Hyacinthus pulled open his silk curtains and let the sunshine filter into his chambers. He grinned up at the sun, which had long since risen (sleeping in was a perk of having no morning meetings).
"Good morning," he said to it, then laughed to himself. He knew the sun could not hear him, but he liked to imagine it could; a constant companion watching over him. What he did not know, though, was that on Mount Olympus, through a glass window, someone was watching him.
Apollo smiled back at the young prince and gave a small wave, disregarding the fact that Hyacinthus couldn't see him. Apollo liked the silent conversations they shared, and would often send a response. If Hyacinthus was outside training, Apollo granted him a perfect balance of sun and shade. Once, when Zeus had made lightning and rain split the dark sky, Apollo had filled Hyacinthus' room with a soft glow and warmth.
Hyacinthus must have rarely noticed these things, or else thought it was just the sun doing normal sun things. Nevertheless, Apollo did everything he could to see the prince smile. It was one of the simplest pleasures in life, he thought, to make the one you love happy.
Apollo watched as Hyacinthus tightened the straps of his boots and packed finely-made arrows into his quiver. It truthfully wasn't very interesting, but it fascinated Apollo. He had taken time to memorize the way Hyacinthus moved and laughed and the way he would fidget by pulling on the curls by his ears. All of it was breathtaking.
The god was pulled out of his trance when a hand clapped his shoulder, and not softly. He glared at his younger brother Hermes, who had appeared next to him.
"Haven't you got anywhere better to be?" Apollo asked, exasperated.
"Probably," Hermes quipped, then paused. "I think Father asked me earlier to deliver a message to some Oracle. I'd much rather stay here and bother you, though."
"You are entirely unreliable. Father should fire you."
"Oh, he threatens to. But who would replace me? Aphrodite?"
Apollo snorted. Aphrodite had her talents, but navigation was not one of them. At least she knew her way around a relationship, which was more than Apollo could say for himself. He couldn't believe he was doing nothing but sitting here and watching the most beautiful man he had ever seen and refusing to even introduce himself-oh.
Apparently Hermes had been rambling this whole time, and Apollo hadn't listened to a word of it.
"Wow, you really must be out of it today. What is it this time, another princess?"
Apollo rolled his eyes at him. "Actually, no, it is not."
Hermes gazed out the window, searching, until he found what he was looking for. He grinned teasingly at his older brother. "A Spartan prince? Doesn't seem like your type." He nudged Apollo playfully with his caduceus. "And let me guess: he has no idea you exist?"
"He knows I exist," Apollo retorted, folding his arms. "We just haven't met formally." Hermes began to protest so Apollo added firmly, "Yet."
"Well you'd better hurry up, because it seems he's quite an attractive choice for foreign swains," Hermes advised, staring out the window again.
Apollo looked out and saw that King Perius was giving his son a lecture. Something about alliances with other kingdoms and setting down. Hyacinthus was visibly uncomfortable, biting his lip and fiddling with the strap of his loaded quiver.
"I'm horrible at initiating these things. What should I say to him?"
Hermes let out a bark of laughter. "The Great and Enviable Apollo has admitted that he can't do everything perfectly? Come on, brother. You just have to figure it out. If you really care so much about him, it will come naturally."
Just then a loud cry erupted from Zeus' throne room. "Hermes!"
"Sounds like that's my cue to leave. Dionysus and I will be placing bets on how well this goes for you, so done let me down." The wings on Hermes' shoes flittered restlessly as he flew down the hall. The show off.
In the Spartan palace, Hyacinthus, who was still being chastised by his father, was just as uneasy as Apollo.
After what seemed like forever, Perius finally grumbled that Hyacinthus was free to leave for his daily archery practice. The prince practically ran out of his father's study. He didn't care for archery as he was not very skilled at it, but it was much better than listening to his father drone on about marriage and alliances.
King Perius had been dropping hints lately that he felt strongly about Hyacinthus' lack of interest in women. And he wasn't being subtle, either. It vexed Hyacinthus to no end, but he understood that as he was the oldest son, he was the successor to the kingdom and needed a wife to bear children. If he was the youngest, this wouldn't be a concern. His parents hardly cared about his preferences, which he was grateful for, but it didn't matter.
