Chapter Nine: Castle
Seon and Leon had been living in the castle for about three months. For once, they had more to eat than just the mere apples they had been living off of before. Seon hadn't felt the comfort of a mattress since his mother died and Leon was indulging in the fact that he had his own blanket. They had to work for their meals still, Seon cleaned while Leon peeled potatoes in the kitchen, but it was much more interesting than when they were simply picking apples from the trees.
Seon was getting restless though. He couldn't practice magic as often as he used to because he had to rise at the break of dawn to begin his work. Getting caught by his father was one thing; but getting caught practicing magic right under the king's nose was an experience he didn't want.
Also, his curiosity was starting to drive him insane. There was a door down in the cellars that he wasn't allowed behind. He had asked why, but the head servant had merely hushed him and shooed him away. He had to clean the hallway that had that door, so every day his curiosity was only getting stronger.
Finally, he got fed up with not knowing.
Seon climbed out of bed as quietly as he could. He silently opened the door and glanced over his shoulder. He looked over to Leon sleeping on the bed at the other corner of the room.
"I'll be back soon, Leon," he whispered.
The hallways were barren. It only made Seon's job of sneaking to the cellars all the easier. Once he saw the door, he started running. A grin spread across his face as he got closer. He would finally see what was behind that door!
Seon barreled through the double doors then skid to a stop. His jaw dropped at the sight before his eyes.
A great red dragon was resting on the floor in front of him. Its steady breathing was interrupted and it slowly opened an eye. Once its gaze landed on his trembling figure, its eyes flew open. It slowly lifted itself to its feet.
"H-Holy shit..." Seon gasped out.
The last thing he expected was a dragon. Why would a dragon be in the cellars where anyone could reach it? Why wasn't the door locked? If the king had wanted to feed criminals to a dragon or something, wouldn't it have been better to put it down in the dungeons?
The two stared at each other for a long time. Seon didn't dare move in case that would spur the beast into action. The dragon, however, looked about as terrified as he was. Its eyes were wide, its body was curled up, and Seon thought he could see it trembling.
"Wha... What's wrong? Aren't you going to eat me?" Seon goaded. He knew dragons couldn't understand speech, but he still felt the need to voice his question.
Rather than growl or charge at him like he had expected, the dragon shook its head. It cautiously shuffled away from him a few steps.
"Oh..." Seon said quietly. "You're a smart dragon."
He stepped further into the room. The dragon in turn tried to back further away from him, however, a small tingling noise made it stop. Its eyes darted between Seon and whatever the elf couldn't see in the darkness next to it.
"Why are you acting so scared?" Seon asked it.
The dragon's head suddenly snapped up and it was looking down the hallway. Its ears were perked up, alert. Seon couldn't hear anything, however, the large shadow of a guard was creeping up the walls. Seon hurriedly and quietly shut the door behind him.
The room was pitch black once the door was closed. Seon groped around blindly in the darkness to find some torches. However, he didn't have to. A bright lick of flames ignited a line of torches that were high against the wall. Another one lit the torches on the other side of the room. Instantly, it was bright enough to see the room in its entirety.
Seon could see why the dragon was being so cautious with its movements. Resting upon giant tables were hundreds of glass trinkets. They all twinkled in the torchlight and gave the room a warmer glow to it. Seon was aware that dragons kept hordes of treasure but he had never heard of a horde of glass.
The dragon itself was just as impressive. Ruby scales shone nearly as brightly as the glass. It was over eight times Seon's size, big enough for a small group of people to sit upon its back. Forest-green eyes were staring at him with intelligence that Seon couldn't see in the dim lighting before.
"I guess I can't leave for a while..." Seon said in a light-hearted tone that he hoped would make the air less tense. He failed. "So... can you talk?"
The dragon shook its head sadly. It unfurled its body slightly, but Seon could still see it try to distance itself from him.
Out of the corner of his eye, Seon spotted a small mountain of toys. It looked like the toys were more frequently touched than the glass treasures if the scratches and charred corners were anything to go by. Seon felt a bit of dread in his stomach; the dragon didn't eat him so that meant that it probably wouldn't eat children either.
"Are those... Are those your toys?"
