All words presented in this blog are purely opinion, not fact - unless specifically stated otherwise in the post.

Wednesday 22 August 2012

Prince and Pauper

Right, Blogging. I do that now, huh?
Not that I forgot... again... Shhhhh...

Ok, I'm posting up the first 3 chapters of a book working titled Dark Prince. It's set in the same world as the detective novel I posted 10 pages of last week, btu it's set about 300 years before it.
It's the story of a young prince trying to learn abotu his past, and a young slave trying to break free.

Hope you like it,


Chapter 1
 Kneeling, he looked into the male's terrified eyes. They were blue but, like all of the lantines- the low, subservient underclass that worked the fields and served the Black Prince of Galledar’s kind -they were flecked with large amounts of grey. He placed a hand on its shoulder, a comforting hand that promised protection.
"Just tell me what you know." He said, smiling gently to the lantine. For a moment The Black Prince, thought that the male might comply to his demand. He thought that, for once, one of the lantines would let things happen the easy way. He was wrong however.
The lantine closed his eyes and shook his head, backing away and sitting up against the wall.
The Prince stood up and sighed, turning to a plate of polished steel hanging on the wall that appeared to be used as a mirror- it always surprised people when The Prince told them about the crude attempts at civilised furniture in the lantine hovels, it implied a level of intelligence that most were unaware that the lantines had. The Black Prince knew better. The Black Prince was not most. He removed his coat and, folding it, placed it on the back of a sturdy folding chair that he had brought with him. Turning back to the mirror the Prince pulled the wrists of his crimson shirt sleeves to the palms of his hands and righted his ebony waist coat which had ridden up while he crouched.
He ran a hand through his ear length black hair adjusting it slightly for comfort and then moved forward, staring into his own brightly yellow flecked grey eyes. He was momentarily worried by the bloodied right eye, but quickly assigned it to a symptom of his poor sleeping patterns.
He grabbed his jaw for a moment before concluding that he did feel a thin layer of stubble had grown since his morning shave. Many of the court women considered him attractive, but he hadn’t ever really given it much thought, himself. Eyeing the old male behind him in the mirror now, though; he agreed with their assessment. Of course comparing an upper class Nobleman like himself to a lantine was on par with comparing a diamond to grit.
The Prince turned back to the male and considered him. Most Lords or citizens would simply beat the information that they wanted from their targets, but that didn’t always work. The Black Prince rarely beat those he questioned, he knew them too well. He had had a lot of experience over his years as the Black Prince learning about the lantine’s emotions and their minds. He had learned to manipulate them like a conductor leading his orchestra. Put pressure in the right place and any lantine would sing and this lantine definitely knew enough to inspire a song- at the very least a medley.
The lantine was old for one of his kind, perhaps fifty-five. Not old enough to know anyone who had been alive when the lantines fell, but the fire in his eyes told The Prince that the male was one of those whose anger at the Noblemen's had been passed down through the generations. He was likely a plantation worker for one of the lesser nobles in the area, easily ignored and not often policed outside of the farmlands. Plantation lantines were among the easiest to manipulate; they had nothing and when you have nothing you hang onto it.
Yet it was willing to die. Even despite its terror, it was willing to die to protect what it knew. It went against the usual rules, but that was not un-heard of. The lantine’s fear was potent, The Prince could sense it, but it was an intellectual, understood fear. It was not based on raw emotions. It wasn’t fear for itself, but for someone else. No, it hadn’t joined the terrorist movement for itself. A man- Noble, Citizen or lantine -in it for themself wanted to be there at the end, to enjoy the fruits of their labours… this lantine was under the Black Prince’s scrutiny for the benefit of someone else. No matter what he did to it, it would not talk, so long as there was still hope for those it was trying to help. The Prince respected that… but that didn't stop him from using it.
"Alright: You win." He sighed, turning to the door. He noticed, out of the corner of his eye, the look of shocked relief in the male's expression but it didn't last.
The Prince knocked on the closed door and stepped away. A moment later two burly men, members of the middle class- the Citizen citizens -entered the room, dragging the male’s mate and its pup, a female, with them. "I wanted to do this the easy way." The Black Prince said as the lantine burst into tears, screaming. "I always want to do it the easy way! But you damn lantines just won’t let me!" he shouted, walking across and raising a hand to the mate. The lantine settled a little, whimpering. The Prince frowned and turned to the pup, grabbing her arm.
"Please, no!" The man pleaded, screaming with renewed fear. The child was the key to his secrets.
"I don't do this because I want to." The Prince growled. "I do this to protect the Kingdom." He turned and punched the female in the gut. She doubled over in pain, tears pouring from her eyes. The first time The Prince had beaten a suspect it had surprised him how Human the lantine’s reactions had been. Since then it sickened him that these lantines forced him to perform such acts. He hated them for what they made him do.
"Stop!" the mate cried. "Please!"
"Tell me what you know!" The Black Prince commanded. Tears bled from the male's eyes, its mouth agape as it shook its head. "Do you hate your family?" He asked, grabbing the pup by her long blonde hair- the colour was another lantine trait -and pulling her up straight for a brief moment before slamming her backwards into the ground. There was a sickening thump as her head hit the dirt floor and her mother cried out. "I can stop whenever you want." The Prince said, looking up at the male. Its eyes were locked on its pup. Pain coursed through them as it watched her agony. If any Nobleman ever wondered if lantines were capable of feeling, then one look at this old male’s pain would have been enough to prove it to them. "Please... don't-"
"Tell me what I want to know!" The Prince shouted.
"I... I ca-" The Prince kicked the pup in the side before the lantine even finished refusing. "No!" It cried, falling forward into a bowed posture.
"I'm not playing any more, slave." The Black Prince shouted, kicking the pup again. She grunted. There wasn't enough air left in her lungs for crying. He reached down and pulled her back to her feet, throwing her into the chair he had brought for just such an occasion. The Prince pulled his rapier from its sheath and pressed the tip of the blade against her chest a drop of blood bubbled at the point. The first time The Prince had shed Lantine blood he had been fascinated that the colour was the same as that of a Nobleman.
One of the Citizen soldiers moved behind the chair and grabbed her arms, securing her firmly in place. "There are three finger breadths between where my sword is against her flesh and her heart. Every question you fail to answer pushes the blade a little closer to her death."
"Please... no... I can't-" The man started.
"Just tell them!" his mate pleaded, further proving the lantine intelligence.
"Where are the terrorists meeting?" The Prince asked. The old male remained quiet, whimpering. The Prince frowned, turning to the girl. "I'm sorry for what your father forces upon you." It was a simple statement, one that most wouldn’t think to give, but the subtle suggestion would bring the blame back to the male, stacking the guilt and, hopefully, toppling its defences.
The Black Prince pushed hard for a second and the tip of the sword dug a fingers breadth into the pup’s flesh. She screamed, crying with renewed vigour, but the Citizen held her steady and The Prince 's sword stopped. Once her screaming settled to quiet sobbing and begging The Prince turned back to the male. "Where are the terrorists meeting?" he asked calmly.
There was a pause and he moved to thrust deeper, but the lantine raised a hand, "Drail farm." It blurted out, crying and falling forward.
The Black Prince nodded and turned back to the lantine. "What are the names of the terrorist leaders?"
"I don't-" It tried again.
The Prince’s sword buried a fingers breadth deeper. "Lantine!" he shouted over the girls renewed screams. “Do not play games! Does your pup’s life and suffering mean so little to you that you would test the patience of the Black Prince?”
"Kanno Vel and Harrison Charles!" it screamed.
"When is the next meeting?" The Prince asked.
The male fell into its hands, sobbing. "Tonight." it said. “After sun set, in the barn… there will be around twenty meeting there… please… no more. Let her go…”
They always sang, and what a beautiful melody it was.
The Prince eyed the lantine for a moment before nodding at the second Citizen. He released the mate, she fell, stunned, to her knees. “Send an agent of subterfuge to check this information and if it checks out have the Inforcers purge the cell.” The Prince said to the first Citizen. He left the room and the Prince turned to the second Citizen, removing his sword from the girls chest.
“Take her to the vet on-” The man and his wife screamed out a plea for The Prince to leave the girl, interrupting him. He turned to them, regarding them with contempt as the Citizen forced the girl up.
“Sir, the vets in the merchant district?” the Citizen asked, politely, holding the girl up.
“The one in the Noble district.” The Prince corrected. He flicked a metal seal to the Citizen soldier for him to produce at the veterinary practice and the soldier marched the lantine from the hovel. “I’m taking your pup to treat her wounds and make sure that nothing she has endured because of your treachery has a lasting effect.” The Prince explained. “While you may have turned your back on a King that has protected you and fed you for decades my father has not yet turned his back on you animals. You do not deserve the mercy I am showing. After you not only tried to join with terrorists but attempted to hide them from me I should have you put down… however; as far as I am concerned your daughter is innocent. She will be healed and returned safely, and you will remember that the scars that she endures from this day could have been avoided had you not tried to protect evil beasts from the crown.”
The Black Prince re-sheathed his sword and picked up his long black coat, pulling it on before marching towards the exit. He paused at the door and turned back to the male and female, eyeing them for a moment. The male was doubled over crying and the female was staring at him with hatred in her eyes- a complex emotion that most would suspect unattainable to the lantines – as she curled up against the opposite wall. “If this information turns out to be false you will never see your pup again.” He added before following his people and the hostage from the room.
The cold rush of air hit The Prince as he stepped from the squalid home. His tent was better suited to house him than the private hovel. How the lantines expected anyone to take them seriously when they didn't even treat their own dwellings with respect, he didn't know. A home was a reflection of the man who lived in it however, and this rat infested pit expressed the terrorist sympathiser perfectly.
He looked up and down the street, the dirt road wasn't fit for him to walk on. The entire area wasn’t fit for him to walk through; a Prince didn't set foot in the lantine districts, it was beneath them, but he wasn't any Prince. He reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a tobastick case. He eyed the black leather stuck all around the outside of the case with a contemplative eye. It had the Prince’s crest carved out of the front revealing red paint on the simple steel tin beneath. A gift from a poor Citizen crafting family in a small town to the west. The Prince had saved them and their lantine workers lives from a group of outlaws who'd attempted to rob their shop while he and his Inforcers were in town on business.
The tobastick case, though it wasn't high quality, was dear to him. It was a constant reminder that he wasn't a bad man. He was inherently a good man that had to do bad things for the security of his Kingdom and the people that it encompassed. He opened the case and pulled one of the thin white smoking sticks out. He placed the cotton end between his lips and closed the case, re-pocketing it. He took a box of matches from another pocket and attempted to strike one. The small stick snapped in half and the light-able end dropped to the floor.