Enough of that. There was no point in worrying himself sick over it. At least he didn't have to be on time for archery today, as the royal instructor was busy teaching his younger brothers, Cynortus and Argalus.
Praying he wouldn't have to talk to anyone else on his way to the archery range, Hyacinthus walked as quickly as he could without drawing attention to himself. Luckily the servants seemed to be busier than usual, scurrying around with a haste that only came around before a large celebration. Strange, considering there were no annual holidays or birthdays coming soon.
Perhaps my father has already promised me to some haughty Grecian princess, and we're preparing for a wedding, Hyacinthus thought, and laughed weakly to himself. He imagined waking up and finding out that the everyone in Sparta knew of his marriage except him.
The walk from the palace to the archery range was very short, but Hyacinthus walked so slow that it took almost twice as long as it normally would. He didn't mean to be so late, but by the gods was he exhausted. Perius had depleted all of his energy and put him in a sour mood. He tried to bring his thoughts elsewhere, but to no avail. Really, he just wanted the day to be over already, even though it was barely midday.
Hyacinthus' frustration mounted as he observed the target. It was infuriating how miniscule it was. He doubted he would be able to hit it at all.
As he nocked an arrow in his bow, he silently thanked the gods that there was no one around to see him embarrass himself, save for a single groundskeeper on break. The servant sat under a tree that was a little too close for Hyacinthus' comfort, but it seemed as though he hadn't even noticed the prince was there.
Hyacinthus drew the arrow back and was about to release when someone grabbed his arm to stop him. Hyacinthus jolted in surprise but didn't let go of the arrow. He seethed with anger as he turned around to see the groundskeeper there, looking very concerned.
Before Hyacinthus could order the boy to be executed (it was not a good day, and he would probably regret it later), the groundskeeper pointed to Hyacinthus' left hand, which was holding the bow.
"Your hand is facing the wrong way, you could have hurt yourself," he informed the prince.
Hyacinthus looked down at himself and realized the groundskeeper was right. His hand ready was facing the wrong way, and if he had shot the arrow he might've sliced his forearm open.
"Can I help?" The groundskeeper asked. There was something strange in the way he spoke. There was not a hint of condescension in his tone, only kindness.
Hyacinthus nodded. "Thank you." And he meant it.
The groundskeeper covered Hyacinthus' hand with his own and adjusted it, but still didn't let go as he helped the prince take position. Hyacinthus felt his neck blush at the boldness in his touch. He didn't seem to care that he was putting his hands on the crown prince without asking specific permission first.
The groundskeeper instructed Hyacinthus on the correct form to take for the best results. The prince tried not to feel embarrassed at their closeness. The groundskeeper looked to be about his own age, and he really was very handsome.
"Release," the groundskeeper told him, and they both let go. Just as was promised, the arrow hit straight through the center of the target. Hyacinthus felt pride spark in his chest. It was the first time he had ever hit the middle of the target.
Hyacinthus turned his head, momentarily forgetting that the groundskeeper was still there. They stared at one another for a few seconds, their faces much closer than was appropriate.
The groundskeeper seemed to realize that Hyacinthus was a bit shocked and took a step back. "That was a very nice shot, your Highness."
Hyacinthus laughed too loudly. "It was mostly you." Then he cleared his throat and added awkwardly, "I don't think I've ever seen you before."
The groundskeeper smiled. "Well, I doubt the prince spends too much time entertaining the servants." Hyacinthus blushed even more. "I've only been here a few days, acting as a temporary apprentice for the head groundskeeper."
"How much longer are you staying at the palace?" Hyacinthus asked. It was a dangerous question. He couldn't let himself get attached.
The groundskeeper's expression turned nervous. "I think I'm being sent off tomorrow morning." He didn't sound sure of himself.
Hyacinthus but his lip and thought for a moment. He really shouldn't do this, but...
"Can you show me how to do that shot again? I've forgotten."
