Chapter 3: A Kiss in the Dark
Wren stayed absolutely still, positive he was dreaming as the shadow detached itself from the wall and moved towards him. He could make out the figure of a man with long hair, one of the princes. Or maybe the king, here to kill him after his arrogance in challenging him the day before. He closed his eyes tightly, hoping this would fade away into a dream. He felt someone sit on the bed beside him but kept his eyes closed and his breathing steady. He didn’t know what was happening, but he knew he might not survive it.
Then, unexpectedly, the figure leaned towards him and two lips locked on his. He kept his eyes shut, terrified and pretending to be asleep. The figure kissed him gently, softly enough that it wouldn’t have woken him had he really been asleep, then the weight on his bed vanished. He waited several minutes before opening his eyes. The figure was gone. He looked around the room. It was empty.
Confused, he felt his lips and pondered the kiss. It had to be one of the princes, but why would they kiss him? Why would anyone kiss him? He laid back down in bed feeling a little unnerved. But he was also exhausted, and sleep overtook him quickly.
Morning came all too soon and his servants woke him up as the sun just peeked above the horizon. He rose and went to the window, not opening it but gazing outside at the sun rising over the endless blue of the sea. It was peaceful and serene, unlike his heart and mind. He now had two concerns: the court and the kiss. He wasn’t sure which he was more worried about.
His servants helped him dress in his finest, warmest outfit before they left to attend to their other duties in preparation for breakfast. He would be dining with the princes, so he left his room and headed down the stairs. When he reached the bottom, though, he stopped, suddenly unsure which way to go. Dashel had shown him where to go, of course, but they had been approaching the dining hall from a different direction. He looked around for someone to ask when he saw Tye approaching with a smile on his face.
“Prince Tye,” Wren said. “Could you possibly help me?”
“Just Tye,” he said. “We are equals, after all. Do you need help finding the dining hall? I thought you might get lost on your first day.”
Wren blushed. “You thought right.”
Tye took his arm and led him through the halls until they reached the informal dining hall. Wren memorized all of the turns, but suspected he would get lost again the following morning. The palace was a maze of corridors. When he entered, all of the other princes were already there. They stood up as Tye entered and Tye introduced all of them to Wren before seating Wren to his right in a position of honor.
He knew the princes were looking at his hair, and some of them exchanged worried looks, though he didn’t know what they were worried about. They didn’t have to go around looking like this. They all had glorious hair that grew nearly to the ground in various colors of black and brown. They were all also stunningly beautiful, though none as beautiful as Isaac. He was by far the most perfect of the bunch, and it said a lot about his beauty that he could outshine such a magnificent gathering of male beauty.
Wren glanced around at the princes as the meal was served, wondering which one of them had snuck into his room and kissed him. The odd thing about the kiss was that he hadn’t minded it at all; in fact he had rather enjoyed the kiss despite his shock and fear. And these were all such beautiful men, he wouldn’t mind if any of them had kissed him. But he wanted to know who had done it.
He ate in silence and listened to the princes chatter about various incidents and events that he wasn’t a part of and therefore could barely understand, and as he listened to them talk about the court he began to get more and more nervous. His hand trembled as he stabbed a slice of ham and Tye must have seen it because he turned to Wren with a reassuring smile.
“You must be nervous about the court, Wren. There’s no need. People will accept you here.”
Wren fingered his short hair and knew that was a lie. Tye’s gaze followed his hand and lingered on his hair as his smile faded.
“Isaac shouldn’t have done that to you,” he said. “But it won’t ruin your chances in court. After all, you are from a new colony and people will assume you just don’t know the custom.”
“They’ll still judge me,” Wren said.
“Perhaps,” Tye said. “But it won’t ruin you. Besides, you look rather good with short hair.”
He winked at Wren and Wren blushed. Was Tye the one who had kissed him? He was certainly possessive around Wren, holding his arm the way he tended to do, and he was the friendliest of the princes. He noticed some of the other princes watching them with worried looks and wondered again what they were worried about. Were they worried because Tye was taking such an interest in him? Was that a bad thing?
Breakfast ended and Wren stood up, taking a deep breath. Court would be starting soon. Tye took his arm again and offered to escort him to court and even walk him in so his status would be clear. Wren readily agreed, thankful for Tye’s thoughtfulness. But as they walked down the hallway, they heard another set of steps approaching rapidly from behind and a familiar voice called out.
Tye stopped instantly at King Isaac’s address and turned to face his brother. Wren reluctantly turned as well. Isaac held a white wool cloak and was looking at Tye angrily, for some reason.
“What are you doing with Prince Wren, Tye?” Isaac asked.
“Taking him to court,” Tye replied.
“He will not enter with you,” Isaac said. “And you would do well to stay away from him. Do I make myself clear?”
Tye got an angry look on his face but he bowed and backed away, leaving the two of them alone. Wren gulped. He felt abandoned and edged backwards a step. He did not want to be alone with Isaac.
Isaac extended the cloak to him.
“A gift. I do not want you to freeze on your first day in court.”
Wren hesitated before taking it, wondering if there was some sort of danger in taking it. But as soon as he felt how soft it was, and how warm, he let out a cry of pleasure and wrapped it around himself eagerly. This would keep him warm even in the cold chambers of the court. Isaac smiled at him, a strange sight on the face he had only seen twisted in anger. Isaac truly was beautiful, especially when he smiled.
“I know the court will be hard for you today,” Isaac said. “But I will make sure you are not targeted unfairly.”