He cursed. It was moments like this that he wished he was a Burner, able to absorb and release fire from nothing, instead of a Soaker. He was a very powerful Elemental, but the ability to absorb, release, and manipulate water rarely had practical applications for someone who lived in a palace and never wanted for anything, though his inability to drown was at least a little impressive, even to him.
He pulled out another match and struck it, lighting this one and touching it to the tip of his tobastick. He drew a breath, bringing the hot smoke into his mouth, and shook the match out, before taking the tobastick between his fingers and breathing out the smoke. A calming sensation spread through him as the natural chemicals were released into his body.
Bristling at the weather conditions he stepped away from the hovel and out of the cruel, calculating persona that he had to maintain. A calmness stretched through him as he pushed what he had just been forced to do out of his mind. He wasn’t the Black Prince. He was Alduain.
The cool air tingled against his skin for a moment before he started up the street. His Citizen soldiers had gone the opposite way, back to their guard post to inform The Black Prince’s soldiers, his ‘Inforcers’ where the terrorists would be waiting, but Alduain had other plans.
Usually The Black Prince would remain in control, he would go with them to find the terrorists and personally deal justice, but The Black Prince had not been sent to town for the terror meet, it had been a lucky accident; noticing the symbols that the underground used to indicate their existence to one another when he had arrived. No, The Black Prince was not sent here, Alduain was. He was here under his father’s orders to attend a ball as his diplomatic envoy.
Alduain pulled his gold and silver pocket watch- given to him for his twentieth birthday three years earlier, it was intricately patterned with both his and his father’s crests -from his waist coat pocket. It had been scratched in two places, but it was otherwise pristine. Both the scratches had happened during assassination attempts and the culprits had been punished accordingly. There were only, perhaps, fifteen pocket watches in the world and Alduains was one of his most treasured possessions. It was certainly the most valuable.
He pressed the button on the top and the cover flipped down to reveal the clocks face. It had an outer ring with old Vorden numbering that the main two hands pointed towards, indicating minutes and hours. The hands were all small masterpieces of their own delicate yet powerful in their design. A smaller gold subdial on the lower right hand side showed him the seconds while the rest of the face was glass, allowing for a view of the intricate gears and springs turning within.
The Prince often found himself fascinated, lost in the slow, careful tick of the gears as they turned the hands. How so many tiny gears worked together to perform their task; It reminded him, often, of the Kingdom itself. Without all the lantines performing their small tasks the Citizens wouldn't be able to perform their moderate tasks and without the Citizen the Noblemen would not be able to lead. Though few others- including the lantines -noticed the upperclass dependence upon the underclass.
Alduain shook himself out of his considerations and noted what he had originally intended. It was half past six. He had enough time to return to the Governor’s mansion and change before the ball. He snapped the pocket watch closed and returned it to his pocket, taking another draw on his tobastick before flicking it to the floor and stepping up his pace back towards the larger, yet significantly less populated Noble district of the city.
He found the governors gates wide open with a Citizen Legionnaire on either side of the entrance, the ball would not officially start for another thirty minutes and then many more attendants would be in place to take carriages and greet the guests, but there were always minor lords who thought that they'd be able to curry favour by arriving early, and others who were afraid of offending by arriving late. A self-entitled Governor like the one that the Prince was staying with this evening would not go out of his way to accommodate the lesser lords. They were little better than Citizen in his estimation.
The Prince walked through the gates, nodding to the Citizen Legionnaires as they saluted him. He briefly looked up at the mansion. It was nice enough, three stories high with beautifully carved gargoyles at each corner of the rooftop, the detailed carvings on the pillars and stonework both intricate and subtle were truly a marvel to behold, yet Alduain found it wanting, having grown up in the palace of kings.
He marched into the mansions main doors, ignoring the lantine slaves arranging the decorations- natural yellows and light blues to represent the spring festival Alduain was here to attend with red thrown in to finish the triumvirate of colours that the Governor used for his house crest, a subtle reminder to all in attendance who had thrown the party -as he strode down the hallway and up the grand staircase, usually he would have ran his hand up the banister, an unconscious, but comforting, habit that implied stability to him, but they had been wrapped with cords of yellow and blue flowers, likely picked that after noon.
Instead Alduain ran up the middle of the staircase, taking the steps two at a time to reach his rooms as quickly as possible and avoid running into his hosts while there was nobody to save him from their tiresomely pompous attitudes and self-indulgent conversational pieces.
Alduain was successful, and very lucky. He reached the third floor where his rooms awaited and marched straight across to them, opening the door and entering just as the Governor- a large man, both tall and wide, with no hair atop his head but a full beard, making it look as though the hair had simply picked up and migrated as the he had grown older -left his study at the other end of the hallway.
The Prince waited at the door for a few moments, in case the Governor had seen him, but thankfully no knock came. He turned to find a young woman standing at the foot of his bed, the first thing that struck him was her beauty. She was irrefutably fair with full lips and large, round eyes that sparkled in the light of the candles around the room.
For a brief moment as he surveyed her body and full bust. Her form was perfectly visible in the fitting dress she wore. He didn’t even realise what he was looking at until he noticed her hands, locked behind her back and her feet together with a subservient straight backed posture. He looked back up at the girl’s face and noticed the blonde hair framing it. A lantine. He thought, frowning. His cheeks flushed with embarrassment, their similarities to the nobility were striking at times but they were not the same.
His eyes quickly roamed back down her form, re-writing his previous opinions and noting the truth, not the brief hallucination of a Noblewoman he had seen. She wore a slim blue dress covered by a white apron with the crest of the Governor’s house over her breast, just like the rest of the Governors slaves. Her long blonde hair was tied up in a- not completely unattractive -bun so that she could perform her duties without trouble, making it easy for Alduain to view her face.
For a moment the Prince was unsure as to her purpose in his room, he had told the Governor that he would not require a servant, but after a quick reminder of her beauty as his eyes lingered on her chest, he realised.
Most Noble lords took enjoyment from their lantine slaves; they were play things for the upper class, incapable of refusing or fighting back. Most ladies didn’t even mind when their spouses took their lantines to bed, so long as they didn’t take them to the bed they shared. The Governor had left her, perhaps his prettiest lantine, as a gift for the Prince.
However Alduain was not most lords. He was not like the others of his class. He was superior to the lantines, it was true, but that fact alone made Alduain incapable of performing such acts. Alduain would no sooner sleep with a lantine than he would one of his horses. Few shared his viewpoint however. Most enjoyed their slaves on a regular basis, beating or killing them afterwards to prevent a mixing of the blood lines.
It was eccentricities like Alduain’s refusal to molest the animals that encouraged the Kings decision to make his younger brother Akatosh the crown Prince, not Alduain.
"Leave." He ordered. "I have no use for you."
She looked up, frowning and raising her eyebrows with surprise, her face adopted a look of fear. "My Prince..." she started. "I cannot- My former master, Governor Ferron, has ordered me to your service. If I leave... I won’t have- I-."
Alduain sighed. “Former master?” he repeated, running an exasperated hand through his hair. “He's given you to me as a gift? Not just for my stay?” She shook her head.
The gift of a lantine was an odd one. It very much depended on the recipient as to whether the gift was well received or not. Some considered a valued servant an honoured gift, while others considered the passing of something as lowly as a lantine as insulting. Alduain considered the whole idea offensive, it was a life that the governor was simply discarding as no longer useful to him.
 Most days he would have maintained his orders, but he was tired. He had had a long journey and then the interrogation; he could probably do with assistance. He shook his head and pulled off his coat, crossing the room. She bowed her head again and reached up to untie her apron. "Stop." Alduain said, walking past her and draping the coat over the arm of an expensive looking chair. "You may stay, but that won’t be necessary."
"My Prince?" The girl asked, frozen in her motion.
"I rarely sleep with lantines." He explained unbuttoning his waist coat.
She lowered her arms. "Why, my Prince? Do... does my appearance displease you?"
He sighed, almost blushing at the question. The conflict within him was fierce, she was undeniably beautiful, but she was a lantine, the two facts didn’t seem to work together. One could, of course, admire a pet dog’s beauty, but this felt different. "Run me a bath." He ordered, turning away. "Your appearance is fine, I choose not to sleep with women of the underclass because it does not feel... proper. You might accept it as your lot in life to serve all of my needs, or the needs of those I represent, but given the choice you would not find your way to my bed. Nor would I find my way into yours were I looking for a person with whom I could find companionship. No offence intended.”  He pointed out, ignoring the young lantine’s blushing. “Also, I find it hard to agree with men who say that lantines are less than animals and yet have their way with them on a regular basis. They don't take their dogs to bed, why their lantines?”
"A bath has already been prepared my lord." She said, deciding, wisely, to move on from their subject of Alduains sexual pursuits. "Freshly heated waters were brought up before your arrival."
It was strange being away from the central county where all four quadrants met. The quadrant cities lived without running water and often used candles instead of oil powered lighting, two things that Alduain took for granted in the central county where he lived. It would never even occur to him that a bath needed to be pre-prepared and brought up. His personal lantine- Gelain - simply needed to turn the tap and make sure that it wasn't too hot or cold. She had no need to exert herself.
"Thank you." He said, un-buttoning his waistcoat. He took the pocket watch out and placed it reverently into a small velvet bag, which he put with the clothes he intended to wear for the ball.
The lantine woman crossed the room to him and, without orders, helped him to undress. He didn't fight it; he was used to Gelain's help in the same regard. She took his belt with his sword and hung it on a hook beside the door then proceeded to remove the rest of his clothes, averting her eyes as he swapped them for a towel to keep his modesty intact, and returned them, folded, to his travel chest.
He walked away from the girl to a side door, opening it to lead him to the bath room. A large brass tub sat in the middle of the room with hot water and flower petals floating atop it. He strode across and, after briefly looking back to make sure that the lantine girl wasn't looking, dropped his towel and slid into the water.
He let out a sigh of relief as the hot water soothed his aching muscles. Instantly a portion of the water vanished; absorbed into the Soakers body. Alduain felt his reserves replenished and his aches vanish at the behest of his power. The Prince closed his eyes and allowed the water to soak into him, only opening them briefly a few minutes later when the lantine girl's hands began to gently scrub him with a hand full of petals. He sighed and lay back, allowing the girl to work. It really had been a long day.
