Once upon a time, there was a nation called Jiluka that had a royal family whose castle was perched on a hill and surrounded by woods. The common people of the country kept their distance and just looked upon it with awe – because it was well known that the only thing more beautiful than the palace was the people who lived within it.
And there were quite a few people. The royal family, you see, had a rather liberal approach as to who their heirs would be. Rather than automatically grant the throne to the king's eldest son, the monarch's siblings and cousins were all invited to have their sons come live at the palace when they became teenagers. All would be given the rank of prince, all would be evaluated and considered for rulership – and when the king approached retirement age, he would make his decision.
One young man would be chosen to be the next king. Four others would be named Grand Duke and become his closest advisors. The others would be sent home, and revert to whatever rank they had before coming to the palace.
As one could imagine, this resulted in a need to keep all these potential royals secure and protected. That's where the Knights of Codomo Dragon came in.
The Knights were an order trained in several kinds of combat – swords, guns, archery and martial arts. They could choose to specialize in one kind of fighting over the others, though they were required to have grounding in all four disciplines. They roared through the forest surrounding the palace on motorcycles, patrolling the area for anything that looked amiss.
If a candidate for the throne was particularly impressed with a certain knight, he could choose to make that man his personal bodyguard – from that moment on, the knight would stay at the palace with his charge, and cease to go on regular patrols. It was an envied position – especially if one was named knight to one of the candidates known to be in the king's favor.
And so, the knights continued to train and improve themselves, both to keep the palace safe and in hopes that they would be chosen for a higher position. There were, of course, always exceptions.
For example, there was a certain knight named Hayato.
Hayato was never quite sure why he was there. His family had pretty much pushed him into becoming a knight when it became obvious that he wasn't academically inclined. He had enough combat skills to be accepted onto the squad for basic patrols.
The problem was, he had no motivation to go beyond the basic.
“I know I should be working on my skills,” he told his closest friend on the squad, Kana, as they rode through the woods. “But . . . I have no reason to. I mean, why? This is just a job. I can't really see it as anything but.”
“It isn't JUST a job,” Kana said. “We're needed. The royal family depends on us. It's an honor to keep them safe and to secure the palace, when you really think about it.”
“I know,” Hayato said. “It should FEEL like an honor, but it doesn't. It's just something to do, you know? I do patrols and drills because I have to, not because I WANT to.”
“Maybe if you had a reason to want to do this, something to focus on, you'd be more passionate about it,” Kana said.
“But what?” Hayato said. “I feel no real connection to the royal family. I don't really feel connected to the Knights as a whole – I mean, I feel connected to you guys” – meaning his subsquadron, consisting of himself, Kana, Yume, meN and Chamu – “but not the organization.” He glanced over at Kana. “What is it that motivates you?”
“Gratitude, I guess,” Kana said. “I feel lucky to live in a country like this – and I want to make sure our way of life is preserved in the future.”
Hayato sighed. That seemed like such an abstract concept – he couldn't get his head around it. That wouldn't be enough to drive him. Was he ever going to find a motivator?
* * *
As it turned out, he found it the next day – in a rather unexpected way.
The Knights were called to the front of the palace for a special meeting. “Did the king say what it was about?” Hayato said as he buckled on his gauntlets. He'd already put on his breastplate and greaves, and his helmet was on the back of a chair, to be put on as he walked out the door.
“Absolutely nothing,” replied meN, who was fully armored already and was looking impatiently at the clock. “You know how it is.”
“I love how we're all being pulled off duty for this,” Chamu said as he plunked his own helmet on his head. “Someone could attack the palace and there'd be nobody on patrol.”
“One of the senior squadrons is on patrol,” meN said. “They were briefed on what the king's going to talk about already.”
“Lucky them,” Hayato said, picking up the helmet and standing up. “Okay, let's go.”
“Took you long enough,” meN said.
“Hey, can I help it if I want to make sure the armor is on right?” Hayato said.
“He has a point,” Kana said as he opened the door to their barracks.
“Some of us can put our armor on right AND fast,” meN replied.
They got on their cycles and rode single-file to the front of the palace. Most of the other squadrons were already there, assembled in front of a dais on which the king was already standing. He was flanked with a large number of chairs on both sides of him.
“If you are all here,” the monarch said, “we will get started. I would like to note that today's meeting is being attended by our full compliment of princes as well, as this matter concerns both you and them.” He turned to the guard at his side. “Go get the princes,” he said.
“This is unusual, isn't it?” Kana whispered to Hayato. “We've never seen all the princes in one place before.”
“I don't think we've seen all of them, period,” Hayato whispered back. He knew that meN and Chamu patrolled closer to the palace than he and Kana did, and had more access to the family – not to mention the guards, and royal gossip. But he and Kana had stayed mostly in the woods.