The dragon nodded almost enthusiastically. It stretched out its neck and delicately picked up a plush rabbit from the pile. It dropped it at Seon's feet.
"How old are you?" Upon remembering that the dragon couldn't talk, he added, "tap how many decades."
The dragon tapped a claw against the floor five times.
"So you're about my age, huh?" he said absently.
The dragon seemed a bit surprised, but it nodded in agreement.
"How long have you been in here? Those toys seem sort of old."
The dragon answered with three taps.
Suddenly a connection clicked in his mind. A connection that he did not want to make.
The ban on magic started three decades ago when the prince was cursed.
"You're not really a dragon, are you?"
The enthusiasm the dragon had faded at that question. It looked ashamed; it curled up again and appeared to be much smaller than before. It looked away from Seon and shook its head.
"Are you the... Are you the prince?" Seon asked in disbelief.
It cringed at his tone. Still, it nodded its head.
Seon felt his legs grow shaky and fell onto his backside. The dragon, the prince, worriedly moved closer and growled in concern. That only made Seon feel worse.
Here was the reason magic was banned right before him. Seon never knew what the prince's curse was; hell, he didn't even know the boy's name. Yet for half of his life, he was blaming him for the ban on magic. Openly calling him foolish. Believing the curse was something minor enough that he was just relaxing in the castle out of public view.
No, he was wrong. Instead there was a boy that was his age locked away in his own home. He didn't have a younger brother to keep him company. He was kept hidden in some forbidden room with nothing but some damaged toys and glass.
The prince growled again, snapping him out of his thoughts. It wasn't an aggressive growl, just something to get his attention.
"I'm... I'm fine. Just shocked."
The prince made a small sound of acceptance and nodded.
"Just... God, I was just... That I thought you didn't have it this bad..." Upon the dragon's questioning growl, he explained. "Nobody knows how you're cursed. So I thought that magic got banned over something minor."
The prince's eyes widened and he got closer to Seon. He seemed shocked at the news. He nudged the elf's arm with his snout, as if he were begging him to continue.
"You really don't know about anything that's happened since you've been cursed, do you?" Seon asked.
The dragon shook its head in despair. He nudged Seon's arm again and gave him a grunt of impatience.
"Easy, easy!" He gently batted the dragon away from him. "I'll tell you what happened in the past thirty years. You just need to relax, because this will take a while."
The prince nodded earnestly and backed away from Seon. He rested his head upon his claws, looking at him expectantly.
"Okay... To start, thirty years ago, King Dominique put a ban on all forms of magic due to the cursing of the prince..."
"Oy! Oscar!" Seon called out. The elf dashed toward the old man. He skid to a halt a few feet from him. He placed his hands on his knees as he caught his breath.
The head servant turned around upon being called. A scowl formed once he saw who it was that called him. "What now, boy?"
"I wanted... to ask you..." he said between pants. "What was the name... of the king's son?"
Oscar raised his greying eyebrows. "I didn't realize you had an interest in this nation until now."
"I do! I do! Could you please tell me?" Seon said with a hint of impatience.
Oscar sighed. "The name of the king's son is Baudouin."
"And where is Prince Baudouin?"
Oscar's eyes narrowed. "That bit of information is none of your concern."
"Why not?" Seon asked. "He's my country's prince."
"It's none of your concern because you're just a cleaning boy," the man answered firmly. "Now get back to work, boy."
As Oscar started walking off, Seon glared at him. "Stop calling me 'boy'... You're only ten years older."
Seon continued visiting Baudouin after that.
Every night he would sneak out of his room and go down to Baudouin's room. He would creep back into his room before dawn so that no one would notice. This continued for six months.
Baudouin, during this time, was much livelier. Seon would tell him stories and inform him of what went on in life outside the cellar. Even before he had been cursed, he hadn’t had much interaction with those who were his age. He was about to think that he would remain in isolation for the rest of his days until Seon had stumbled into his life.
Seon also became much less restless. Baudouin had allowed him to begin practicing magic in his room. They had figured that since one rule was already being broken, there was no harm in breaking another.
Leon, of course, was starting to catch on.
"Seon!" Leon grabbed his brother's face and forced him to look at him. "Why do you have bags under your eyes?"