Twenty minutes passed before the lantine slave released the petals and walked, backwards, out of the room with her head bowed to allow him to step out of the bath. There was a moment when he considered not complying. A moment where he thought about just lying in the bath and skipping the ball. He was exhausted and wasn't in the mood to listen to the noblemen brag about their holdings or petition him for support on projects. He was in even less of a mood to defend himself to those few people who both thought Alduain eccentric for not whipping or molesting his lantine workers and themselves important enough to get away with pointing out his flaws.
However it wasn't up for debate. He was a Prince of Galledar, sent by his father, King Richard Chustise-the-fourth, as his personal representative at this Vernal Equinox Celebration Ball. Even though Alduain would much rather be attending the infinitely more grand Royal Equinox celebration, where there would be revelling in the streets, an enormous banquet with a table of food so large that it ran from the grand ballroom in the Kings palace all the way out the main doors and down into the city, and even a mingling of lantine and Citizen citizens to the point that it was often hard to tell them apart. Alduain, like three of his brothers, were sent to the four governors mansions to show that the King still supported his highest ranking officials.
Alduain used to love the Equinox festivals. The two festivals were the only times of year that lantines were not considered slaves. They were free to do as they wished, celebrating alongside their Citizen betters and Alduain watched it all from the palace towers. That was the main reason, Alduain assumed, that most lords, the Governor and King included, chose to celebrate the Equinox openly the day before, and privately on the day.
In recent years, however, Alduain had become the Kings envoy to parties. He was forced to endure mind numbingly boring balls, standing idle while the lords chatted to him, rather than with him, hoping to impress him.
He heaved himself out of the bath, picked his towel back up from the floor and padded himself down before returning to the main bedroom. The lantine girl held his fresh shirt ready for use. It was black with flared sleeves, square cuffs and a band collar. He ignored her at first and moved to his bed where his underwear and black trousers waited for him. He picked up the underwear and turned to the girl, she averted her eyes and Alduain dropped his towel, pulling on the underwear, the socks, the trousers and his dress shoes before turning to her. He slipped his arms into the shirt and allowed her to lift it up over his shoulders and flatten down the back.
He buttoned the shirt up and tucked it into his trousers, buttoning them up and stretching to make sure that he was comfortable in the shirt. The lantine girl handed him his belt and, after he slipped it through the belt loops and buckled it, held up his formal maroon vest for him to slip into.
The Prince turned to the rest of the clothes, buttoning up the vest and paled. The lantine girl was reaching for his pocket watch.
Irrational fears and ideas flooded his brain. The image of her dropping it, of her pocketing it, of her intentionally damaging it as vengeance for his father’s subjugation of her people...
"Stop!" He shouted, marching across the room, abuzz with anger at all of the things the girl hadn’t done. She froze, hands barely close to the watch, bewildered eyes turning to him as his hand swung at her, connecting hard with her face and knocking her to the floor.
"I- I-" she stuttered, holding her cheek. "I'm sorry- I didn't-"
"Get Out!" he bellowed, grabbing her by the clothes and pulling her to her feet. She stared at him for a moment, fear and horror in her eyes, before scurrying from the room.
Alduain watched her go and sighed, his anger settling a moment later. As soon as the terrified girl was out of the room he recognised his overreaction. He liked to think that he treated lantines better than most, but then he overreacted.
He’d lower their defences into trusting him, believing that they had nothing to fear, only for him to have a minor paranoid episode and break both their trust and their face. He simply didn’t like anyone else touching his pocket watch. He even cringed when the King picked it up. He’d broken his brother's- The Crown Prince’s -nose on one occasion when he’d held it with no regard for its safety.
He shook his head and picked up his pocket watch, clipping it to his vest button and putting it in the pocket. He resolved to apologise to her, an action that would certainly draw more looks of disapproval from the high nobility, but he didn't care. He didn’t have to apologise, she was merely a lantine, but it felt like the right thing to do. He would apologise for spooking his horse who couldn’t understand him, why not a lantine who Alduain knew was intelligent enough to appreciate it?
 Alduain moved across to his jacket, he didn’t need to rush with the apology. The girl now belonged to him, she wouldn't stray far. He picked up the formal jacket and, after eyeing its fashionably long tail for a moment, pulled it on.
The Prince walked across to the door and grabbed the handle; he could hear the girl weeping on the other side of the door. He let out a sigh and pulled the door open. The whimpering stopped immediately and she stood up straight, standing just to the side of the door.
“Come back in.” he said, softly, standing aside to allow her past. She obeyed his orders. It wasn't uncommon for a lantine's master to treat him or her in such a fashion, but it didn't mean that Alduain was comfortable with what he'd done.
She crossed to the side of the room with her head bowed and obediently awaited further instruction. Alduain eyed her for a moment before leaning back against a nearby wall. “I want to apologise for hitting you.” he said, honestly. She looked up, startled by his words. Her cheek was red and her eyes still watered. “I'm sorry. You will find, now that you are in my service that I am a very lenient and forgiving man, however in some cases, like the care of my pocket watch, I am quite paranoid. I once broke Crown Prince Akatosh's nose for picking it up without my permission.” She gave Alduain a look of shock. “He wasn't crown Prince then, he was just my annoying brother. Still, some might call me insane for my devotion to an object. Feel free to do the same.”
Her eyes widened. “I would never My Prince!” she swore.
“No… I don’t imagine you would.” he responded, off-handedly. “I’ve been telling my personal servant, Gelain, to call me Alduain for years and she won’t do that. Why I thought you might call me insane is beyond me.”
“My Prince, I apologise, but… it would not be proper!” She responded.
“My dear, I am Alduain Chustise,” he reminded her, “eldest son of the king, yet not his heir, I walk amongst lantine and don't molest or beat my servants, I abandoned proper long ago.”
She blushed a little and returned her gaze to the floor. “What is your name?”
She looked up again, “My name, your majesty?” she asked.
“Well I can hardly call you 'my dear' in public, can I? It wouldn’t be proper.” he pointed out, standing up and moving across to a mirror.
“I- My name is Xelaria.” she responded, blushing.
“Xelaria? It's a very pretty name.” He acknowledged idly as he eyed himself in the mirror, frowning. “Something's missing...” he muttered.
Xelaria moved to his side and looked at the mirror with him. Her eyes moved quickly in the reflection, taking in every part of him in a matter of seconds, until they paused on his collar.
“Your rank pin, my lord.” She responded.
He eyed his collar and nodded, impressed. “The small velvet box in my travel chest.” he said. She scurried across the room and returned a moment later with the box, open and held up for him to pick out the pins. There were four of them, the first, which he pinned to the front of the left of his collar, was his own crest, a droplet of water with a rapier running through it on a black and red shield. The second, his fathers five coloured crest, he pinned just behind it on the same side of the collar. On the right he pinned two five point stars. The stars indicated that he had the rank of a high general, able to commandeer troops at his whim, his own crest indicated that he was named The Black Prince, and the kings crest informed people that he was there as the king's envoy.
Xelaria took Alduain's duelling cane from the travel chest, regaining her bearing considerably faster than any Citizen or Nobleman would have after an outburst such as Alduain had just delivered to her. “Thank you.” He smiled, as she handed it to him.
A quick check of his pocket watch told Alduain that it was time he joined the party, a fashionable thirty minutes late. He pulled the low quality tobastick case from his everyday jacket and deposited it in his pocket. He walked to the door and paused, looking back at the girl as she returned to a corner of the room.
She still wore the Governors colours, she would have to either remain in Alduains rooms, or stay at his side at all times throughout the ball, or else risk the attentions of a bored lord who did not realise the girls new ownership. At a ball like this one it was understood that a lantine in the Governor's livery was a part of the entertainment. Any of his slaves that he did not want enjoyed by his guests would remain in their quarters in the lantine district.
Alduain would be damned if he was going to allow someone to take her. He told himself that he didn’t want anyone soiling his property, but there was an inkling in the back of his mind that felt more like jealousy. She shook his head and dispelled it, returning to his travel chest and pulling open a draw at the base.
He had never opened it before, but it was still oiled and free of dust. Well maintained by Gelain, even though he constantly informed her that he would not use its contents.
The draw contained a simple pair of black trousers with red stitching, a simple black shirt with red trim, a pair of comfortable black shoes that slipped on, a red hair band with black thread winding around it and a very basic leather collar, more a necklace than a choker, with a metal buckle at the front in the shape of the Princes crest.
It was the garb of Alduain's servants. If he had his own keep the entire lantine work force would wear it, but until Xelaria he only had Gelain, and no need of others.
“Here.” Alduain said. “You’re in my service now, dress appropriately.” he said, avoiding the subject of her safety and his true reasoning behind the wardrobe change, as he turned from the chest.
His eyes widened and his cheeks reddened as he looked up at her. She had recognised what the articles of clothing were and had already undressed down to her undergarments, of which there was very little.
“I-” Alduain cleared his throat, not wishing to look like the adolescent teenage boy he had once been, so aroused and shocked by the naked flesh of any young women he had done improper things in order to get a peak. “I'll leave you to change.” he said, marching from the room, eyes staring straight ahead at all times.
Alduain stood outside of the room for a moment, composing himself before walking calmly, duelling cane in hand, down the grand staircase to the entrance, where he followed the decorations to the Governor's ball room.
Reaching the ball he found himself in a queue to be announced. He chuckled and cleared his throat loudly. The Lords looked grumpily back at him, until they realised who he was and bowed, turning away from the Princes confident, lopsided smile. They parted in front of him and allowed him to move to the front, one of the perks of his station.
He smiled at each man and woman, not bothering to get their names, but shaking or kissing their hands as he passed until he reached the front. The announcer, a Citizen dressed in ornate robes in Governor Ferron's colours, turned to Alduain and bowed low to him, before standing up and turning to the ball room. Alduain stepped up to the entryway and looked out over the party.
Slaves in decorative serving garb scurried around the room between the noblemen, offering them drinks and small food platters. The decorations were lavish, now that Alduain saw them. The Governor didn't have much to work with- compared to the King -but what he did have he used splendidly.
Grand banners with festival imagery lined the ceiling of the ball room, lit by expensive mirrored oil fires. The walls were dressed in freshly picked flowers and tapestries depicting the dark gods of the old Vorden empire being defeated by the devines that Noblmen, Citizens and Legion lantines called The Fallen, several millennia earlier during the vernal equinox.
The room was long and wide with small tables all around the edge of the room and a large dance floor set low in the ground in the centre. Many men and women had already begun dancing. Looking around at all the couples and groups of people he noticed their own personal lantine slaves in their own livery standing subserviently to the side, awaiting to be called.