The door opened, and a double line of young men filed out, most of them in the standard white uniforms trimmed with gold worn by the royal family. At the head of the line was the king's son and his favorite nephew, the son of his eldest sister. Each was flanked by a man dressed in a more elaborate version of the same kind of armor as Hayato and his friends wore.
“They have personal knights,” Hayato whispered.
“Of course they do,” whispered meN, who was on the other side of him. “They're the favorites to be chosen as the next king. Chances are the king appointed the knights himself, so nothing would happen to them.”
The line continued, some of the princes accompanied by knights, some alone. Apparently, Hayato thought, the more likely they were to be chosen as king, the more likely they were to have a knight. The rumors of their collective beauty were true – there wasn't one of them who wasn't attractive. Most of them looked similar, though – you could tell they were all related. Hayato was unmoved.
That is, however, until the second to the last man in the right line stepped onto the dais.
He wasn't just attractive. He was beautiful. Absolutely stunning. Long, lavender hair tumbled over his white uniform and down his back. Wide eyes surveyed the crowd with a gaze that seemed to carry heat with every flicker of a long eyelash. And then, there were the full, sensual lips, the perfectly shaped chin . . .
Hayato just stared. His mouth was probably hanging open. He didn't care. There could be flies buzzing in and out of his throat, he wouldn't notice.
The king began to speak. “Gentlemen,” he said, “as you know, there have been rebel elements in the city that surrounds us who have increasingly been intruding on the palace grounds. They have been trying to gather information on our strongholds in preparation for staging a full-scale attack on the castle.”
Well, this was old news. Half the reason the Knights of Codomo Dragon existed was these rebel elements had been around for years. They were attempting to overthrow the royal family and install a democratic government in its place, claiming that the palace neglected the needs of its poorer citizens.
“But they are getting increasingly desperate,” the king said, “and last week, an attack on one of our princes was thwarted. We fear the rebel elements may be looking to capture and possibly torture members of the royal family to get the information they need, or kidnap princes and hold them for ransom. And that is why I wanted to address both knights and princes today.
“Some of you have personal knights at this time. Some do not. Princes, we are going to ask that if you are leaving the palace grounds and do not have a personal knight, you should contact the central Knight Station and have one accompany you. Knight squadrons, be sure to have at least one of your members on call at all times to be able to accompany princes. And princes who do not currently have knights – I ask you to consider appointing one.”
Hayato was only half-listening. He was looking at the beautiful prince. He couldn't take his eyes off him if his life depended on it. Who is he? he thought. I've never seen him before. I'd remember him, for sure. If only I could get to know him . . .
And suddenly, inspiration hit. He knew what he was going to do. For the first time in his career with the Knights of Codomo Dragon, he had a purpose, an ambition, a reason to better himself.
I'm going to become his knight, he thought. I'm going to be that prince's protector. I just need an opportunity to prove myself.
The blase knight was suddenly burning with ambition and purpose. He had a REASON. He knew why he was here, what he was made for.
* * *
Hayato wasted no time in making sure his squadmates knew of his new mission. As soon as they were away from the meeting spot and on their way to their parked bikes, he announced, “I've decided I'm going to be someone's knight.”
The others all stopped in their tracks and spun around toward him. “You?” Chamu said.
“Yes, me!” Hayato said. “And I'm going to train extra-hard to make sure that it happens!”
“You really think some random prince who doesn't have a knight is going to choose you?” meN said.
“Not a random prince,” Hayato said. “It's someone specific.”
The others all looked at each other again. “Who?” Chamu said.
“The pretty boy with the long, lavender hair. The one who was second from the end on the right.”
Chamu and meN burst into laughter. Kana and Yume just looked perplexed. “I don't see what's wrong with that,” Kana said.
“You really WANT to be that guy's knight?” meN said. “Really?”
“If you want to work for someone specific, choose someone who has a ghost of a chance of being named to the court, at least,” Chamu said.
“Just what's wrong with the guy he chose?” Kana said.
“That guy,” Chamu said, “is Prince Sena. Otherwise known as the Slut Prince.”
“Slut is NOT a word you should be using,” Yume said.
“I didn't make it up,” Chamu said. “I'm just repeating it. But seriously – he's best known for sleeping with people. They said he's been with most of the better-looking guards and a few of the knights who work within the palace. He doesn't have a PRAYER of being chosen.”
“Well, if he's the target of gossip, that's all the more reason he should have a knight!” Hayato said. “To protect him from that, as well as from his enemies!”
“Look, Hayato,” meN said. “We're not trying to be mean here. Really. It's great that you want to be someone's knight. But if you're going to put in the effort to train harder, maybe you should aim a little bit higher. The point of being a candidate's knight is if he gets chosen as the heir or a member of the court, you have a permanent home in the palace. You get to live high on the hog among the royal family. But if your guy gets sent home? You just get sent back onto patrols as a rank-and-file knight. And this guy is almost guaranteed to get sent home.”
