought. “Nari has never been able to read,” said Will. Nico frowned. Reading was wonderful. To not be able to read… by the Nine he shuddered at the thought. “His father told me that as a child, Nari’s educators quickly figured out that his mind not so much failed to grasp the Tretalleri script, but rather garbled it to the point of incomprehensibility.”
“It is why Nari has such trouble learning languages,” said Will. “Nor does it help that he is somewhat obsessed with learning to fight—and the idea of protecting the people that he loves.”
“Nari’s father doesn’t quite know what Nari’s true condition is, and even Di’Mârrë cannot give him a substantial answer.” Will shook his head. “Suffice to say, Nari is atypical.”
“Perhaps,” said Will, slowly. “Perhaps it is inappropriate for you to be asking why Nari is, as you put it, ‘odd,’ but it is understandable as you likely do not encounter people like him often, being of high-born blood.”
“However,” said Will, “whether such a question is forgivable is a question that you must ask him.”
“Has he been listening this whole time?” said Nico, frowning.
“I’m surprised you haven’t noticed the pair of shadows under the canvas just behind me,” said Will, looking down with a half-grimace. “You could try to tell him to give us privacy, but I’m afraid that until you earn Nari’s trust, he will find a way to try and protect me—whatever that may mean.”
Nico chuckled. “You make me wish that I had a friend like him,” said Nico.
A few moments passed in awkward silence between the two of them. “I appreciate your visit, Nico,” said Will. “Seeing you again is wonderful, truly, but you still haven’t answered my question… Why did you come here?” said Will, narrowing his eyes at Nico.
Nico sighed and and returned Will’s gaze. “Is it truly all that mysterious that the patron of the tournament is visiting his favoured knight?” said Nico. Will raised an eyebrow in response. “Alright, alright,” he said, “but first, you wouldn’t happen to have a cup of water handy, would you? I am parched after that stunt father made me do.”
“It seemed like you rather enjoyed that stunt,” said Will, with a guarded smile. “I’m afraid I do not ha—” There was a rasping sound followed by sloshing. Will nearly jumped off of the cot. When Nico looked down, he saw a pale hand clutching a brass cup filled with water jutting out from under the canvas wall of the tent.
“I take that back,” said Will, leaning down to pick up the cup. “It seems that providence has given me water,” he said, with a smile. “Jadë danë Nari`re3” said Will.
Will’s thanks were quickly followed by a sharp “Sh!” from outside the tent that left Nico giggling helplessly.
When Nico had sufficiently calmed down, he reached out for the cup of water and took a swig from it. He made sure to leave some more water inside, for later. “The son of Aires,” said Will, “was that a part of the stunt, too? I can’t imagine that Aires would have been too happy agreeing to such humiliation.”
Nico shook his head. “No,” he said, “however, as my father pointed out, it was an inevitability. That Aires and his brood know nothing but war and violence—it’s no wonder they were one of the first to follow the Dominion thinking that they would get to stain their blades with the blood of their fellow Men.”
Nico set the cup down on the cot between himself and Will. He thumbed an inch of his sword out of its scabbard. “Do you trust me, Will?” he asked. He was afraid of the answer.
“You have failed to give me reason not to, thus far,” said Will. It was a guarded and diplomatic answer. Truthfully, Nico couldn’t have asked for a better one.
“Then I ask that you extend your trust to this,” said Nico. He sliced his thumb with the exposed blade and let a single drop of blood fall into the water. He picked up the cup and gently sloshed the liquid inside.
Eventually, the clear liquid swirling inside the brass cup took on a crimson shade. “Drink,” said Nico, “This is the sign of my favour. May it give you strength.”
The silence between Nico and Will stretched until it was uncomfortable. Will had a conflicted look on his face. It wasn’t a good sign. Nico felt his chest tighten around his heart. The last thing that Nico expected was for Will to slap the brass cup out of his hand. It fell to the ground with a clatter, the liquid inside darkening the dry dirt floor of the tent.
Nico tried his best to look angry and indignant, but he wasn’t so sure he succeeded at hiding the relief that he felt. “You asked me if I trusted you,” said Will. “The truth is that I would trust you with my life—even if I know that it is likely not the best idea.”
“However,” said Will, “I know that the nobility likes its games. I have seen the manipulations play out time and time again. I happen to know what you are doing. I remember that your father said you would aid your favoured.”
Will looked over at where the cup lay on the ground. He reached across the space that separated him and Nico. “How am I to find out whether I am worthy of your hand if you do not give me the chance to fight for it?”
“I thought you an honourable man, Nico,” said Will. There was a hint of disappointment in the knight’s voice. “I would like to believe that you would not stoop so low as to ask me to renounce my dignity just to assure that I would marry you.”
Nico smiled. He threw his arms around Will. “No,” he said, “I would never do such a repulsive thing.” Nico pulled away, hands on Will’s shoulders. “I knew you would make the right choice,” he said. “I pray that the Stranger guide your hand to victory for me.”
1 Qarë linnë darra fitë idë endë d’karra fitë`re — Did you keep me in your heart?
2 Endë d’karra idë siltanë fitë`re — You are in my heart.
4 Janë idë fitë danë Nari`re — Formal way of saying “Thank you, Nari,” which translates literally to “I thank you, Nari.”