It was easy to pick out the richest men in the room by their darker haired servants. Any man could bring a lantine slave to the party, but it took money and power to hire Citizen servers. However if a man was served by a Citizen he was instantly shown the respect of his position.
Alduain turned to the announcer and nodded.
"Presenting the emissary of King Chustise; His Majesty, Black Prince Alduain Chustise." he called out across the congregated lords and ladies.
As always, all eyes turned to regard him. Some with curiosity, some with reverence, some with hunger, and yet still others with disdain. He could tell instantly that the Ball would be as mundane and tedious as all of the others.
He sighed and forced his best, non-challant smile onto his lips, stepping quickly down the staircase and bracing himself for the night he had in-store.

Chapter 2 
She was beautiful. Absolutely, impenetrably beautiful. The boy, no older than fourteen, had never laid his yellow, grey and blue eyes on anything so painfully gorgeous as her in his whole life. Everything around her appeared brighter for having her in his view, just as everything appeared a shade greyer when he couldn’t see her.
She was what other lantines called a giftine; a beautiful lantine bred specifically to be given as a gift to a visiting official. In the boy’s hard life as a plantation lantine she was his one ray of Beauty. His one ray of hope. The past year had been the hardest of his life. He was a skinny and awkward teenager. Handsome in a boyish sort of way, which was the main reason that the Citizen Legionnaires and the watchmen focus on him, working out their frustrations on him both when he deserved it and when he didn’t. It was his first year working on the plantation. However, worst of all, his sister was gone.
She had just up and left, nobody was sure why or even how. One night when they went to bed she was there and the next she was gone. He didn’t like to think about it. It hurt too much to consider the possibilities.
Why did she leave? Did she not love him anymore? Did he do something?
The frustrated teenager wiped a tear from his eyes and looked back up at the, almost glowing, window of the manor house where the girl sat staring longingly out at the world. Through the whole painful year she had kept him going, and he didn’t even know her name.
He didn’t know her name. He didn’t know what she was like, he didn’t really even know what she looked like in detail. All he knew was what he saw.
He knew that she was lonely and he could relate.
“Kino. Get back to work.” An older lantine to his left warned. “Lord’ll be along to check soon.”
The boy looked sideways at the man and nodded. His gaze returned to the manor for a moment but the girl was gone. He sighed and pulled his water skin from his back to take a sip before continuing the arduous task of picking beans from their stalks.
He didn’t drink much, just enough to wet his mouth. If he’d continued beyond that he wouldn’t have been able to stop himself from drinking it all, and then he’d have been without water until morning, when the Citizen watchmen re-filled the water skins. Their spite already meant he received a quarter of a skin less water than the others. His mouth grew very dry in the sun; just as he expected many of the others did, but none of the others complained so neither did Kino.
Kino stood in in a column of bean stalks amidst a field of columns in the west quadrant of Galledar, under the care of a manor lord named Lord Byron. He was nearing the end of his daily task, but the sun was quickly setting, indicating that he, like many of the others, should have finished already.
The lantine stretched his skinny body and un-twisted a strap on the heavy bag he carried the beans in, before continued his work; picking at the stalks. His dark blonde hair fell in front of his face every time he moved to the next stalk, forcing him to push it back. He knew it was getting too long to be functional in the fields and he should probably have it cut, but he liked it. It had a natural shape to it that pleased him. It parted on one side and curved around his fore head into a little flick just beyond his ear while all the hair at the back was straight down to his neck where it took it upon itself to curl upward.
As he continued down the line of beans his mind started to wander. It started out in perfectly normal places; what was for the evening meal, when would he get to see the girl again and what story would the lantine elders tell the children that night.
He called them elders, but the eldest amongst them were no more than fifty. Lantines any older tended not to be able to cope with the hard work of the fields and, as the Citizens often reminded them, a useless lantine was a dead lantine.
However, as Kino reached the second to last stalk his wandering mind stumbled across some darker thoughts. What had happened to his sister? Was she still alive? Did their Lord, as many of the others suggested, finally take her to his bed and beat her to death afterwards? It was such a common occurrence that Kino found himself foolish for being certain that it wasn’t true.
But if it wasn’t, and she was alive, then why did she leave? She had never spoken about leaving before. She always seemed – not content but – accepting of her life.
His mind travelled back, as it invariably always did, to the last words she had said to him.
I love you Kino. She had told him sadly, kissing him on the top of the head. You’re going to do great things, I just know it.
He hadn’t understood the tone at the time, he had just thought his big sister was tired, or perhaps a little drunk, but now he knew better. She had already known that she was leaving. She had probably known for a long time.
Why couldn’t she have taken him with her?
Kino walked around his freshly picked stalk to the next one. He reached up and his hands grabbed at the air. The lantine looked up to find that there was no stalk in front of him. So deep in thought, he hadn’t noticed.
He let out a deep sigh as the painful memories receded. He hefted the heavy bean bag more securely up onto his shoulder and looked up at the manor house again, but the window was still empty. The boy nodded sadly to himself and turned for the Citizen taskmasters to hand in his bag.
The Citizen on duty grunted aggressively at him as he approached. He placed his bag down beside a number of others but he didn’t respond. Sometimes, when he was feeling stupid, he’d make a rude gesture, but Kino wasn’t in the mood to be shut in the hole for the night, especially with the Vernal Equinox festival only hours away.
They would be free for the whole day. From midnight to midnight, but the actual party wouldn’t start until mid-day.
He had heard tell that Citizens and lantines in the cities merged into one indistinguishable mass during the equinox festivals. In the countryside plantations however, Citizens maintained their superiority, even on the days of equality. It didn’t matter. Even if the Citizens did want to pick a fight with him during the festival he’d be too hard to find amongst the hundreds of revelling lantines.
Still, it was expected to be marvellous. Fireworks, music, dancing, expensive foods and drinks. He couldn’t wait. His sister always wanted to-
There was a pang of pain and loneliness in the pit of his stomach. For a moment there he’d forgotten that his big sister wasn’t there anymore. He’d started planning what they were going to do during the party.
Kino continued past the Citizen taskmaster with a more solemn attitude. This would be his first Vernal Equinox without her. He followed the path along the edge of the bean field to the lantine town. As it came into view he let out a short sigh. The whole little village. Housing hundreds of lantines was about the same size as the Lord’s manor home, which housed five people.
He reached the large metal gates, topped with spikes and guarded by Citizen Legionnaires, and passed into the town. He moved through the pathways between the three floor houses until he found his way to the one assigned to him.
He looked up at the walls, checking for ivy. If he didn’t catch it early he’d have to climb it and cut it away while he wasn’t working on the fields before it destabalised the already poorly build house he lived in. Not finding any Ivy to pick away Kino pushed aside the curtain over the doorway – they were only allowed doors during the winter – and stepped inside. Three older men sat around a small fire in the centre, watching its smoke curl and twist as it rose up through a hole in the ceiling, up three cramped and overcrowded floors to carry out of a hole in the roof. More than once people had fallen through the holes and broken their necks.
“Is everyone in?” Kino asked, standing by the door.
The three men sat there boiling a bucket of water. It was a common enough sight; people couldn’t easily live on the water they were allotted by the Citizens so they tried to clean other water sources. It often left the drinkers a little ill, but it was better that than dehydration.
A dehydrated lantine was a useless lanting.
The men were in their late twenties, not quite elders, but old enough to have earned the respect of the others in the house. Rivin, who sat in the centre was, was the eldest in the house. He was twenty-nine, quite short but stocky after years of labour. His skin was leathery, his eyes were a dull brown with flecks of grey and his hair grey and blonde, though it was hard to tell.
He looked up at Kino and nodded. “You’re the last in.”
Rivin was the house leader, everyone who lived with Kino respected Rivin greatly. Any disputes fell to him to settle. He was also charged with talking to the town elders about the house’s needs, who in turn would talk to the task masters.
“Evening Kino.” The tall and slender lantine sat next to Rivin said, looking up at him. He, like Rivan, was twenty-nine with short grey and blonde hair. His eyes were a light green with flecks of grey in them. His skin was less worn, but he did have several scars across his face, one leading down to his chest.
“Hey, Julius.” Kino said, politely, taking a spot beside the fire. Kino liked Rivin and Julius, they were best friends and had been since they were boys but they couldn’t be more different.
Rivin was short and stocky while Julius was tall and slender. Rivin was a very serious man, looking out for everyone’s wellbeing at all times, never even cracking a smile, except when Julius was nearby, spending his days in good natured joviality.
“Took your time in the fields today.” Rivin pointed out. “Foolishness, or exaustion?” he asked. His voice sounded gruff and annoyed, but Kino knew from experience that it was concern.
Kino thought for a moment and sighed to himself. “Mostly foolishness,” he admitted.
“Don’t let the Citizens catch you looking at her.” Rivin warned. “You know they’re just looking for an excuse to punish you.”
Kino nodded. “I expect ‘he’s a lantine’ must get dreadfully boring to say after a while.”
“I’m serious Kino.” Rivin said sternly.
“I know. Sorry.”
Rivin shook his head and returned his gaze to the water.
“Who ran out of water today?” Kino asked, watching the liquid bubble.
“Bizine,” Julius responded.
“She’s usually really good with her water.” Kino thought for a moment, and then looked up at the man. “Did the breeding stick?”
Julius nodded. “I gave her my water, this is for me.” He nodded to the fire.
“Do you know who the father is?” Kino asked.
“Nobody from the village.” Julius assured him. “His Lordship rented someone from another Lord.” Kino nodded sadly. “She said he was nice though. She liked him, he treated her gently, not like some of the others.”
“That’s good at least,” Kino said. “But she can’t keep going on regular rations.”
“I’m going to talk to the Elders tomorrow morning.” Rivin explained. “She should be put into a manor birthing house by midday the day after.”
Kino nodded again. He was going to miss Bizine, she was very sweet and he liked her. She’d always tried to make him feel like family, even before his sister left.
Kino sighed again, thinking about her.
The third man at the fire, Willheim, grunted at Kino. “What’re you in a grump about?” He was twenty-seven but looked forty. His gnarled face and limp didn’t help the implication. Supposedly he had been a Legionnaire when he was in his late teenage years, but he’d sustained an injury that made him a hindrance to his unit and he’d been sent to the fields, which was one of the reasons that he was always so foul.
Kino didn’t answer immediately - conversations with Willheim rarely ended pleasantly – but then Rivin took an interest. “What’s wrong, Kino?”
The lantine sighed and looked up at Rivin. “I miss my sister.” He sighed. “This’ll be my first Vernal Equinox without her. I keep wondering what she’d want to be doing.”
“Hells of the Fallen, boy!” Willheim snarled. “You still harping about that?”