Hayato was quiet. So, he thought, Prince Sena is almost guaranteed to get sent home. But that means he still needs protection while he's here, right? He still needs someone to be his knight.
His friends' words were not going to deter him. Oh, no. On the contrary, they were making him more determined than ever.
* * *
Over the next few weeks, Hayato threw himself into training sessions like he never had before.
He would get up before the others to go running, to practice shooting at cans and kicking and chopping at stuffed dummies. In the group workouts, he used every ounce of skill and concentration he had to win every sparring match, whether with swords or with hands and feet.
“You've got to admit, he's gotten a lot better,” meN said, after nearly getting tossed halfway across the forest with one of Hayato's judo throws.
“I still think it's wasted effort,” Chamu said. “He puts all that into his workouts, in order to serve a prince who's going nowhere?”
meN shrugged. “He's impressing the instructors. Maybe they'll recommend he end up with someone else.”
“Do you think he'd accept that?” Chamu said. “He's bound and determined to end up with Sena. If they tried to put him with someone else, he'd probably refuse. I don't understand it.”
“You don't understand the power of a pretty face?” meN said. “Because sometimes, that's the strongest power there is.”
And meanwhile, Hayato was oblivious to all of it. He saw nothing but the opponents and targets he was focused on – and, in the back of his mind, Prince Sena's beautiful face. He envisioned himself kneeling in front of the beauty, telling him what an honor it was to serve him.
I just need an in, he thought. I just need a way to prove myself to him.
But no such opportunity presented itself. Sometimes, when the knights were on the practice grounds, small groups of royals would wander by and observe – and Sena was never among them. Hayato would hear stories of other candidates asking the instructors and squad leaders who they would recommend to be a knight – but Sena never did.
Sometimes, when he was riding his motorcycle on patrol, he found himself fantasizing about seeing Sena just walking through the woods, and stopping beside him, introducing himself, and offering his services as personal knight. He'd offer to prove his skills with a demonstration if need be. But again, no such opportunity ever presented itself.
He was just starting to wonder if it ever would, if he'd spend the rest of his life just dreaming about it happening, when fate was suddenly on his side in a most unexpected way.
* * *
It was a couple of days after the palace had sent a communique out to all knight squadrons and subsquadrons. “We have intercepted three attempted breachings of the palace grounds this week. Be extra-vigillant. That goes double when it comes to members of the royal family who do not have their own knights.”
So, Hayato was being extra-alert as he patrolled the forest alone. Maybe, he thought, if I manage to catch something bad happening and stop it, word will get out to Sena and he'll ask me to be his knight. Maybe, just maybe . . .
But so far, he was seeing nothing. The woods were still. The only sound was the rustle of leaves and the chirp of birds.
Until, that was, until he became aware of the sound of something else. Something like . . . smacking. The sound of impacts against human flesh. And a male voice, letting out sharp cries . . .
He remembered the king warning that someone might try to abduct and torture prince-candidates. Was that what was going on? He parked his bike – which, today, sported a sidecar, as he had run a mission transporting files and records from one subsquadron headquarters to another before he began his patrol.
Hayato got off and followed the sound, moving quietly, drawing his sword. Sure enough, the noises were louder – someone was definitely being beaten with something. He reached a clearing – and the sight before his eyes made him stop dead in his tracks.
There was Sena, bound to a tree, stripped down to his underwear – and there was a man standing behind him, repeatedly hitting his back with a cat o'nine tails whip.
Oh, my God, Hayato thought. Oh, my God, how DARE this person do this to . . .
As if a switch had gone off inside him, he sprang immediately into action. He leaped forward, fist shooting out, and before the prince's tormenter even knew what was happening, he had clocked him in the jaw. The man fell, and Hayato's sword swung toward the bonds holding Sena's hands together, cutting them neatly. With one swift motion, he grabbed the prince, threw him over his shoulder and ran for the bike.
I have to get him out of here, he thought. I need to get him where it's safe . . .
He dropped the prince in the sidecar, sheathed his sword, leapt on the bike and took off, driving as fast as he could. I can't believe it, he thought. I'm rescuing Sena. I'm actually rescuing Sena!
His heart's desire was coming true. He was sure to be named his knight after this. He just needed to get him back to the palace . . . no, first he had to make sure he was all right, once he knew he was safe . . .
Hayato only stopped once he knew he was on territory belonging to the Knights of Codomo Dragon, where he knew no rebels would dare intrude. He turned toward the man in the sidecar – who, now that he was stopped, got out on shaky legs, leaning over and breathing hard.