"Late shifts," he lied evenly.
"We go to bed at the same time, Seon."
"They take a lot out of me so I can't sleep well." Seon pushed his brother's hands away and started pulling on his sleepwear. "Now go to your own bed, Leon."
Leon looked at him suspiciously and left him.
Seon waited until he could hear his brother's soft snores before he lifted himself out of bed. He tiptoed quickly to the door.
"Sorry!" he whispered over his shoulder. He slipped out.
He rushed down to the cellars as he usually did. Bare feet slapped against the marble floors as he ran. He stretched out a hand to grab the handle of the door.
"Seon!" a voice hissed behind him.
He stopped dead in his tracks and turned his head around. Standing there behind him was Leon. Night clothes hanging off his thin frame loosely and face stern. Seon cursed his luck; Leon was awful to deal with when he's sleep deprived.
"What are you doing here?!" Leon scolded. "You know we're not allowed through that door and... do you have any idea what time it is? We have a curfew! We'll get in so much trouble!"
"I didn't ask you to come along with me, so leave the 'we' stuff out of it!" Seon snapped.
"You're my brother! There's always a 'we' so tell me what you're doing here!"
Seon couldn't hold a glare against the younger elf. He let out a sigh and ran a hand through his hair. "Alright, fine... Promise not to get mad?"
"I'm already furious, so I can't make that promise," Leon retorted.
Seon shrugged. "Fair enough." He motioned for Leon to get closer.
The smaller elf reluctantly did with a roll of his eyes. "What?" he hissed.
"I found something," Seon whispered.
"Oh? Now what did you find? The king's treasure?" Leon said sarcastically.
"Sort of, now come on." Seon grabbed his hand and started pulling him toward Baudouin's door.
"Oh my god, you're serious," he said disbelievingly. "I was only joking! Seon, no. Don't become a thief on top of a sorcerer. Mama would be so angry if she could see this-"
"Leon, if you don't stop right there, I'm not going to introduce you."
Leon was caught off guard by that. "Introduce?" he mouthed.
Seon eased the double doors open. The torches were already lit. The huge red dragon was already sitting up expecting him. His tail was waving excitedly. Green eyes were twinkling with joy. Baudouin's mouth was twisted up in a way that Seon had soon realized was the dragon's equivalent of a smile.
Seon was immediately pushed backward by the dragon's head. Leon yelped and jumped back as his brother was being nuzzled. Baudouin had his eyes closed and he was humming happily.
"Hey, Baudy!" Seon laughed. Leon mouthed the word 'Baudy' behind him. "I'm glad to see you too! Though, you might have to tone down the excitement. We have company."
Baudouin opened his eyes and looked at Leon. The boy flinched back. Baudouin lifted his head away from his friend as his eyes narrowed. A threatening growl ripped from his throat. Leon could feel his heart pounding painfully in his chest.
"No! No! No!" the elder elf said quickly. Seon stepped in front of Leon. "Baudouin, he's okay! He's okay! He won't rat us out!" At Baudouin's questioning look, he brought Leon into full view again. "This is my little brother, Leon!"
Realization dawned on Baudouin's face, immediately followed by embarrassment. He looked down to the floor and backed further away from the elves. He placed his head upon the ground and tried to cover his face with his paws.
"Se-Seon, what's going on?" Leon whimpered.
Seon turned and gave Leon an awkward smile. He held up a hand to present the obvious dragon before them. "Leon, I'd like to present to you, the curious and awkward, Prince Baudouin of Meria."
Baudouin gave Seon a light-hearted glare for his shoddy introduction. He hesitantly held out a claw toward Leon. When Leon hid behind his brother, Baudouin let out a quiet whine.
"Leon, don't be rude!" Seon scolded.
"W-Wait, you said p-prince... You mean he's-?!"
"Yes, he's that prince! Now shake his hand!"
Leon hesitantly grasped the claw and shook it. He quickly withdrew his hand though.
"Now explain," Leon ordered. Seon shut the door behind them.
"Well, this room is forbidden. Does that cover it?" Seon said nervously.
"No, but this is a great start," Leon deadpanned.
