Despite himself, Asher laughed as he watched the six men scurry away like children who had been scolded.
“That was cruel” He said, still grinning at his older brother
“And yet, it was still funny to watch them squirm” said Kygo, his large hands splayed across his hips. “Come, lets get you to your rooms so you can clean up before going to see father.” His face suddenly became very serious “Do you have any idea how furious he was when they discovered you had gone?” He asked
Asher flinched, looking off into the distance. “I figured, but I wasn’t gone even a day this time. And it’s not as if I’m the crown prince” Asher said, casting a knowing look in the direction of his brother. But Kygos face had taken on a sad expression. his dark eyes cast in shadows, the knowledge of his illness plain across his face.
“You may very well be soon enough Astiel” Asher frowned
“Come now brother, don’t say such things. You may not be of the best health, but it is not so bad you cannot live to see your coronation day”
Kygo smiled, casting of the heavy topic, “What? You have no want to be emperor?”
Asher wrinkled his nose “Not particularly, when have you ever known me to aspire to have power? I much prefer the life of a second son thank you”
Kygo paused in front of his rooms, “I will let father know of your presence, be quick brother” Asher nodded obediently and set of for a change of clothes and a clean face, welcoming the heat of his rooms, and the soft woven fabrics of court.
It wasn’t long before the familiar, motherly face of Ingrid appeared at his door, arms filled with clean clothes, a towel and a tray filled with lavish fruits and bread and cheese.
Her continuously smiling face creased with worry.
“Ingrid!” He yelled, rushing to grab the pile of fabric from her.
“Your highness” she said, placing the tray on a near by table and bowing low from the waist.
“I am sorry if I worried you Ingrid” he said laying a hand on her thin shoulder before turning on the tray, devouring the fruit.
“It is not my job to chastise you for running off” she said, her voice betraying no hint of disapproval, but when he looked up her eyes told him he had been right in his guess of her reaction.
“And I am sorry all the same” said Asher, before striding of to the wash chambers. “I’ll just be a minute, then we can go see my father”
Ingrid nodded but said nothing. She simply stood where she was, waiting patiently for him to finish.
Clad in a soft deep blue tunic, fresh leggings and boots and with his face and hair washed and towelled, Asher set out for the throne room, a group of guards trailing him.
Asher wandered the gardens, walking at a brisk set pace through the chilly spring air, his quickly bound hair blowing in his face. It took but minutes for Asher to reach the large blue doors, their brass handles inlaid with gold.
As one of the black clad guards pulled open the heavy wooden door Asher clasped his hands behind his back and strode in, doing his best to look princely.
He caught only a glimpse of the room before dropping to his knees and touching his head to the cold marble floors. His brother standing to the right hand side, behind the throne and his mother sitting in a smaller dark stone chair, her small hand pressed to her mouth with relief at his safety.
“Rise son” said a deep rumbling voice, its echo booming through the huge hall.
Asher stood, looking his father straight in the face. “Your Majesty” he said, nodding once.
“Astiel, Astiel. How many times must we do this? How long before this fancy of yours stops and you realize you are a prince? Not a lowly peasant who must hunt for their food?”
Asher bowed again, from the waist this time “I am sorry father”
The emperor grunted in response, still shaking his head. The movement making his long, greying beard sway, but despite his age, his black eyes held a certain ageless quality, and yet also a wisdom only acquired by a life times worth of experiences.
“You may go I suppose, we haven’t much to discuss, I only wished to see you in person and verify your health and well being for myself” the emperor nodded, then as if an after thought added, “and you as well Kygo, I am weary and wish to rest before diner, a feast I hope the two of you will consent to attend”
Though it had been phrased as a simple request, both the boys knew they had no choice in the matter. They either showed up, dressed in their best robes, or there would be hell to pay.
Waiting for Kygo to join him, the two backed slowly out of the room in a low bow, then without even having to ask, they headed for the practice fields.
It didn’t take long for the two brothers too reach the compact brown sands of the practice fields, the sounds of clashing steel and wood ringing through the yard. The swords master had spotted them immediately and hurried over, their matching long swords in hand.