“Are you all right, Your Highness?” Hayato said.
Sena stood up, slowly. He glanced at his rescuer – but the look on his beautiful face wasn't one of gratitude. On the contrary – it was flat-out rage.
“Am I all right?” he said. “Am I ALL RIGHT? Do you realize what you just DID?”
Hayato looked perplexed. “Um . . . saved you?”
“You interrupted our playtime, punched my lover out cold and kidnapped me!” Sena yelled. “What the FUCK was all that about?”
“P-p-playtime?” Hayato said. That was . . . play? Not torture? PLAY?
“Yes, PLAYTIME, Mr. Vanilla. The entire thing was consensual. Negotiations, safewords, the works. The man is a member of my uncle's staff. We've been having kinky fun together for weeks. That is, until you PUNCHED him. I'll be lucky if he even looks at me after that. And HE'LL be lucky if he doesn't have a broken jaw!”
“B-but-but- I thought . . .”
“But NOTHING!” Sena said. He started to stalk away from Hayato. “I'm going back to the palace. I'm going to get a couple of other open-minded staff members to fetch him and bring him to the infirmary, and I will be SURE to make sure the king and the leaders of the Knights know about this!”
Hayato just stood there, shell-shocked. His greatest dream had become his greatest nightmare. He hadn't saved Sena – he'd hurt his lover and exposed him to shame and embarrassment, since the whole palace would probably find out what happened. And now, Sena hated him. Not only was there zero chance of becoming his knight, he'd be lucky if he wasn't thrown out of the service altogether.
What am I going to do now? Hayato thought. I'm not academically inclined. I'm not a craftsman, either. All I'm trained for is protecting people.
His life, as he knew it, was over. He'd end up as a shopkeeper's lackey. His parents – who finally had somewhat of a reason to be proud of him – were going to be disappointed. Again.
Sena turned around toward him and got off one last zinger. “And don't think I didn't see your name, HAYATO,” he said. “It's engraved on the nameplate of your bike!”
The prince resumed stalking toward the palace. Hayato was going to offer him a ride, but he knew he was going to get slapped if he did.
He revved his bike and headed back for headquarters, dejected.
* * *
The summons he'd been dreading came later that night.
He was sitting in the common room of their bunkers with Kana, who was trying to calm him down and lift his spirits – to no avail.
“You did what you were supposed to do in that situation,” Kana said. “You saw what was, to your perception, a member of the royal family in trouble, and you reacted.”
“To my perception,” Hayato said. “And that was absolutely wrong.”
“You know that it was wrong,” Kana said. “And I know that. But is the king going to see it that way?”
“Whose word is he going to trust?” Hayato said. “His nephew, or some lower-level knight?”
There was a knock on the headquarters door. The two of them looked at each other, and Kana answered it, to find a palace guard.
“I have come for the knight called Hayato,” the guard said. “The king demands an audience at once.”
Hayato turned slowly toward Kana. “This is it,” he said. He impulsively threw his arms around his friend and hugged him. “I may never see you again.”
“Don't worry,” Kana said. “We'll see each other – one way or the other. I promise.”
Hayato walked toward the guard. “I'm here,” he said.
The guard wordlessly took his arm and led him toward a car, settling him in the passenger seat. They drove toward the palace in silence. When they reached it, two more guards came out to meet them.
“You are to be escorted to the throne room at once,” one said.
Hayato just bowed, wordlessly. Just get it over with quickly, he thought.
The guards led him down a seemingly endless corridor to a grand room sporting a large dais framed with red curtains, on which stood the king and Prince Sena, the latter in the white uniform, the former in a floor-length black robe trimmed with gold braid – the official outfits royalty wore for important meetings.
I guess a firing counts as important, Hayato thought.
He bowed low and said, “Good evening, Your Majesty and Your Highness.”
“Knight of Codomo Dragon Hayato, I have heard of what happened in the woods this afternoon,” the king said.
“Your Majesty, I can explain . . .” Hayato said.
The king held up a hand. “No need,” he said.
Crap, Hayato thought. I'm done for. They've made up their minds already. They're not even going to hear me out.
“My nephew has something to say to you,” the king said.
Sena stepped forward and bowed low. “I'm sorry,” he said.
Hayato nearly fell on the floor. “No, no, I'm the one who's sorry!” he said, quickly.
Sena shook his head. “Knight Hayato, it really is me who should apologize. You did not know the situation. You really thought I was in danger. And you did exactly what you should have done in that case. If I really was in danger, you WOULD have saved me. And, well . . . that's exactly what I need.”
Hayato shook his head, not believing what he was hearing. “Excuse me?”
“After I got back to the palace,” Sena said, “I had a talk about what happened with a couple of my cousins. They reminded me that the royal family IS in danger, and you knights have been trained to look for that. And they also said that since we're always in danger, we really need our own personal knights. And so . . .”