The groundskeeper smiled and Hyacinthus let him position him again. Maybe it was his imagination, but he thought the groundskeeper was standing just a little closer this time.
Hyacinthus leaned back against the tree and watched the groundskeeper rummage through his pack. He pulled out a small flask and handed it to the prince, who took a few sips and then returned it.
Something gold glinted in the corner of Hyacinthus' eye. A small lyre poked out of the bag. The instrument looked exceptionally well made, and only a talented musician would have owned it.
"Do you play?" He nodded toward the lyre.
The groundskeeper lifted the lyre from his pack and plucked a few strings. "Sometimes," he admitted. "But I haven't found much business in Sparta. Musicians are rarely hired, and if we are, we are paid almost nothing."
Hyacinthus closed his eyes and leaned his head against the groundskeeper's shoulder. "Play for me?"
It was a request, not an order.
The lyre's sweet, melancholy tune filled the air and swirled up into the sky, followed by the strong voice of the groundskeeper.
Whatever song he was singing Hyacinthus could not understand. The words were of a language he had never heard.
"What language is this?" he wondered aloud.
The groundskeeper, still playing the song, laid his head on top of the prince's. "It is the language of the gods," he said wistfully.
Thinking it was a joke, Hyacinthus laughed softly. "Are you a good friend of the gods?"
He felt the groundskeeper smile into his hair. "I'm not sure if 'friend' is quite the word I would use to describe it."
Hyacinthus turned his head and looked up at him. "Who are you?" he asked, losing himself in the groundskeeper's sapphire blue eyes.
"I pray you'd never have to know," the groundskeeper mumbled, staring down at the prince's lips.
Hyacinthus leaned in and closed the space between them.
He had only kissed a boy once before, when he was fifteen, four years ago. Some peasant boy, behind a wall. It was uncomfortable. Nothing very special about it, not like this.
They separated and came together again, over and over. The groundskeeper's mouth was soft and his hand was gentle on Hyacinthus' neck.
The air around them grew more humid and the groundskeeper's skin heated up under Hyacinthus' hands. A golden aura surrounded them, something Hyacinthus had felt before, but where?
In the temples when they went to burn offerings. In the temple of Artemis and Apollo.
Hyacinthus pulled away from the groundskeeper's hold with a gasp. The groundskeeper looked startled, but he was no longer an average teenage boy. He was stronger, and tanner. His hair was longer. Apollo.
Hyacinthus’ heart raced. Had this all been some ploy? He knew enough about the gods. They took what they wanted, and whether it was forced was hardly an issue to them.
Starting to panic, Hyacinthus bowed his head. "Lord Apollo," he breathed. "Please forgive me."
The god took Hyacinthus' hands and held them tightly, but not roughly. It was almost calming.
"Do not fear me; you are perfectly safe," Apollo reassured him.
Hyacinthus took a breath and dared to meet the god's gaze.
Apollo smiled at him. "You are beautiful, my prince." He saw the corners of Hyacinthus' lips tug upward, just for a moment.
"I will not take you by force," Apollo promised. "It is your decision. If this is not what you want, I will leave you unharmed."
Apollo felt Hyacinthus squeeze his hands. The prince's expression was torn. He might have been trembling.
Hyacinthus cautiously leaned forward again, and Apollo met him halfway there. Their kiss was more forceful this time, full of questions and answers. Apollo let go of the prince's hands and instead held him around his waist, pulling him closer.
And it was amazing
Hyacinthus made it back to the palace just as the sky was beginning to turn dark. He sat on a garden bench and watched the sunset dye the clouds orange.
He still felt giddy over Apollo’s kiss. How much luckier could be possibly be? A god had taken him as a lover, and yet done it with a kindness that he’d never known about. He had studied nearly every famous story of romances between gods and mortals. Already his was off to a better start.
It was not very warrior-like or dignified of him to be giggling over a crush like he was, but no one was around to hear him. And besides, he couldn’t possibly contain his euphoria.
Hyacinthus sat on he bench until the last of the sun’s rays disappeared below the horizon and the air turned chill. Picking up his bow, he stood and made his way toward the kitchen entrance. He had definitely missed dinner, but the cooks almost always had scraps leftover.