“Willheim.” Rivin warned, a tone of disapproval on his words. “She was his sister, his only family. Give him a break.”
“It’s life Riv.” Willheim argued. “That’s just life. Lost my family when I was his age, din’t cry once.”
“That’s ‘cos you got no soul.” Julius offered.
“It’s ‘cos I knew that’s just what this life’s like.” Willheim grumbled. “That’s just our lot. We live, we work, we die. No point loving, we’ll lose everything, one way or another. It’s foolish.”
Kino felt his face flush. He wasn’t sure why, maybe because he was already in a bad mood, maybe because he’d been thinking about the giftine in the manor, maybe because all he had left of his sister were her last words, and her love, he didn’t know. Whatever it was made him argue.
“You’re an idiot.” Kino spat, looking up at Willheim.
“You what?”
“You’re an idiot. What’s the point of love?” Kino repeated. “Our lives are work, being beaten and sleep. What’s the point of that without the people we love? If love was so foolish none of us would do this.” He waved his arm at the room. “None of us would be able to go on.”
Willheim frowned at Kino for a moment before spitting in the fire. “She’s never going to love you, boy.” He responded. For a moment he didn’t know what the man had meant but then he continued. “You don’t know her name, she don’t know yours. She don’t even know you exist.”
Kino knew it to be true, he had always known, but having it spoken aloud so plainly hurt. It physically hurt, like a punch in the gut. He even felt himself fold over a little. His mind fled to thoughts of her, the images he’d captured in his mind. She would never be his. He could never get a girl like her…
“Forget about her and do your duty. Stupid whelp.” Willheim grumbled again, standing up.
Kino watched him limp out of the room and then listened to the uneven thuds as he made his way up the stairs.
“Don’t listen to him, Kino.” Julius suggested.
“No, do.” Rivin argued, shaking his head. “The man’s a jackass who needs to get over his superiority complex before he mistakes a Citizen for a lantine, but he’s right about the girl.” Kino looked up at Rivin to find an expression of distress upon his face. “Forget about her Kino. She’s been bred for one thing and one thing alone; to be the pleasure slave of a visiting high lord. It will only end badly.”
Kino had lost himself amongst the carefully cultivated memories of the girl. His sisters last words came back to him again; You’re going to do great things, I just know it.
“Forget about her or do something about it.” Julius joked. “I’m starting to get annoyed by your constant pining.” He waved his head comically at Kino.
Kino remained perfectly still for a few moments and then, without realising he was going to say it, spoke. “OK.”
“Kino?” Julius questioned.
“I won’t forget about her.” He found himself on his feet, unaware of getting up. “Ok. I’ll do something about it.”
“Kino, what are you doing?” Rivin asked, frowning.
“I’m going to talk to her.” He decided as his feet started walking to the tent flap.
“They find you, they’ll put you in the hole, maybe worse.” Rivin warned.
“They do that almost daily anyway.” Kino almost laughed. “If I don’t go talk to her then you’re right, I might as well forget about her. What have I got to lose?”
“The Citizen’s will have locked up by now.” Julius pointed out.
“Then I’ll climb out.” Kino said. “The birch tree at the back of the town can support me still.”
“Kino. Trust me. You don’t want to do this. It will only end badly.” Rivin warned him again, leaning forward.
Kino took in a terrified breath, he couldn’t believe he was doing it; the decision had happened so fast. “Then I better make it start amazingly then.” He said, pulling the curtain back and disappearing into the night.
Kino made his way through the deserted paths of the town to the back fence where a small clearing of grass surrounded a tall birch tree. Its branches were thin, stopping any adult from climbing out, but Kino was still young, he was still slim he could climb on them and jump across to the other side.
How he’d get back he didn’t know. If he had rope he’d be able to make a way back, but he didn’t have any. Still; in his excitement he found that he didn’t care. He’d figure something out.
He grabbed hold of a branch and hauld himself up onto it, before scaling it to an appropriate height to jump from. He eyed the spike topped fence for a moment and then jumped, landing hard on the grass beyond the town and rolling onto his back, wind knocked from his lungs.
Kino coughed, sitting up and allowing himself to breathe again. His knee ached with a sharp pain where he’d grazed it during the roll, but he ignored it, getting back to his feet with the fence as a support.
“Kino!” Came Rivin’s voice from beyond the wall. “You idiot, what have you done? You’re stuck out there!”
The boy shrugged his shoulders, “Sorry Rivin, I have to…” he said, back stepping away.
Rivin eyed the boy for a moment, then his eyes darted around the area before he deflated and nodded. “Fine!” he yelled. “You’re already across, not much I can do now. When you’re done ruining your life come back here. We’ll figure some way to get you back in.”
“Thank you.” Kino grinned and set off at a run around the lantine town.
The path back to the manor house was dark. So dark that Kino could barely see where he was going. He walked around the side of the fenced off town until he spotted a light bobbing towards him. In his excitement he’d forgotten the Legionnaire patrols.
He ran from the fence to hide in a bush, worry seeping into his gut. Thorns stabbed at his skin through his thin clothes and scratched across his bare arms but he didn’t make a sound. If the Legionnaires found him out of the village after curfew they’d kill him. It wouldn’t be beatings or trips to the hole anymore; they’d hang him until he died. Pretending that he was trying to escape the Lord’s service was just the excuse they needed.
The Legionnaire and his torch bobbed past, not even looking around for escapees. The world’s disregard for lantine intelligence annoyed Kino to no end, but it could come in useful. The Legionnaire didn’t even think a lantine was resourceful enough to try to escape.
As the man disappeared from view Kino dragged himself out of the bush, thorns scratching down his arms as he went. He landed on the sparsely trodden parth that circled the village and let out a sigh, pushing himself back to his feet. He rubbed the scratches on his arms for a moment and, feeling blood, immediately stopped. He’d seen far too many lantines accidentally get fevers and have to be put down by the vets by rubbing dirt into their wounds.
The scratches stung all across his flesh, but he ignored them, breathing deep against the anxiety now bulging in his chest as he started towards the manor house. He was actually going to meet her. Talk to her.
Of course he had to get past a mile of night patrols, the fence that surrounded the manor house, up the wall outside her room and she still might break his heart, but he’d have talked to her. Somehow that was all that mattered.
Kino walked cautiously just off the road up toward the manor house, ducking behind a tree or bush whenever he thought that he heard something, or saw a Legionnaire. What struck Kino most as he walked up the road was how few of the Citizens he’d seen.
They were supposed to be out in force every night, patrolling to make sure that no lantine escaped, but where were they? By the time the manor house came into view Kino had seen a total of three patrols, none of them had more than a single Legionnaire.
Three citizens patrolling the grounds, was it possible that the whole thing was a ruse to stop the lantines from trying to escape? Did it matter? Yes. It was a blessing. It made it that much easier to get to the manor house unseen.
It took Kino the better part of thirty minutes to make his way to the spike tipped outer fence of the Manor house. He found himself standing just outside the cover of the forest’s tree line to the side of the building, looking up through the fence bars at the giftine’s open bedroom window.
Kino eyed the wall around her room and smiled; Ivy. Years of work finally paying off. He’d be able to climb up the Ivy and get to her room, assuming he could get through the fence.
He stepped back and started to work out a plan when a light appeared around the side of the manor house, followed closely by two Citizens. Kino leapt back into the cover of the tree line and pressed his back to a tree, head turned ever so slightly to listen to the Citizens.
“-why we’re out here, what are we guarding them from anyway?” one of the citizens asked. “Lantines? They could kill them in their sleep.”
“I dunno, I heard the lantine terrorist cells are gaining momentum,” the second Citizen commented.
“Nah, Black Prince’ll drive them out, one by one.” The first sighed. “So, why are we out here?”
“Dunno.” The second admitted. “Better this than picking beans all day though. Don’t envy the lantines their work.”
“Doubt they notice.” The first sighed. “They’re animals, probably like the structure. You ever seen a horse complain about pulling a cart or carrying someone?”
“Seen a horse buck a man off it’s back. That count?”
“One in a thousand. Like the terrorists,” the first argued. “Get them in every animal. The horse that bucks, the chicken that pecks, the goat that charges and the lantine that attacks. S’only natural.”
“I thought your point was that it’s natural for them to work.” The second reminded him.
The voices started growing quiet as the first man grunted. “Since when did you start listening to the things I say?”
“Since I started sleeping with your….” The voice trailed off as they continued around the next corner with the light and Kino re-emerged.
He regarded the manor with concern. If those Citizens were just walking around and around then he only had a certain amount of time to jump the fence, cross the yard and climb the wall before he was caught.
Kino chewed his lips nervously and waited, counting in his head as the Citizen’s made their way around the Manor.
Three, four, five…
Kino looked around him for something to throw over the fence. There was nothing he could use but found nothing.
Twenty, twenty-one, twenty-two…
 He turned back to the bars, he couldn’t fit through them, but he was only just too big. Kino walked up to the bars and grabbed a hold of one, pulling as hard as he could, but it didn’t budge.
Forty-five, forty-six, forty-seven…
Kino started down the fence, testing every one of the fence poles for a weakness until he got to a back gate, presumably for the Citizens to use, should the need arise. The gate was taller than the fence, but it didn’t have spikes on, and it had a bar across the middle and diagonally in both directions to brace it against impact.
Sixty, Sxty-one, Sixty two- The Legionnaire Citizens reappeared. Kino was too far from the tree line to sprint back. He was forced to dive to the floor and hope that they didn’t look too carefully.
“How many times is that now?” the first Legionnaire asked.
“One-eighty-seven,” the second admitted.
“Only three hours?”
“A little more,” the second responded, dully.
“Why does it feel like it’s taking so long,” the first asked in exasperation.
“Because we’re walking around the outside of a manor house once a minute to make sure that the Nobleman who lives within doesn’t get attacked by animals who can’t even leave their hovels,” the second summed up nicely. The first let out an exasperated sigh as the neared the other corner. “Plus I have to listen to you prattle on all night. I’m thinking that you’re the first time elemental, controlling it with your speech…” he added as his voice disappeared around the corner.
Kino threw himself up, he had sixty seconds. He could make that, he was sure of it. He started counting in his head.
One, Two, three…
Kino grabbed the bars of gate and set his feet, pulling himself up onto it. The gate rattled as he climbed up onto it and swung himself over. He realised, too late that he should have taken it slowly as he flew over the gate and failed to get footing on the other side. His hands held tight onto the top of the gate and he swung down, crashing into it.
His hands let go and he fell to the floor with a thud.