"So... Long story short: This room was forbidden, I met Baudy, and I've been keeping him company for the past few months. Satisfied?"
Leon crossed his arms. "Satisfied. It explains the bags under your eyes."
Baudouin let out a grunt of concern and carefully looked over Seon. "I'm fine, Baudy! You want me to not visit anymore?" He laughed at the dragon's panicked shake of his head. "I'm joking! I wouldn't stop seeing you!"
"But, Seon, you're going to get in trouble for this..."
"I haven't gotten in trouble for six months. If something goes wrong, it'll probably be because of your horrible luck," Seon teased.
Suddenly, there was a rough knocking at the door. Seon moved closer to Baudouin out of instinct and Leon just stood where he was, confused on what to do. The doors burst open to reveal Oscar standing with four knights behind him. Leon then hurriedly ran to Seon's side.
"I knew it," he said smugly. "I knew there was someone sneaking about down here." He looked over the three of them with condescending eyes. "With him," he pointed at Seon, "it's understandable. But you, Leon? I'm disappointed in you." He shrugged. "Oh well. Everyone shows their true colors eventually. Take them to the dungeon, gentlemen."
"No!" Seon pleaded. "Leon had nothing to do with this! It was all me! He was just trying to find out what I was doing!"
"You both broke the rules," Oscar said bluntly. "So take them both."
Before the knights could move so much as an inch, however, they were stopped by a growl. Baudouin held a protective claw around the two boys and bared his fangs at the knights. Black smoke poured from his mouth and his nostrils. His wings were half unfurled.
Oscar gave him a flat look. "Your empty threats don't scare me, your Highness. I know you wouldn't hurt a fly."
Baudouin's threatening pose faltered. His growing panic was getting more and more evident. His eyes darted between the brothers and the knights. Quickly, he grabbed the backs of their shirts with his teeth and hoisted them onto his back.
"Your Highness, this is childish. They've done something wrong so they must-"
Oscar was cut off by a roar in his face. One of the knights had jumped back. Oscar didn't even flinch.
"He's been locked up for years!" Seon shouted from the dragon's back. "How is what we're doing wrong?"
"It's against the king's orders," Oscar explained.
"The king isn't always right!"
"That's treason, you little-!"
"That's enough, Oscar," said a quiet voice behind him.
The knights quickly stood at attention. Oscar turned around and bowed stiffly to the man approaching. Baudouin even bowed his head.
Walking down the hallway was a bony man. His dark hair was greying near the temples and it swept down to his ankles. His robes were a rich purple. A delicate silver circlet rested on his head. His skin was tanned. He had the telltale ears and ageless face of an elf. His green eyes were much like Baudouin's, only they held the aura of a weary being.
"Baudouin," the king had said calmly.
With just that, the dragon removed Seon and Leon from his back. He bowed his head in shame.
The king approached them slowly. The two quickly started bowing down to him.
"Pardon me for asking, your Majesty," Oscar said, not lifting himself from his bow. "But may I ask what you're doing here? We have this taken care of."
"I wanted to see for myself," said the King, "who could have been visiting my son."
Seon and Leon glanced at each other. The king knew. The king had practically allowed Seon to visit Baudouin.
"Baudouin," the king said again. Baudouin glanced up to his father. "During my monthly visits, I noticed a change. You have become more expressive recently." Baudouin tilted his head. "Like that. You hardly moved before."
The king stepped closer to the brothers. He looked them both over. He motioned a hand in front of Seon, wordlessly ordering him to get up. The king examined Seon's face thoroughly. Finally, piercing green eyes met brown.
Then the king took a step back. His eyebrows were raised and his lips were in a thin frown. It was less an expression of sadness than it was the king being amused by a situation that he was completely at loss what to do about.
"Oh..." the king mumbled. "I didn't realize... Well then..." He then shook his head and cleared his throat. "Baudouin, is this the one who's been visiting you?"
Baudouin hesitantly nodded. He glanced to Seon in worry, then back to his father.
"Hm. As I figured."
The king walked away from the elves and stood in front of Oscar's bent over form.
"Oscar," the king said.
Seon started silently saying his prayers.
"See to it that this boy becomes Baudouin's new caretaker."