The kitchen was calming down for the night. Servants washed dishes and swept the floor. There was a small group of women in the corner who were teaching Hyacinthus’ younger sister Polyboea to knead dough. If his parents found out about that there would be some trouble. Polyboea was only six but had already decided that she was going to do what she wanted. It was foolish of her, but in some ways Hyacinthus admired her bravery.
Polyboea waved to him, her little hands covered in sticky dough. “Hi, Cinthy!”
Hyacinthus could never resist his sister, even though he hated that nickname.
The head baker, Armenia, gave him a teasing smile. “It’s a bit late for His Highness to be returning, isn’t it?” She handed him a roll.
Hyacinthus feigned obviousness. “I don’t know what you’re getting at.”
Armenia laughed and whispered so that the other women and Polyboea wouldn’t hear. “Don’t think I didn’t see you out there, taking archery with that young man.”
“Armenia! You weren’t spying, were you?”
She shrugged. “I might not have intentionally meant to see the two of you, but... well. I might have possibly volunteered to pick up flower from the mill right then so I could have a better view.” She winked. “But don’t worry, the King and Queen won’t hear a word from me.”
There was something very special about Armenia. She had worked at the palace for as long as Hyacinthus could remember, and as a child, Hyacinthus often wondered if she was a good fairy. They were very close, like grandmother and grandson. And of course she knew all about Hyacinthus’ preferences, since she was the one who helped him figure it out.
“Polyboea,” Armenia said. “You’d better scrub your hands and take your brother home. I suspect his mother would like to speak to him.”
Polyboea nodded obediently and started peeling the dough off of her fingers.
Hyacinthus shot Armenia a confused look. “My mother? Has something happened?”
She didn’t answer, only ushered the siblings out of the kitchen, giving a rushed goodnight and then slamming the door.
“Bo, does Mother really want to speak with me?” Hyacinthus asked his sister, who was hopping in place.
“ I don’t know, but Miss Armenia is always right.”
He supposed that was true. “Do you know where Mother is?”
Polyboea took his hand excitedly. “She’s in her study, I’ll take you to her!”
Hyacinthus grinned and tickled under her chin. “Not if I beat you there,” he challenged.
Polyboea squealed and ran ahead of him. Hyacinthus jogged behind, making sure to let her win.
Truthfully, it was far too late to be running around, and a guard would probably tell them to stop. Hyacinthus was in a good mood though, so he made the most of it.
Polyboea stopped at the door to their mother’s study and waited for her brother to catch up. “I won!” She announced.
Hyacinthus grinned and lifted her up. “You’re going to be the best athlete in all of Sparta when you’re grown.”
He set her back down and knocked on the door. Queen Clio opened it. Her crown was knocked askew and ink was smeared on her brown skin and the front of her dress.
“Children, why are you up so late?” She knelt and examined Polyboea’s curly hair. “Is this bread dough? I told you not to bother the servants in the kitchen.”
Polyboea started hopping again, moving away from her mother’s prying hands. “Miss Armenia said you wanted to talk to Cinthy!”
Queen Clip froze and glanced up at her son. She stood and smoothed her skirts. “Polyboea, go get into your bed. You need your sleep.” Clio smoothed her daughter’s har affectionately and sent her off. Polyboea obviously wasn’t too happy that she didn’t get to stay and hear the following conversation.
Clio held her arms open and Hyacinthus obliged, hugging her tightly. After a few seconds, he went to pull away but his mother didn’t let go, holding him for a small while longer.
She stepped away and cupped his face with her hands. She studied him like she had only just noticed that he was practically an adult, not a child.
“Please, come in,” she waved him in.
Papers were strewn across the floor, most with half-finished drawings and writing on them. Clio had neatly lined up pens and ink pots, some of which had tipped over and spilled. That explained the stains, then.
Clio and Hyacinthus sat on pillow seats, away from the mess.
Clio spoke first. “I know your father has been rough on you about starting a courtship. I told him not to arrange a marriage, practically begged-“
Hyacinthus felt his stomach drop.