Fifteen- no, Twenty, Twenty-one…
Again Kino forced himself up, turning to the manor house and running to the ivy below the giftine’s window.
Thirty-five, Thirty-six, I hope…
The lantine rubbed his hands together and reached up to the ivy. He froze, hands inches from it as his eyes widened in joyful surprise; the ivy was growing up a trellis.
“I’m just saying; we don’t need to be out here.” Came the voice of the first Citizen to Kino’s left. He sucked in a terrified breath and grabbed the trellis and started to climb. He scaled the wall up to the giftine’s room quickly, freezing as the citizens moved past below him.
“Well why don’t you move then?” the second man asked as they rounded the corner.
Kino let out a breath and stared down at his chest, breathing hard. “What’re you doing?” a soft voice asked from beside him.
The lantine looked up to find the giftine leaning out of the window, looking at him with an interested, but confused expression. Kino almost released the trellis in surprise. He couldn’t help but release a tiny squeal.
“I- I-” his words failed him. He’d walked all that way thinking about talking to her and he hadn’t figured anything out to say.
She looked down at the grounds, concern on her beautiful features. “Quick, get in before they come around again.”
Kino nodded and the girl stepped back. He climbed sideways and grabbed a hold of the window frame. He put a foot up onto the window frame and felt the girl’s hand on his arm. He almost let go at her touch, but he held tight.
He let go of the trellis and she pulled him in. Kino fell into the room, landing with a thud on top of the giftine. Kino didn’t immediately move, he couldn’t immediately move and for a few moments laid there on top of her, blushing down at her features.
He had been right, she was unthinkably gorgeous with dark blonde hair, fair skin and a spattering of freckles across her button nose. She had naturally thin eyebrows with high cheek bones and full lips. Her eyes, now that he had the chance to look closely at them, were blue with silvery grey sprinkled throughout.
He could feel her slim form under him, her already maturing bossom against his chest, the warmth of her nether region against his thigh. He felt the blood rushing from his face towards his groin, but then a knocking at the door stopped it in it’s tracks.
“Anastasia, are you ok? I heard a bang.” Came a muffled voice from beyond the door to the room.
The girl looked up from the floor at the door and pushed Kino off of her. “Hide there.” She hissed through her teeth, pointing at her closet. Kino followed her command and threw himself in between her clothes. They felt amazingly soft against his skin. It wasn’t until he was already deep amongst them that he remembered his bleeding arms and internal fear spread through him. The clothes were so nice he hoped that he hadn’t ruined any of them.
“I’m fine, Matron.” He heard the giftine- Anastasia –promise. Anastasia, he knew her name. It was such a pretty name. It suited her.
Kino heard the door unlock and open. “What happened?” the other voice asked, no longer muffled.
“I fell out of bed.” Anastasia said, nervously. “Bad dream.”
I had a bad dream.” The matron corrected.
“Yes, Matron. I apologise,” She acknowledged. “I had a bad dream.”
There was a moment of silence and then the matron spoke again, “very well. Go back to sleep.” Kino heard the door close and then the lock turned again.
A moment passed and Kino distinctly heard the woman’s heavy footsteps travel away from the room.
“You can come out now.” Anastasias voice announced. Kino took a deep breath and a moment later he stepped out of the closet. He looked up at her, her expression was full of excitement for a moment and then she saw his arms. “Are you ok?”
“I-” he took a steadying breath. “Yes.” He said, looking around the room. It was lavish compared to his house. The walls were painted light blue, she had a bed, a long soft bench under the window, the closet full of clothes… “Wow…” he muttered, looking around, before his eyes landed on the girl once more. He blushed, remembering how close they had been on the floor, and looked away. What should he say?
“What’s your name?” she asked.
The lantine looked up at her again. “Kino.” He said. “My name’s Kino.”
“Kino? I like that. You work on the plantation?” she asked.
His expression almost fell, but he held himself steady, nodding. He had hoped that she wouldn’t find that out right away. He didn’t want to lie to her, but he had hoped that-
“I-” She blushed and looked aside, burshing her hair behind her ear and idly twirled a bit of her long, curly golden hair. “I’ve been watching you…” she admitted. Kino’s heart leaped into his throat for a moment, that simple fact was more than he could ever have hoped for.
“I’ve been watching you as well,” he told her.
“It must be wonderful out there.” She sighed, wistfully, moving over to him and passing to the window, where she sat on the soft bench.
He frowned, watching her looking longingly out the window. He’d seen her do it a thousand times before, but never had he thought that she was pining for the plantations. “It’s not.” Kino told her, stepping up beside her and sitting awkwardly. “It’s hot, it’s tiring, if you don’t do it right you get beaten…” he sighed.
“Can’t be worse than here.” She said, matter-of-factly.
“What do you mean?” he asked, looking around again. “You have everything you could ever need.”
She shook her head. “A pretty prison.” She said. “I’ve never left this room.”
Kino frowned. “Never?” she shook her head. “Even on the equinox festivals?”
“What’s that?” she asked.
Kino’s brow furrowed. “I- tomorrow, the Vernal Equinox festival.” She looked at him with bafflement. “It’s a twice yearly festival, on the equinox lantines have the same rights as Citizens.”
“I’ve never heard of it.” She admitted, eyes glistening.
“It’s amazing, there’s food, fireworks, activities…”
“Oh, I wish I could see that.” She sighed.
“You can.” Kino assured her.
She shook her head and let out a sigh of exasperation. “They won’t let me.”
“They won’t have a choice.” Kino told her. “It’s law!” She shook her head again. And Kino set his jaw. “I’ll make sure of it.”
She looked up at him and frowned in confusion.
“I’ll come back tomorrow and make sure you get to the festival.” He promised her.
She looked away and out the window, biting her lip, eyes moving back and forth until they moved up and settled on Kino. She nodded. “Thank you.” She smiled. She leaned in and kissed him lightly on the cheek.
The lantine boy’s hand moved up to his cheek in stunned silence as his cheeks reddened. She smiled mischievously and stood up. “Until tomorrow then.” She said, smiling excitedly.
Kino’s mouth moved without noise for a moment and then he cleared his throat. “Until tomorrow.” He agreed.

Chapter 3
 “I can’t believe you actually did it.” Julius grinned, impressed as he and Rivin held up a log for another lantine to hammer a nail into. They were making a podium for the leader of the elders - a fifty-six year old man named Vita with a short grey beard, bald head and withering features – to stand upon at the equinox festival. “You’re a crazy little bastard, but you’ve got guts. Willheim’s been grumbling ever since you left. Can’t believe you actually did it.”
“None of us can.” Rivin admitted, stepping back and looking up at the newly finished podium.
Kino’s cheeks reddened. “Who knows?” he asked.
“Just me, Rivin and Willheim.” Julius promised.
“And anyone listening to us right now.” Rivin pointed out, picking up a bucket of tools from beside his feet.
“Point taken.” Julius nodded. “We don’t want too many people finding out, in case they go to a Citizen.” Kino nodded. “So, you going to see her again?”
“I’m going to go meet her for the Equinox festival.” Kino smiled.
“Oh?” Rivin said, raising his eyebrows. “Don’t think I’ve ever seen a giftine at an equinox festival.” He turned to Kino. “You should be careful.”
Kino frowned. “But it’s the law. They have to let her come.”
Rivin shook his head, turning and starting back towards their house. “This far from the cities, some laws aren’t as important to the nobility and the citizens as they are to others.”
“What should I do?” Kino asked, turning with him. “If they don’t let her out.”
“I still think you should forget about her.” Rivin said. “don’t go up there, just enjoy the festival.”
“Come on,  Riv’ you can’t really expect-” Julius started, following alongside Kino.
“I’m thinking about his welfare,” Rivin said, turning a corner and ducking out of the way of two large men coming the opposite way with a large table. “Nothing good will come of this.”
“I can’t not go.” Kino said. “I promised her.”
“The Citizens won’t let her.” Rivin promised.
“I’ve got to try.” Kino whined.
“Well you’ll do what you want, always have.” Rivin acknowledged. “Good luck I guess.”
Julius frowned at the older lantine as he walked off, leaving Kino and himself standing there. “Wonder what’s wrong with him today.” Julius said, eying his friend. “He usually loves the festival.”
“Really?” Kino asked. “He’s always so serious; it’s hard to tell when he’s enjoying something.”
Julius chuckled. “Yeah, I know what you mean. I’m un-serious enough for the both of us though.” He looked sideways at Kino. “Suns almost at it’s peak.” The lantine said, pointing up at the sky. Kino looked up and he was right. “If you want her to see the whole celebration you should probably go get her now.”
Kino smiled. “Maybe I should figure out some things to say first.”
“Trouble speaking last night?” he asked. Kino nodded. “Yeah, I had that when His Lordship rented me out to stud a couple years ago, I liked the girl n wanted to talk to her, but couldn’t think of anything to say in the circumstances… realised that it didn’t matter what I said, I was never going to see her again.” Kino looked up at his friend, sadly, and then paled slightly, was he trying to warn Kino away as well? “I hope it all works out for you Kino, but Riv and Willheim are right, she’s a Giftine. She’s going to leave. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, might not be for two years, but the Lord is going to give her away. Don’t be scared of talking in what little time you have. Just enjoy yourself.”
Kino sighed and nodded. Somehow the idea that he didn’t have time to be nervous did make it easier – as long as he didn’t realise that it also meant that he only had one chance to say the wrong thing he was sure that he’d be alright.
Kino looked up at Julius again and smiled. “Thanks.” He said, receiving a nod of approval in return as he turned on his heel and started back towards his house. He slipped inside and passed one of the families he shared with in the common room – “Hi Kino!” one of the kids called - and bounded up the stairs to the third floor where he slept with about six other lantines. He moved to his bed roll and picked up a tattered old bag from next to it.
He had realised, late the previous night that she wouldn’t be able to wear any of her clothes if she wanted to really experience the festival for fear of standing out. His satchel contained a spare set of lantine workers clothes and a straw hat one of the female house mates had let him have it, though he had declined to say why.
Kino quickly checked the contents of the bag again and slung it over his shoulder. He rushed back down the stairs and past the family in the common room – “Bye Kino!” the same child called after him – and back out the door.
He turned to the main gate and strode quickly through it, ignoring the citizens as he could only do twice a year. He grinned despite himself, excitement bubbling in his chest. The walk to the manor house sped by quicker than it ever had before and he found himself in front of the dauntingly huge building. It hadn’t looked quite so huge when at night, not when he was across the field picking and planting.
