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A Royal Decree

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Ryan Graves is a simple man. He only wanted to do his best and live his life as long as he can. Growing up in the kingdom of the infamous king Claude didn't come easy though. At a young age he was hired as a squire to Sir Niskanen, who taught him everything he could. He was taught to keep his head up and blend in and to keep his head down when needed. Ryan was taught how to be a good man when everything in the world seemed to be going against him.

When Sir Niskanen finally took his armor off for good he turned to the newly knighted Ryan and said, “You have a good heart my boy, do not let it get poisoned.”

Ryan wasn't sure what he meant by that. It wasn't the first time that Niskanen told him that he had a good heart but for some reason him saying that felt more real than ever.

Looking back on those days as a squire was always a pleasant memory for him. He would follow Sir Niskanen around the town, meeting new people and making sure that the townsfolk were safe.

They would wander the town, stopping into the shops and would make small talk with the workers there. More often than not the shop owners would give them food or a few coins they could spare. Ryan always made sure to remember the names of those who he saw everyday.

His favorite shop to stop at was always the local tailor. It was owned by two young men named Nico and Nolan. Nico himself was a handsome man, he had short black hair and the softest accent Ryan had heard. Nico had told him once about his homeland, a far off country that made the sweetest candy, he even gave Ryan some that he had hidden away once. He handed the candy to him with a wink saying to eat it quickly before Nolan found it.

While Ryan was close friends to Nico, it was Nolan who he truly wanted to know more about. Nolan was only a bit shorter than him, with long hair that was usually tied back in either a ponytail or a fancy braid. Nolan was a quiet man, he only spoke to Ryan a few times but in those moments Ryan could feel himself feeling more for the man.

One day Ryan and Niskanen walked into the shop to see only Nolan working. They wandered around the little shop when there was a crash at the front. They rushed back to see Nolan on the ground, holding his face in his hands.

Ryan looked between Nolan and the man standing above him, and quickly stepped between them.

“What happened?” He demanded.

“This little bitch thought he could scam me, I was just teaching him a lesson.” The man said with a sneer. The man looked at Nolan on the ground and spat on him. Nolan flinched away and wiped frantically at his face to get it off.

Ryan pushed the man back, “Okay calm down, you're causing a scene and you need to leave.”

The man just laughed and turned away. Niskanen followed the man out to make sure that he left. Ryan turned back to Nolan who curled up on himself and looked like he was shaking.

Ryan knelt down and helped pull him up. “Are you okay?”

Nolan had his hands covering his face, he nodded and leaned more into Ryan who wrapped his arm around him more, “Thank you, you're going to be a good knight.” Ryan was frozen for a second, long enough for Nolan to push himself up and out of Ryan's arms. “I think I’m going to close up for today, thank you again, sir” 

Ryan watched as he walked away, tucking his arms around himself as he headed out the back door.

Ryan got up and met Sir Niskanen outside, “Is he gone?” he asked.

“Yes, took him a minute but finally got him to leave, how is Nolan?”

“A bit shaken but he'll be alright.”

Niskanen nodded before turning to him, “You did good today Ryan, I’m impressed.”

“Thank you sir, but I barely did anything really.”

“You stepped up, you protected Nolan when he needed help, that was noble of you.”

Ryan ducked his head, feeling his face heating up. They started to walk back towards Niskanen's house.

That was months ago. Since then Sir Niskenan, Matt now, retired leaving Ryan on his own. Ryan had gotten a letter of service stating that he was selected to join the royal guard and he was to report to the castle within a month.

He spent the days leading up to his journey in a daze. He kept up his usual rounds, stopping by the nearby shops and checking up on the older couple that ran the inn on the edge of town. Word had spread around the town that he was leaving soon. He was given some loaves of bread and fruit from the baker, the cobbler had presented him with new boots, even the blacksmith had given him a new blade, while it wasn't long enough to be a sword it was still an excellent gift.

His final stop as always was the tailor's shop. Nico had returned to his homeland two weeks ago leaving Nolan to tend the shop. Ryan had made it a point to stop at the shop last so he could have more time to talk to Nolan. 

As he entered the shop he saw Nolan perk up. “Ryan!” he said with a smile, coming out from around the small desk. He came up to Ryan and threw his arms around his neck pulling him into a hug, “I heard the news, I am so proud of you!”

Startled, he returned the hug, pulling him even closer, “Thank you Nolan.”

He reluctantly let go of Nolan who pulled away as well but left his hand on Ryans shoulders. “I always knew that you would become a knight,” he said.

Ryan let out a laugh, “You knew I would be a king's knight?”

Nolan nodded, “You're amazing Ryan, you're going to be the best knight in the whole land.”

“Thank you, for believing in me, for being my friend.”

Nolan jumped a bit before turning away, “I have something for you, just wait a minute.” he then turned and walked back into the clothes and began to dig through the fabrics.

“You didn't need to get me anything.” Ryan called out.

Nolan poked his head out from behind and smiled at him, “I know, but I was going to anyway but then Sir Niskanen came by and ordered this just for you.”

That caused Ryan to stop, he hadn't seen Matt in a long time, the last he'd seen him was at his retirement ceremony that was held at the inn.

He was lost in thought that he was startled when Nolan came back up to him holding a piece of fabric in his hands.

He examined the piece as Nolan talked about it. The piece itself was small, almost like a handkerchief stitched with his house's crest on it combined with the crest of the town.

“This is beautiful Nolan, how did you know what my crest was?”