Sena went to the back of the dais, where the thrones of the king and queen were. Between them, a large sword with a gold pommel, sheathed in a jewel-studded case, hung suspended from a cord attached to the ceiling. It was the royal family's ceremonial sword, used for proclamations and official appointments.
The prince pulled the weapon from its sheath and descended the dais, walking toward Hayato. “I am hereby appointing you my personal knight,” he said. “Kneel before me.”
Now Hayato nearly fell on the floor again. “You're . . . you're serious?”
“Completely,” Sena said.
Hayato dropped into the requested position. I don't believe it, he thought. First it was the worst day of my life – and now it's the best.
Sena rested the sword on Hayato's left shoulder. “Do you swear on your life that you will protect me at all times, at all costs, with every ounce of your strength and courage?”
“I do,” Hayato said.
“Then I hereby dub you my personal knight,” Sena said, tapping Hayato on the left shoulder, then on his right. “Rise and begin your new life in my service.”
Hayato did – and impulsively hugged the prince. “Thank you!” he said – and then, realized what he was doing and took a step back. “I'm sorry!” he said, bowing.
“It's all right,” Sena said. He turned to the guards, who were now at the back of the room. “Go back to the barracks he came from and gather up his things,” he said.
“Why?” Hayato said.
“You're going to be living in my rooms now,” Sena said. “There's a small knight's room off my bedroom. You'll have your own bed in there.”
He was going to live in the palace. No more barracks. No more patrols. He'd be in the PALACE. This was getting better and better.
“Thank you again!” Hayato said, bowing as Sena went to his uncle, handing back the sword.
“You are dismissed for the evening,” the king said. “Knight Hayato, I trust you to take good care of my nephew.”
“Don't worry,” Hayato said. “I will!”
“I'll show you to where you're going to be staying,” Sena said. He led the way through a corridor behind the throne room and up a flight of stairs.
“Your Highness,” Hayato said. “What happened to . . .”
“Sena,” the prince said. “Call me Sena – please. I can't stand the formal royal stuff.”
“What happened to . . . the guy I punched?”
“He was knocked cold more from the shock than anything else,” Sena said. “He's in the infirmary now, mainly so they can keep an eye on him. He has a bruised jaw, that's about it.”
“So your uncle knew that you were, um . . .”
“All he knows is we were playing some sort of game,” Sena said. “My cousins know the truth. They know about my lifestyle – although it's none of their business.”
They had reached Sena's suite of rooms. Passing through an elaborate door, they entered a front corridor. His dressing room was to the left, the bathing room and water closet were to the rear and the bedroom proper was to the right. It was in that direction that the two turned.
“What is your lifestyle, then?” Hayato said.
“Well, you saw some of it today.” Sena moved toward his bureau, starting to unfasten his necklaces.
Hayato thought about the gossip that surrounded Sena – how his squadmates – ex-squadmates? - had called him “the Slut Prince.” “Is that man your only lover?”
“I have several,” Sena said. “I believe in taking pleasure where you find it. If it's just for fun, great. If there are emotional ties involved, even better. But I don't believe in repressing yourself. I had enough of that when I was living at home.” He pulled off his jewelry and left it on his bureau.
“Your parents were strict?” Hayato said.
“If they'd had their way, I would have stayed a virgin until I was married,” Sena said. “So when I came here, I took advantage of my freedom. I don't see anything wrong with that. I'm young, I'm healthy and I want to celebrate that when I still can.” He sat on the edge of his bed. “And before you ask – I'm not JUST kinky.”
“I wasn't asking!” Hayato said, blushing a bit.
“And that's not all there is to me, either,” Sena said. “I like to sing and play instruments. I like games – REAL games. I even like learning.”
“I didn't think it was!” Hayato was blushing even more now. Oh, God, he thought, is Sena going to figure out that I was stunned by his beauty when I first laid eyes on him? That I've wanted to be his knight all this time?
Sena walked up to him and put a hand on his shoulder. “You know what?” he said. “You're cute. Genuinely cute. I think I'm going to like having you around.”
Hayato was going to say something, but his voice was stuck in his throat. He just stood there, like a statue, feeling Sena's gaze all over him . . .
And at that moment, two staff members entered the room carrying a trunk – Hayato's locker from the old barracks.
“We have this, Your Highness,” one of them said. “Where do you want it?”
“Over there.” Sena pointed to an open door on the other side of the room. Hayato glanced in that direction and saw a room barely big enough to hold a bed and the trunk. Guess that's the knight's room, he thought.
The arrival of the guards, who bowed low on the way out, had broken the mood. “I guess we should get ready for bed,” Sena said.
“I . . . I guess so,” Hayato said.