His eyes glided down the wall to the main doors, to the gate in the spiked fence he’d bypassed the night before to rest finally on the Legionnaires that flanked it. They stood about half Kino’s height taller than him and bulky with muscle and armour. They looked about as scary as he imagined rhinos would look, menacing with a sharp spear instead of a horn and a gaze that dared him to come closer.
Kino’s fear coursed through his body. He was going to have to walk between them. Usually when he got so close he’d end up with at least a few bruises. He took a steadying breath and stepped forwards. The Legionnaires’ brows raised and their eyes widened for a moment, surprised that he was confident enough to accept their challenge.
“What do you want, boy?”  The left legionnaire asked. He was the bigger of the two and - quite co-incidentally he was sure - the Legionnaire that had tormented him the most as he’d grown up.
Kino opened his mouth to answer but then frowned and eyed the legionnaires. “Shouldn’t you be off duty?” he asked. “It’s Vernal day.”
The Legionnaire frowned back at him and, in a grumpy tone that implied impatience, spoke, “Someone’s got to guard our Lord from cretins like you.” The guard jabbed the butt of his spear at Kino, avoiding hitting him only by the barest inch. “What do you want?”
Kino frowned up at the Legionnaire and then tried to smile pleasantly despite the fear fluttering in his stomach. “I’m here to take Anastasia to the-”
Fury flashed across the Legionnaire’s eyes for a brief moment. “How do you know that name?” he growled.
Kino realised his mistake immediately. He shouldn’t have said her name. He wasn’t supposed to have ever met her. How could he have known her name? If the boy had known any curse words he would have used them, instead he simply stood there as the guard slammed the butt of his spear into Kino’s gut, forcing the wind out of him.
“Boy, how do you know that name?” The man said again.
“Legionnaire.” A commanding voice called and the man standing over Kino looked up, malice still seeping from his very pores. The boy followed his gaze to another Legionnaire crossing the distance between the main door and the gate. “What’s happening here?”
“Lord Centurion.” The Legionnaires both slammed their fists to their chests and bowed to him, stepping away from Kino.
“Sir, the lantine knows of Anastasia. I was ascertaining how.” The Legionnaire explained without a moment’s pause.
The Centurion - presumably the Legionnaire’s task master – raised his eyebrows in surprise and then nodded, turning to Kino. “Up.” He commanded. His voice held authority such that Kino didn’t dare disobey.
Kino got sluggishly to his feet and looked up at the man. He regarded Kino for a moment and frowned. “How did you discover her name?” He asked, crouching down to the boys level and staring into his eyes.
“I-” Kino started.
“Did you hear one of the Legionnaires talking about her?” He asked. Kino didn’t have anything better. He nodded frantically. The Centurion nodded curtly, turning back to the Legionnaire. “There you have it, Legionnaire. He heard the name and thought he’d be kind and invite her out. For future reference, Legionnaire, asking might be an easier alternative to beating the boy senseless, especially on a day that doing so calls for your immediate arrest for assault.”
The man paled for a moment, eye twitching to Kino for a moment and then back to the Centurion. “Sir, our Legionnaires are not that sloppy.” The man argued. “He’s lying to you.”
The Centurion gave his man an amused expression. “I know the limits of our Legions, Legionnaire. I am, after all, their Centurion. This information was not a secret; I see no reason that none of them would mention it.”
“Enough.” The Centurion cut across him. He turned to Kino. “On your way, lad. Anastasia has chosen not to come to your festivities today.”
“But-” Kino started.
The Centurion fixed him with a hard gaze. “On your way lad.” It was a gaze akin to the one Rivin used. It wasn’t anger, it wasn’t contempt, it was concern. Concern for him. It was one of the strangest things Kino had ever seen coming from a Citizen- beatings and threats he understood, but compassion or concern?
Kino nodded and turned away starting back towards the town. He didn’t even get fifteen strides before he stopped. He couldn’t go, he’d promised… even if what the Centurion had said was true, he had to keep his promise. Had to at least try.
He sighed in exasperation. Julius was right; women were a lot of work.
Kino turned again, this time towards the trees to the side of the manor and – after looking around for anyone who might be watching him – walked purposefully into the tree line, following his route the previous night through the trees to find himself at the side of the Manor houses spiked fence. He waited a little while to see if the other Legionnaires were on duty, circling the Manor house endlessly.
The young lantine sprinted to the gate and hauled himself over it, careful enough this time to climb up and back down. He jogged across to the wall of ivy and climbed.
Halfway up, he could hear sobbing. His heart beat faster, a mixture of anger and sorrow joining together in his chest as he moved closer. He was about to reach up to the windowsill when he heard loud feet shuffling.
He paused and the matron’s voice rumbled through the room, “Really, I don’t know what you expected.” She sighed. “Fool girl.” The anger in Kino’s chest rumbled, but he supressed it. He couldn’t let her see him. He heard the woman leave and then the door closed and locked.
Anastasia’s sobbing devolved into full crying when she was alone and suddenly that was all the young lantine boy could hear. The noise burned his ears like nothing he’d ever heard before. It angered him more than he thought possible.
Kino reached up, grabbing the windowsill and pulled himself up. He caught secured his foot on the sill and pushed himself into the room, dropping onto the soft bench and then onto the floor, far lighter and quieter than his previous entrance.
Not completely silent however; the small amount of noise drew Anastasia’s attention. She looked up from the pillow she was crying into to stare at Kino.
“Kino?” she asked in disbelief. Surprise was etched into her features for a moment before it transformed into relief and joy. She forced herself up and rushed across the room to him.
“Kino!” She exclaimed, throwing her arms around him and burying her facein his shoulder. He expected that she was going for his chest but she was taller than him, he’d started his growth spurt, but she was way ahead of him.
Kino wrapped his arms around her, placing them on her back and soothing her.
“What happened?” Kino asked after a moment.
She moved her head back and looked at him, tears coming to her again, but not leaving her eyes. “I’m not allowed to go.” She said. “I asked My Lord, but he said no.”
Kino frowned down at her. “He can’t stop you.” He promised her. “He’s bound by law to let you.”
She nodded. “He said that aswell.” She continued. “But he also said that he’s not legally bound to unlock the door.” Kino looked up at the door. “He said I can go join the festivities, but he’s not unlocking the door for me.”
Kino looked back down at her and smiled, almost laughing. “So what’s the problem then?” He asked. She looked up at him in confusion. “I didn’t come in through the door, did I?” Her brow furrowed in confusion for a moment before looking over his shoulder. She moved a hand up to her mouth and took in a breath of surprise. “The Window! But…” she looked down at herself. “I can’t climb out like this, even if I could, My Lord would spot me in a second… I don’t want to make him mad.”
Kino nodded and – fighting every urge in his entire body - stepped out of her embrace. He pulled the pack off of his back and set it down on the soft bench.
“What’s that?” She asked.
“Clothes.” He said. “Plantation clothes, like mine.” He motioned to himself. “I thought you could change and you’d be able to enjoy the festival like one of us.”
She took in a breath of excitement and threw her arms around him. “Thank you-thank you-thank you!” She exclaimed, flinging her arms around him again. “You think of everything!” She squeezed him tight and then let go, grabbing the bag and moving to her bed where she began to undress without a seconds concern for his eyes or her modesty.
Kino’s eyes widened in shock, his cheeks reddened and he turned away to look out the window.
“Oh! And a hat!” she exclaimed. A few moments of rustling passed and then finally he hear her patting herself down and turning. “How do I look?” She asked.
Kino turned to look at her. She stood in front of him with her legs together and arms out to the side. She pivoted slightly to one side and then back the other way, keeping her arms in the same place but moving the rest of her.
It was remarkable; even in the plantation workers trousers and simple shirt, with her beautiful locks tied up and hidden beneath the straw hat she still looked radiant.
“What?” she asked when he didn’t respond. “What’s wrong?” she lowered her arms and looked down at herself, critically.
“You look good.” He said after a moment, clearing his throat. “No matter what you wear; you look good.”
She smiled, blushing and hugged him again.
He squeezed her back and then let go, turning to the window. “You ready to go?” he asked.
She nodded once excitedly and then the reality of what they were going to do seemed to hit her like a fist to the chest. She edged closer and looked out over the edge. “It’s a long way down.” She said, mostly to herself. She looked back at Kino, biting her lip in one of the cutest expressions of worry he had ever seen.
Kino nodded. “The ivy that grows outside the wall is growing on a trellis.” He said. “you can use it like a ladder.”
She took a breath and nodded, moving to the window. Kino grabbed her shoulder and stopped her. “I’ll go first.” He said, puffing out his chest in a somewhat comedic show of masculinity.
He climbed out of the window, setting his feet in the trellis’ notches before looking up at her again. “I got you.” He promised as her eyes flickered nervously from him to the floor. She nodded and climbed up onto the windowsill in a crawling position. She turned around so that her rear was almost in Kino’s face- he side climbed so that he didn’t accidentally touch her inappropriately and gripped tightly to the trellis with one hand.
She reached out with her legs, flattening her body against the windowsill and letting her body bend down around the wall. Her legs flailed a little, trying to find a secure position but Kino grabbed her closest ankle and put it in place. One foot secure and comfortable, Anastasia managed to do the other herself. She slipped one hand off of the windowsill, gripping tightly with the other and found a piece of the trellis and grabbed it in a white knuckle hold.
She tentatively let go of the window and found the trellis with her other hand. A moment passed and she relaxed. “You did it.” Kino encouraged, Placing a hand on the small of her back to make sure she was steady. She flashed him a nervous grin of brilliantly white teeth and then began to descend.
It took them twice as long as it would have taken Kino alone, but he didn’t mind, calmly talking her down the wall soothed him as much as it helped her and eventually their feet touched the ground.
There was a moment of silence as they looked at each other, pure joy on her expression as she looked from him to the floor, back to him and then around at the world that had just been presented to her.
It occurred to Kino that this was her first time out of the manor, perhaps even the room. She dropped to her knees and ran her hands through the grass, taking it all in through the nose.
She let out a delighted chuckle that sounded one part fear, one part disbelief and one part elation. She looked up at him and leapt up, throwing her arms around him for the fourth time – he was most certainly counting.
“Come on.” He urged, offering her his hand. She took it and jogged with her across to the gate, which he promptly scaled and mounted. He sat on the top and reached down to her. She grabbed his hand and excitedly climbed up, using the crossing bars of the door to climb while he pulled her. As she neared the top he let go of her hand and placed a hand onto her back, helping her up.
She slipped over the top and fell over the other side, tumbling like he had the night before onto the ground.
“Are you ok?” Kino called, worriedly as she coughed on the floor. He swung down and landed on his feet, moving to her side.