The short man bowed, lifting the weapons above his head. “Your highness’s” he said, shifting on his feet.
“Swords master Chung” replied Asher smiling broadly, reaching for the weapons and passing one to Kygo. The man nodded, and made to go back to his post along the side lines, but Kygo stopped him.
“Are there any men that are available to spar?” He asked, thick brows furrowed.
“Yes of course” said Chung, staring at the prince’s large hand that was resting a top his bicep. Kygo followed his gaze and moved his hand, but Chung still looked nervous at the contact.
Calling a a large burly man in a black guards uniform over from across the field Chung spoke to him in a hushed voice, then directed him in the direction of Kygo.
“And you, Prince Astiel? Would like a sparring partner as well?” Asked Chung. Asher looked to him in surprise, then down to the ceremonial long sword hanging from his hand.
“Thats alright!” Said Asher quickly, shaking his head “I’d much to watch thank you.” He added as an after thought. He may be good with a bow, but he hand never so much as even drawn the sword his father hand presented him with at twelve. Handing the sword back to the swords master, Asher took a place against a wall, and settled in to watch his brother practice for a while before starting for the archery field, a place where he could participate in the goings on.
Staring off into the distant practice field, Asher watched his elder brother spar with a worried expression. His brother wearing only the thin white shift he wore under his tunic, looked un naturally thin for someone who had regular meals and was in a constant stat of training. His cheeks looked sallow, and his muscles remained untoned. Asher shook his head, casting off his worries. He stood and turned toward the archery field, but as soon as his back was turned the field behind him became silent, and then the yelling began.
Asher spun around, searching the field for the source, but all he could see were a hundred bodies clamouring to get closer to the problem. Dismayed he tried to get closer, and for a second he caught a glimpse of what was happening. All he saw was the convulsing body of a thin boy, his white shift yellow from sand and his once shining boots dirtied from his fit, then the stout form of the royal healer shooing him away, and trying to calm his panic for his brother.
At last relenting Asher headed for the Archery range, hoping to calm his thoughts.
No one took a notice to him as he took a place across from a target and began to shoot his arrows, there grey feather fletchings blowing in the wind behind his head. On his 31 arrow his was sure that it would not even hit the target, but at the last minute it seemingly veered and struck the inside of the blue strip, landing directly on the line separating the bulls eyes from the rest of the target. Baffled, Asher stood, marching across the field to retrieve his 31 arrows. Out of those 27 had hit the bulls eye, 28 if you count the one on the line. Confused he yanked them out, shoving them back into his empty quiver. It was as if his aim had spontaneously improved, and under the context of fatigue, which no one questioned, Asher made his way back to his rooms, hoping for food and warm tea before laying down for a good nap before having to attend the feast that evening.
Taking the long way back, Asher stared at the sky, contemplating how he could convince someone to help him out of the palace again, not anytime soon of course, but near enough in the future he could put his bag of money to use before its contents of copper shillings and and gold coins were discovered by some over curious maid. No doubt the guard he had bribed last time and received a thrashing for his misconduct. Asher flinched, perhaps, he thought, I should seek the boy out and thank, and apologize to him, for he had only been a boy, no more than two years older than he himself was.
In his walking trace Asher walked into Ingrid, almost knocking over the tea tray in her arms. Ingrid shot him a look, something a kin to amusement and a look that told him he must watch his steps and his path for he will hurt himself or another, and all without a word. Asher smiled at her, the same smile he had been giving her since he was five and she had started working as his body servant. When he had reached twelve his father had tried to replace her but Asher had refused to allow another to assist him and finally his father had relented. Asher loved her for she had been every much a mother to him as the his real mother had been. Ingrid smiled back softly, and without another word, the pair continued on to his rooms.
Asher had drifted again, and so it took a minute to register the fact that the tea tray was falling, and with lighting fast reflexes he managed to catch it, only one cup escaping and falling to the ground, it’s fine walls breaking into five pieces.
“Ingrid what-” started Asher, but stopped as he followed her gaze, pacing back and forth in front of his door was a white wolf pup. As if feeling his gaze, the pup stopped, looking at him with those ice blue eyes.