“Bathing room and water closet are that way,” Sena said. “I'll let you use them first.”
Hayato got ready for bed, shaking slightly as he did so. This was surreal. He couldn't believe it. He was expecting to wake up finding himself in his bed in the barracks. But it was no dream. He'd made it. He was Sena's knight.
Within an hour, he was falling asleep, knowing that the prince he was now sworn to protect was on the other side of his closed door. This, he thought, is my happily ever after.
* * *
But as it so happened, every happily ever after was also a beginning. For Hayato, it was the dawn of a new life.
The day after his appointment, he was fitted for a new uniform – an upgraded version of his old one, with nicer fabrics and more trim, plus the symbol of Sena's family's territory on the chest. He also met with the chief of private knights, who briefed him on his schedule.
He was to shadow the prince at all times, unless Sena was in a private meeting with the rest of the royal family, at which point palace guards were to take over. At mealtimes, he would sit at a table with the rest of the knights, which would be next to the royal family's own table.
He learned very quickly what shadowing the prince meant. Sena lived a rather active life. Mornings were spent in instruction about government and what running the country entailed – which counted as a “private meeting with the royal family,” since the prince-candidates were all together in a guarded ballroom. During that time, the private knights conducted drills and exercises, much like those Hayato had experienced with his own squadron.
After lunch, the two would depart on whatever Sena wanted to do that day – going to the library, or out into the woods, or to the gaming fields where Hayato's charge frequently joined in the baseball games that were held between royalty and palace staff. (Sena wasn't very good at it, Hayato noticed, but he enjoyed playing anyway).
Very often, though, Sena would ask to be taken to a remote spot on the palace grounds, or in the woods – and he'd say to Hayato, “Can you just stand guard over there? Don't let anyone come near us.” That meant, of course, he was meeting one of his lovers.
And so, Hayato just stood there, hand on his sword, trying to stay alert for any signs of intrusion – but he couldn't help but hear the sounds coming from not-too-far away. First, soft sighs and the rustle of clothing, then moans, sometimes the sounds of flesh being struck like the ones that had drawn him to Sena on the day of the would-be rescue . . .
Finally, there would be the sound of heavy breathing, groans, gasped-out phrases, and finally, a loud cry of climax. Except Hayato never really heard the sounds of the other men. Nothing reached his ears – and then traveled immediately to lower regions – but the sounds of Sena's passion.
He couldn't help but imagine the prince, naked and flushed, moving over and under and beside his lover, and then he'd imagine himself as that lover, pushing into Sena's gorgeous ass, or with his mouth full of the beauty's hard cock . . .
And before he knew it, he'd be reaching down to unzip his pants, hand plunging inside to grasp a fantasy-induced erection, and stroking himself rapidly, mind filled with burning images. He'd learned to bring a handkerchief with him on these outings to catch the inevitable result.
If anyone ever did intrude, he thought, they'd find themselves with one hell of a sight.
Sena would walk back to him afterward, cheerfully saying, “Okay, let's go back to the palace,” as if he'd been doing nothing but picking berries. But Hayato would see the mussed hair, the kiss-swollen lips, and sometimes, the faint mark of bites on his neck.
The rendezvous were never brought up during the conversations the two of them would have when they were away from everyone else. They would talk about Hayato's hometown and his life as a knight, and Sena's home territory of Faizh, where his father – the king's younger brother – was the governing duke.
“My older brother is set to inherit the dukedom,” Sena said. “So they sent me to be the prince-candidate. Apparently, I'm going to receive the title of baron and my own manor if I don't get chosen by the king.”
“That's not such a bad thing, is it?” Hayato said.
“It is when you consider that my family's probably going to pressure me to marry before they'll give it to me,” Sena said. “That's why I'm having fun while I'm still young. Unless I get an open-minded spouse, I'm going to be stuck with one person for the rest of my life.”
“It might not be so bad if you love him or her,” Hayato said.
“I don't know if there is such a thing,” Sena said. “My parents supposedly love each other, and they spend as much time apart from one another as possible. I don't want to live like that. Life is for enjoying, you know?”
In a way, Hayato wondered if Sena would be better off if he had been born in a family further down the social scale, one that would allow him to make more of his decisions about life.
They did enjoy each other's company during their times alone, though – especially when they'd go to one of the swimming holes, where Sena's more silly side would come out. He was fond of trying to dunk or splash Hayato when nobody was looking, or wanting to have swimming races – which he'd usually win. That meant Hayato got dunked again.
They'd end up back at the palace in the evenings, and then after dinner they'd usually attend whatever entertainment the king had brought in that evening – usually musicians or an acting troupe from the surrounding towns. At the end of it, everyone would be dismissed and head up to bed – and bedtime was a standard routine. Hayato would use the bathing room and facilities first, then Sena. He'd say goodnight to the prince, and then retire to his small room.