“Ow.” She murmured, sitting up. Her hat fell off and her hair fell around her, framing her face and making her yet more beautiful. She rubbed her elbow and then allowed Kino to help her up. She bushed herself off and her smiled quickly returned.
Kino smiled in return, it was the best kind of infection. “Let’s go.” He said, looking up at the sky between the trees. “Festival starts as soon as the sun is at its peak. You don’t want to be late for your first festival do you?”
She shook her head, bending over in front of him to pick up her hat. She stood up again and pulled her hair up, tying it under the hat. She grasped his hand again and they set off at a run back through the trees toward the lantine village.
They made good time back to the village, slowing just before they reached the tree line and coming out the other side at a steady walk. They walked straight past the Citizens on duty outside the town without incident, though Kino was fairly certain that if either of them had realised it was him with a beautiful girl on his arm – she slipped her arm through his as if sensing his thought – they’d have beaten him, even on the Vernal Equinox.
As they walked through the village Kino listened to Ana’s little gasps of elation at the banners and decorations that had been built up. She pointed excitedly at things as they passed them, tapping him on the arm as they moved.
Eventually they found themselves in the village square where Rivin and Julius had built the podium. The other villagers were gathering around them, squashing them a little but Anastasia’s excited expression as she jumped up and down on her toes told him that she didn’t care.
“Kino!” he heard from behind him. The lantine turned to see Julius waving at him from a raised platform at the edge of the square. He waved the boy over. Kino smiled and tugged Anastasia out of the throng of people to the back and helped her up onto the well-constructed porch that Julius was standing on.
Kino leapt up after her and flashed Julius a grin. “Julius, this is Ana, Ana Julius lives with me.”
The older lantine grinned and bowed to her dramatically. “Milady.” He said in an exaggeratedly formal voice.
She smiled back and curtseyed, one arm out as if holding her dress. “Good Sir.” She responded. They both raised again.
“Should be a good one this year.” Julius promised, turning and leaning against a small but steady railing. “The Centurion and a couple of Citizens got us a lot of fireworks, and more food than I’ve seen at a festival since His Lordship got married.” Kino joined him at the railing and Anastasia moved to his side, wrapping her arms around one of his and resting her chin on his shoulder. “Picked a good year to finally gather up your courage and bring her out here.”
“Pluck up your courage?” She asked, eyebrows raised.
“Oh yeah, he’s been watching you for a couple of years now, since he was, what?” Julius looked at Kino’s increasingly red face. “You were twelve, no?”
Julius chuckled at the boys reaction and turned back to the podium as Elder Vita stepped up onto it. He cleared his throat, a gesture that Kino shouldn’t have been able to hear, but the old man’s voice carried well.
Between the cough and his speech Kino felt Anastasia’s head rest on his shoulder again, and she moved her lips close enough to him that he could feel her warm breath on his ear. “I’ve been watching you for a long time as well.” She whispered, and the embarrassment he’d felt vanished.
“Good People of our little village!” The Elder called out to them, smiling pleasantly. “As you all know, I’m not much one for long speaches.”
“And we thank you for it.” One of the people in the croud called out, raising a hand. A chorus of laughter spread from where he stood out.
The Elder smiled at him and nodded. “You’re welcome, Eviret. I welcome one and all to the Vernal Equinox festival. On such times as these I like to reflect back on those that we have lost, remember them as they were in their prime, not what they eventually became towards the end. I like to remember that they remain with us in the energies, the spiritual energies that govern this world. I like, most, to remember that those energies are closest to us on the Vernal Equinox.”
“Go tonight and enjoy yourselves amongst the spirits of the past.” He continued. “Remember them as they watch over you. Thank them with your smiles, show them that, while they may be gone their memories continue to bring you happiness. And with that, I declare the Festival; Open!” He raised his hands and immediately music started.
The square cleared almost immediately and became a dance floor that many women started pulling many reluctant men onto.
Kino found himself amongst them – with Julius laughing at his misfortune for a few moments until Bizine, the pregnant lantine from their house grabbed him by the wrist and dragged him along as well.
Anastasia threw Kino in front of her on the dance floor and looked around at the other dancers, apparently trying to memorise their movements. “How do you do this?” She asked, moving slowly in the same patterns that the others were.
“I don’t know.” Kino admitted, watching her move almost as well as the others. “I’ve never danced before.” He admitted.
“So I’ll look good next to you no matter what?” She asked, mischievously.
Kino grinned and nodded as her movements fell in step with everyone else’s. She even through in a flourish here and there of her own. She was an incredibly fast study. It made Kino nervous to start himself, but after a few glances around at all the others he began to sync up. She smiled at him the whole time, encouraging him until he was keeping pace with her.
Well what do you know. He thought I’m a quick study as well.
The next few hours flew by as Kino and Anastasia went with the flow of the party, dancing until their legs hurt and then getting some food and drink – a hog roasted on a spit while several servers handed out free ale to the tired lantines.
As the sun began to set torches lit up all around the village and the couple’s exhaustion waned as they got their second wind. They moved back onto the dance floor to challenge the dancers upon it. They continued to dance until the stars came out and Kino took her away.
They bounded into the building with the porch and up its three flights of stairs to the roof where Kino put out the torch that was there.
He pulled off his over shirt and laid it out on the roof and sat down with his legs lounging lazily in front of him, crossed at the ankles. He offered her the seat next to him. She took it and leaned against him, looking up at the stars.
“It’s beautiful.” She smiled, looking at them. “I can’t believe how beautiful. I’ve watched them from my room before, but… it doesn’t compare.”
Kino smiled and wrapped an arm around her. She moved closer and laid an arm on his chest. “So… did you have fun today?” he asked. “was it everything you dreamed?”
“And more.” She sighed, whistfully. “Oh Kino, it was amazing, thank you so much.” He reached up and took off her hat, he didn’t know why he did it, but the heart beating rapidly in his chest seemed to have taken over and it didn’t give him much choice.
Her hair fell down around her again, dropping over his shoulder and tickling his wrist with the tips of hair. He looked at her for a moment, still shocked by just how beautiful she was, even in plantation workers clothes, even at such a young age as fourteen.
He laid the hat down on his lap and pushed back her haid so that he could see her face better. His heart sped up to a thunderous roar for a moment and then a loud explosion and the crackle of after explosions made him jump, knocking Anastasia and ruining the moment.
The pair laughed at his foul up for a moment and then music carried up to the rooftop, now a slow melody, perhaps a romantic number, Kino wasn’t well versed enough in romance to tell. Anastasia stood up and offered Kino her hand. He took it and stood up. She moved close to him and forced the moment back as she wrapped her arms around his neck. He placed his hands on her hips and they started to sway to the music.
It was instinctive, rhythmical. Kino didn’tknow what he was going, but whatever it was it felt right.
She looked up at him with a smile on her lips, but then she caught sight of the moon, it had reached its peak and started back down. The curve of her lips followed it into a frown. “This all ends again tonight doesn’t it?” she asked. “I have to go back to My Lord’s manor and I’ll never see you again.”
He frowned. “I’ll still visit you.” He promised.
Tears started to roll down her face and she shook her head. “After this he’ll move me. He’ll never let me see daylight again, not till-” bitterness entered her words. “-he gives me off to the next Governor or Royal comes to visit.”
Kino frowned. He opened his mouth to speak but explosions sounded. He turned and looked up at the fireworks. He had always thought of them as beautiful, every year, but next to the girl beside him they seemed dull and uninspired.
“I wont let that happen.” He said calmly.
She shook her head and broke away from him, stepping towards the stairs. “You can’t stop it.” She told him. She shook her head again. “I should never have come out tonight. Never have seen what I’d miss.” She choked back tears.
Kino came to her side and wrapped his arms around her instinctively, as if it was enough to protect her from the hardships of the world. “We’ll go away.” He told her. “far away, somewhere that lantines aren’t slaves.”
She shook her head. “There’s nowhere.”
“Then we’ll make somewhere.” He said. “We’ll find somewhere, we’ll flee here and find somewhere safe and peaceful and be together.”
She turned in his arms and looked up at him, then past him at the brilliant lights of the fireworks, still exploding behind him. Kino watched them in her eyes, somehow more brilliant for their location and then she looked down again, deep into his eyes and nodded.
“Ok.” She said.
Kino frowned, lost in her eyes as he was he’d forgotten what he had said last. “Ok?” he asked.
“Let’s run away. Let’s find somewhere and be together.” She looked away shyly for a moment and then looked back up at him. “I think I love you Kino.” She said, a hint of longing and fear in her voice.
She seemed incredibly vulnerable to the split second it took Kino to repeat her words verbatim. The second he had, however, her eyes lit up. She leaned up to him and kissed him, not on the cheek this time, on the mouth.
It was the first time he had ever been kissed and, Kino imagined, it was the first time Ana had done it because she wanted to.
Her body pressed against his, so tightly that he could feel ever part of her. A few moments passed too quickly as the two embraced and then Ana released him, stepping back from him to allow the shock to wear off.
Kino grinned stupidly, it was the greatest moment of his life, but that was the thing about moments; they don’t last.
“How very sweet.” A dark voice, seething with malice drawled. Kino looked up to see a man in a fine suit standing there with four legionnaires behind him. He wondered for a moment why he didn’t hear them approach, but another series of fireworks explained it for him. “Anastasia, your fine art of seduction appears to work.”
The girl looked from the man to Kino, frantically… desperately. The lantine boy didn’t know what the man was talking about, but the fact that Ana was afraid was enough for him to care. Kino moved in between the man and the girl.
The man smiled darkly at Kino and shook his head. “Boy, if you want to keep your life you will move aside from my property.” He said calmly.
Kino stared at the man- the Lord he deduced – for a moment and then back at Anastasia. She was pale as a sheet, which made his decision all the easier- and more foolish. “No.”
The man sighed but nodded. “Very well.” Before the Ls had even finished sounding the man was on him, a sharp, agonising pain was in his gut and then he was being pushed backwards.
Kino dully recognised the sound of Anastasia screaming, whether for his safety or her own he didn’t know, but he couldn’t do anything about it. He felt his feet drop a few inches, as if no longer on the floor and suddenly he was falling.
His entire body felt inconceivably light for a few moments before slamming hard into whatever was beneath him. Every single thing in his body broke, he was certain of it, but the pain didn’t really effect-
The pain came on suddenly, delayed by the amount of damage. It hit him like a second fall, a blinding flash of, what had to be, death and then everything was gone.


So, yeah, hope you enjoyed that, comments in the comments, etc...
- James

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