Wren nodded, on guard again. After all, this was the same man who had chopped off his hair and was the reason that court would be hard for him. It was hard to trust him, especially after he had attempted to force Wren into returning home and inciting a war that would end with Fontain being absorbed completely into the Empire. But he seemed sincere enough and he didn’t seem like the type to lie. He didn’t have to lie; he could just tell the truth and let other people live with the consequences.
“You will enter the court with me,” Isaac announced. “I assure you, I am a far better companion than Tye could ever be.”
It felt like there was more to that last statement than met the eye, but Wren couldn’t figure out what Isaac truly meant by it and had to take it at surface value. It was true, anyway. People would be far less likely to ridicule him if he entered with the king than if he entered with the first prince, even though the first prince was so highly valued.
Isaac took his arm the same way Tye had, and led him the rest of the way to the throne room where court would be held. He let go of Wren’s arm and nodded to the announcers.
“King Isaac of the Triphon Empire and First Prince Wren of Fontain,” the announcer said in a booming voice, and Wren walked forward, careful to stay several steps behind the king as protocol dictated.
While everyone in the room bowed low for the king, he was aware of all of their eyes on him, and a great deal of confusion as they saw his hair. After all, he was entering with the king but his hair was barely longer than a servant’s. Whispers filled the room but no one dared speak until King Isaac reached his throne and sat down. Wren was left in the middle of the room when the court sprang to life again and he was suddenly bombarded with people asking him questions about his title and Fontain while they eyed his hair.
Isaac had done him an immense favor, he thought as not a single person commented on his hair or treated him as an inferior. They all seemed confused by his hair and several people asked if he were really the first prince, but mostly they asked about Fontain which, to them, was as much a fairy tale as the Imperial Palace had been to him. Most of what they knew about Fontain was false, naturally, so he set to work straightening them out and correcting the rather violent and vile myths they had heard about his home. They were not a race of warriors who sacrificed virgins to their pagan gods, and Wren didn’t know how a story like that could even get started given his people’s peace-loving ways. And they were renown among their neighbors for not having gods, so the sacrificing part was just ridiculous. If anything, the citizens of the Empire were the ones who worshipped pagan gods, though he was careful not to say that.
He did ask a few people about Guin and heard several more stories about her coming to the continent and taking a human lover. Apparently, she was a goddess who had been trapped in the crescent moon by an evil witch, only able to see the rest of the world when the crescent moon appeared in the sky. But she was clever, so she grew her hair out so long that it would reach down to earth. Once her hair was long enough, she bound it into a long braid and cut it off, making it into a rope that she used to climb down to the very spot where the gazebo now stood. When the witch discovered her escape, she followed Guin to the planet and attacked, but Guin fought back and was joined in her fight by a young human, the first Triphon king. The witch was defeated and Guin married the Triphon king, and, as Dashel had said, the Empire was founded by their son.
That was why hair was so important, because the goddess Guin had returned to her crescent moon but had promised to return when she had grown her hair out again, and any hair that was sacrificed to her went towards making that day come sooner. The second coming of Guin would be a day of great rejoicing and the people of the Empire seemed to think that it would come sooner rather than later. Wren was amused by the stories, and was amazed that the people seemed to really believe in them. He had always been a skeptic, and it was hard to imagine believing in a story like that so completely.
Aside from learning more about Guin and a little more about the Empire in general, as well as correcting people’s assumptions about Fontain, very little happened at court the first day and Wren was happy. There were no fights or duels or proclamations by the king. It was, for all intents and purposes, a success. As soon as court was dismissed he returned to his room and collapsed on the bed, rubbing the wool cloak against his cheek and luxuriating in its softness. There was a knock at his door and he called out for the person to enter, expecting one of his servants. When he saw that it was Tye, he sat up in surprise and tried to look presentable.
“You survived your first day, prince,” Tye said with a grin. “I’m impressed.”
“Thank you for your offer of help,” Wren said.
Even though he hadn’t needed Tye’s help, he had been reassured knowing that Tye was there if he needed anything.
“Anytime,” Tye said, eyeing the cloak. “You’re still wearing that.”
“It’s very warm,” Wren said, confused by the disappointment in Tye’s eyes. “Should I not be wearing it?”
“You can wear it if it keeps you warm,” Tye said. “I don’t want you to freeze.”
Wren was thoroughly confused now. Something about the cloak disappointed Tye, but he didn’t know what. Yet Tye didn’t want him to stop wearing it. There was another figure at the door and Dashel entered.
“May I come in, Prince?”
“Of course,” Wren said, not wanting to point out that he was already inside the room.
“You shouldn’t be alone with Tye,” Dashel said. “Not after Isaac warned him to stay away.”
“What do you mean?”
“He doesn’t know,” Tye said to Dashel.
“I don’t know what?”
“Tye has a reputation,” Dashel said. Tye shrugged. “Many of the beautiful young princes who come to our palace end up in Tye’s bed.”
Wren went stiff with shock. He remembered Tye’s possessive arm hold, Tye’s smiles and the wink, and it all made sense. Tye had been feeling him out, testing him, flirting with him, and he hadn’t noticed. He hadn’t objected, either. He thought of the kiss during the night.
“Did you come in here last night and kiss me?” Wren asked, cheeks growing warm.
“No,” Tye said. “Why? Was someone here?”
Wren’s cheeks grew even warmer and he knew he was bright red. If it wasn’t Tye, then it was someone else and now he was humiliated that he had shared that bit of information with these two. But which of the princes besides these two would come in and kiss him?
“Do you really think he would?” Dashel asked Tye quietly.
“He has taken a liking to him that’s quite unexpected,” Tye responded. “And coming in during the night is his style.”
“Who?” Wren asked. “Who are you talking about?”
“Who else?” Tye said. “King Isaac.”