* * *
And then, came the night where the routine was broken.
Hayato had said goodnight to Sena as usual, and started to head for his bedroom. Both were wearing the yukatas they usually did after preparing for bed – Hayato put on his sleeping clothes behind his closed door.
He was stopped by Sena calling his name, softly. He turned around. “Yes?”
“Do you like me?” Sena said.
Well, that was a question out of nowhere. “I always have,” Hayato said. “You're a beautiful person – in all ways. You're kind and you're sweet and you're funny, and . . . you're honest. With yourself, and everyone else.”
“No, I mean . . . do you LIKE me?”
Hayato stood rooted to the spot. What was he asking? “Well, I . . .”
He watched as Sena's fingers went to the yukata and untied it. He saw the fabric tumble to the floor, revealing what he'd only fantasized about. Oh, God, he was even more gorgeous than he'd dreamed. Flat belly, shapely legs, and that gorgeous cock . . .
Hayato felt like a teenage virgin – even though he hadn't been a virgin in quite some time. All he could do was stammer, “Is . . . is that for me?”
Sena laughed – a gentle, sweet one, not a mocking one – and walked toward Hayato. He brought his lips to the knight's, and instantly, Hayato felt like he was drowning in the kiss. He pulled the prince closer, deepening it, sliding his tongue into the other man's mouth . . . and that was velvety soft, just like he thought it would be.
He felt hands on the tie of his own robe, and he pulled back long enough for Sena to push it down and off. The prince looked him up and down, caressing his chest, then pulled Hayato in for another kiss, which was deep and erotic right away, their tongues rubbing against one another.
When it broke, Hayato fell on his knees before his prince, an act of worship. Trembling arms wrapped around his waist as he pressed his face to that belly, kissing the firm flesh, flicking his tongue against it. He moved upward, slowly, trying to feel every part of him, memorize every bit of the sweet skin.
Stretching up further, he licked up to a nipple, a hard little bud that seemed to him the sweetest, most delectable fruit. He surrounded it with his lips, sucking on it, and he heard Sena let out a little moan, grabbing at the back of his head.
Hayato just sucked, reveling in the feel and taste and scent of his new lover, feeling his cock hardening and throbbing in response, but he resisted the urge to touch it. That was for Sena only to do. And when he stood up to kiss the prince's lips again, it was as if Sena had read his mind.
The knight felt fingers sliding along his cock, from bottom to top, stroking around the tip, then wrapping around him, pumping him quickly. He leaned back out of the kiss, moaning loudly, thinking nothing had ever felt so good – not his own hand, not the hand of another.
Hayato reached for Sena's hardness, exploring it, feeling every ridge and vein, listening for groans and shudders when he touched a sensitive spot. He wrapped his fingers around it and stroked, like Sena was stroking him, and there were loud moans coming from them both, Hayato wondering how long he could hold out before he came.
They let go of each other, and Sena turned toward his nighttable, pulling out a bottle of lubricating oil. He handed it to Hayato, and bent over, hands on the bed, lovely ass in the air. Hayato opened the vial – and then, he remembered the times he'd heard Sena being struck in the heat of passion, the kinky scene he'd interrupted on the day they met.
He put the bottle down and drew his hand back, hitting the prince's ass with a loud smack.
Sena hadn't anticipated the spanking, and he gave a surprised cry of “Oh!”, arching backward. When Hayato brought his hand down again, on the other cheek, Sena cried, “Yes!” That just made Hayato all the hotter – he was starting to really like this, the impact of his hand against the firm flesh, the way Sena gasped with every spank, the sight of the skin turning pink, evidence of the delicious pain he was inflicting.
He bent over and kissed the left cheek, the skin heated beneath his lips, and Sena let out another moan, the gentleness a contrast to the earlier pain. Hayato took the bottle, slicked his fingers and slid one in, thinking that Sena was so hot inside, he felt so delicious, he could only imagine what that was going to feel like around his cock.
He pushed in a second finger, and a third, moving them in and out, and Sena moved back against him, moaning, murmuring, “I want you . . . Oh, God, I want to feel you in me so bad . . .”
When the fingers slid out, and Hayato reached for a handkerchief to wipe them off, Sena said, “Lie down – I want to ride you.” Hayato wasn't turning that offer down. He lay on his back, thinking his cock had never felt so hard in his life.
He watched Sena straddle him, and felt fingers grasping his cock, as the other man shifted his hips, trying to find the right angle . . . and then, Sena started to move downward, and for Hayato it was like entering heaven.
Sena was so hot and seemed to grip him so tightly as he enveloped him, bit by bit. Hayato raised his head and looked at the beauty above him, the look of concentration on his face as he started a slow thrust . . .