Clio must have noticed his worry because she added quickly, “He has ruled out arranged marriages entirely. I convinced him it wouldn’t be very beneficial.” She wrung her hands and said, very reluctantly, “However, he has been talking very closely with a nobleman south from here. He has a daughter a year younger than you, and while we are not making permanent decisions, your father has invited her to stay at the palace so you can meet her.”
Hyacinthus snapped to attention. “What? A girl is coming to stay here?”
Clio sighed and bunched her skirt in her hands. She sounded tired, like she expected Hyacinthus’ disdain. “She’ll only be here for a few days, and you don’t have to spend too much time with her. Just... behave yourself. Please.”
Hyacinthus scowled at the floor. He would rather eat Underworld fruit than put up with another prissy noblewoman. But if it made his mother happy...
“Fine,” Hyacinthus griped. “When will she be here?”
Hyacinthus has to bite his tongue to restrain himself from saying something he would regret. He stood abruptly. “Alright. Alright. I’ll go enjoy my last few hours of solitude, then.”
He marched right out of the room, and Clio didn’t stop him.
As worked up as he was, he fell asleep as soon as his head touched his pillow. He had no dreams.
The next morning, Hyacinthus was woken up by a loud knocking at his door. “What?” he called, momentarily forgetting about his ‘princely manners,’
It was Argalus. “Come on, Hyacinthus! Your future bride is waiting for you downstairs!”
Hyacinthus turned over and groaned loudly into his pillow.
It was clear that this girl would be a headache as soon as Hyacinthus met her. He introduced himself, kissed her hand, performed all the pleasantries. She only sniffed indifferently and patted her towering hairdo.
Apparently her name was Lady Valencia and her father was the richest man in her town. That’s what she told Hyacinthus at breakfast, anyway. She didn’t say much when she wasn’t informing everyone of her important social status.
After breakfast, Perius insisted that Valencia accompany Hyacinthus on his archery practice. The king was under the impression that it was a surefire way to woo her, though Hyacinthus doubted she’d be very impressed by him missing the target over and over.
He was grateful for Valencia’s lack of verbal communication. At least he wouldn’t have to converse with her while pretending to be cheerful. He was rather disappointed that he couldn’t go out alone. He was hoping that he and Apollo could shoot together and maybe do some... other things.
Valencia was not very happy about having to sit on the grass, and every few minutes would sigh loudly and fidget. It was annoying, but it got so much worse she started singing to herself.
She was awful, and she wasn’t quiet, either. Hyacinthus would have loved to ‘accidentally’ shoot the arrow close to her, just to scare her, but he did the polite thing and refrained. Besides, he was so useless at the bow that there was a high chance he would hit her. Wouldn’t do to murder his swain on the first day of her stay.
To his relief Valencia got bored after not even an hour and told Hyacinthus that she needed to sleep off her stressful journey.
Valencia refused Hyacinthus’ offer to escort her to her chambers and practically ran away from him. Not that he cared. Honestly, he was glad to be rid of her.
Hyacinthus dropped his things off at the armory and went to his own room, hoping he could get a few more hours of sleep as well.
He opened his bedcurtains and found Apollo laying there, naked except for the thin sheet resting just below his hips.
Hyacinthus flopped down next to him, rubbing his eyes.
“She seemed fun,” Apollo remarked, running a hand up and down Hyacinthus’ thigh.
The prince put his hands behind his head and stared up at the ceiling. “She was terrible. Did you hear her sing? She sounded like a wounded animal.”
Apollo laughed and kissed his cheek. “Hush now, my love. I’ll take care of you.”
Hyacinthus grinned up at him.
The week passed fairly quickly. Valencia stayed quiet and distant the whole time, scurrying away to her chambers as often as she could.
Perius agreed that perhaps brining swains to stay at his palace was not the best idea. What’s more, Armenia convinced him to put off all this marriage business for a few years so Hyacinthus could focus on his training.
Hyacinthus wondered more than once if Armenia knew the truth about what he had been doing with all his alone time. Maybe she really was a good fairy like he’d thought.