Hayato began to move along with him, lifting his hips, grasping his lover's thighs which surrounded him, trapping him in the most delicious way. “You're beautiful,” he murmured to the other man.
Sena's answer to that was a moan, which grew louder as he thrust faster and harder. Hayato couldn't take his eyes off him, the way the lavender hair spilled over a sweat-streaked chest, the tongue that came out and flicked at Sena's lips . . .
The knight's hands slid up his lover's body, coming to rest on his nipples, which he stroked and gently pinched, making Sena let out another loud groan. He moved faster, thrusting down on Hayato hard, and Hayato moved with him, his hips lifting off the bed sharply, losing himself completely in Sena's sweet heat.
One hand moved downward and wrapped around Sena's cock, stroking it rapidly as Hayato felt the heat within him cresting rapidly, he was getting close to climax but he didn't want this to end, not ever, this was the most delicious experience of his life . . .
Sena cried out, sharply, thrusting down on Hayato hard, and he felt hot wetness start to pour over his fingers – and that was all he needed. He felt the pleasure crest, then break, the waves consuming him completely, and he thrust his hips upward, crying Sena's name out as he was lost in bliss.
The prince collapsed atop his knight and they kissed, softly. There was a long moment where the only sound was their breathing, slowing and returning to normal.
Sena reached out and stroked Hayato's face. “You okay?” he said.
“Yes,” Hayato murmured. “I'm just . . . wow. You wore me out.”
The prince lay his head on his lover's chest. “I think I've wanted that from the day I met you.”
Hayato raised his head. “You have?” he said.
“I told you I thought you were cute,” Sena said. “Now that I know you, you're even cuter.”
Hayato wrapped his arms around him. “Is . . . is this going to happen again?”
“If you want it to. I definitely want it to.”
Hayato closed his eyes and let out a long breath. “Yes,” he said. He'd never wanted anything more in his life.
He knew, of course, that he wasn't going to be Sena's only lover. It would be unrealistic to think that way – not when the prince wanted to “have fun while he was still young.” He also knew it wasn't going to be forever – chances were that Sena wouldn't be chosen by the king, he'd go back to his homeland, and Hayato would go back to the rank-and-file Knights of Codomo Dragon. Maybe at a slightly elevated rank, but back where he came from nonetheless.
But he was going to enjoy this moment when it lasted. And he sincerely hoped it would last a long, long time.
* * *
Hayato's former subsquad mates were on a group patrol on the grounds surrounding the palace – on foot today, they weren't covering a very big area. There were a lot of knights on duty today – the royal family would be having a group picnic a bit later.
“Hey,” meN said, “has anyone heard from Hayato lately? We don't get to see him much since he moved up in the world.”
“I have,” Kana said. “He sent a note over to me last night. He said one of Sena's cousins is looking to get a personal knight, and he's put in a recommendation for me.”
“Damn,” meN said. “There's going to be none of us left if we all keep getting hired by the princes.”
“I wouldn't mind getting hired,” said Chamu. “I'd like to see the other side of life for awhile.”
“Hayato seems happy,” Yume said. “That's all that matters.”
“I don't believe it,” meN said. “The bastard actually did what he said he was going to do. He was going to become that guy's knight, he became his knight. And of all princes to pick, the Slut Prince.”
“Actually,” Chamu said, “rumor has it he isn't as slutty as he used to be.”
“Oh, really?” meN said.
“I heard from one of the guards that Sena doesn't sneak around to meet up with guys as much as he used to,” Chamu said. “Either he's being more discreet about it, or being caught with his pants down in the woods embarrassed him enough that he shaped up.”
“Oh, crap!” Kana said. “The Royal Family's coming out of the palace. We don't want to look like we're being lazy. Back on patrol!”
They went back to walking in a single file, one hand on a gun or sword to be drawn at a second's notice . . . but their eyes did stray over to the group heading out of the palace and toward the picnic tables that had been set up. Today, prince-candidates and their knights would be dining together, there would be no separation by classes.
And there, among the group, was their former colleague, walking side-by-side with his prince. But there was something very noticeable about them . . .
meN looked over his shoulder at the rest of the group. “Hey!” he said. “Were they just – holding hands?”
“You're seeing things,” Chamu said.
“No, no, they dropped them just now, but they were definitely holding hands before,” meN said. “Maybe our boy has come up even further in the world than we thought.”
They were all left with that thought, that perhaps Hayato was the reason Sena wasn't really “the Slut Prince” anymore. And it was one that threatened to blow their minds.
Meanwhile, on the palace grounds, the prince and the knight were enjoying a special moment together. Tonight, in the prince's bedroom, they'd enjoy an even more special moment – as they did many nights nowadays.
It might have been a temporary happily ever after for Hayato, but it was one he was very happy to have.