Nolan blushed at that, “I had to ask around, Mary from the bookshop helped me find a good picture to work off of.”

Ryan pulled Nolan into another hug, “Thank you Nolan I love this.”

“You're welcome” He whispered back.

“You have to write to me please? I’ll miss seeing you everyday.”

It was Ryan's turn to blush now, “Of course I’ll write, I’ll write everyday if you want me too.”

Nolan laughed at him, Looking into his eyes and smiling, “I’ll miss you, Ryan, Sir Ryan”

Ryan pulled away again and started to walk out the door, “I’ll write Nolan, I promise.”

Nolan blushed again, and smiled at him as he walked out. Outside Ryan unfolded the handkerchief and ran his fingers over the delicate stitching, over where his crest merged into this town. He felt something in the corner and flipped it over, there he found Nolans signature stitched into the edge. He rubbed his finger over the small NP and smiled before folding it up and heading back to his house to continue packing. Tomorrow he would wake up as the sun rose and he would mount his horse and ride for a day until he arrived at the palace gates where everything he had worked for has led to.

 

The journey to the palace was long, he had finally made it to the main gate right as the sun was beginning to set. He was stopped by the guards who demanded his papers. He handed them over and was let in.

As he rode through the gates and took everything in he couldn't believe he had made it. Another guard met him at the entrance and he dismounted his horse.

“Welcome, I'm to take you to your quarters and someone else will take your horse to the stables.” 

Ryan thanked the man and followed him inside. Inside was even more amazing than the outside, walls lined with rugs and candles. Statues along the halls. He let himself get lost in it when the man leading him finally stopped in front of a door. 

“This is the knights quarters, this is where you'll eat and sleep. You will not leave here unless it's to train or you have orders, do you understand?”

“Yes sir.” Ryan replied.

The man accepted his answer and walked off, leaving Ryan standing outside the door. He could hear sounds of the other knights inside, most likely new ones like himself. He cautiously opened the door and stepped inside. A few heads turned but no one paid him any attention. He headed back through a door where the beds were and laid his bag down on an empty bed in the corner. He sat down and took in his surroundings. He reached into his pocket and ran his fingers over the stitching of the handkerchief that Nolan gave him.

“Hey man where you from?” A voice startled him out of his head. He looked up to find a man standing above him.

“I… Um… I'm from the town of the flyers,” Ryan held out his hand, “I'm Ryan, you?”

The man smiled, “I would've guessed from the kingdom of Denver but that wouldn't make sense, I'm Travis from the kingdom of Ontario, nice to meet you.”

Ryan smiled and let himself get lost in the conversation. Travis seemed like a genuine guy and he could tell that he was going to have a good time here.

 

Ryans days consisted of a lot of the same. He rose when the sun did and grabbed breakfast in the kitchen before returning to the knights room and eating with the others. Most days he would sit and talk with Travis and another knight named Sam. Samy was from the kingdom of Quebec and would speak about how he chose to become a knight after meeting one years ago.

Sam would speak about how when he completed his training, he was going to head west to the kingdom of Denver to find him and prove that he was just as good as him.

Everytime Sam would tell this story Ryan could see the faraway look in his eyes making him think that there was more to the story than what he was being told.

After breakfast the three of them would head down to the fields where they would spend most of the day training. They would switch who they fought often and Ryan never felt more challenged in his life.

They would train with various weapons, each trying to find their own styles. Ryan found he had a preference for the long sword. Using it to reach for his opponents while maintaining his distance. Sam enjoyed throwing knives, mainly because he was small and fast, he could get in close and be away from an enemy before they noticed that he was there. Travis himself favored both the spear and the bow and arrow. None of them truly enjoyed hand to hand combat but it was obvious that Ryan was the best out of all of them.

After training was Ryan's favorite time. This was when they would receive letters from home and they were given time to relax out of the eyes of their superiors.

It had been almost three months since Ryan arrived at the palace and he and Nolan had exchanged a few letters. They mostly talked about what was happening in the village and Ryan would tell him about the things his new friends would get into. It had been a while since Ryan had written back to Nolan, as he reread the last letter he received he felt himself becoming sentimental. Wanting to speak to Nolan he grabbed the paper and began to write.

Dearest Nolan,

It is my sincerest apologies that it has taken me so long to get back to you. You see my days here, while not eventful, are always filled.

I struggle to pick up the pen sometimes with how sore my arms are after sparring. But if it means I can get another letter from you then I’ll just have to force myself next time.

The other day Travis found a few of your letters. He wanted me to tell you that he is expecting a pair of gloves when he meets you. However I wouldn't dare introduce you two, I fear the shenanigans that you’ll get to if you were to meet.

I write to you now, wanting to speak frankly. I miss you Nolan. I miss seeing you around town or in your shop. Letting the children run amuck outside your store. I miss your hair, braided behind your ears. I miss your smile and laugh that you’ll allow me to see. I even miss that gaudy pair of pants that you insist on wearing some days.

Being in the castle, alone, has made me wish for your company. My friends are fine, yes but they don't compare to you. I get my new orders within the next coming days and I have already put in a request to return home, to you. If they grant it, I hope then you’ll save me a dance at the next ball that Marie holds. You don't have to write back to me. But please keep me in your thoughts.

My Love,

Ryan

 

Ryan folded the letter and sealed it. He placed it in the basket along with the others that he was never planning on sending. He often found himself writing letters to Nolan where he couldn’t help writing his feelings. He knew that he could never show them but it was nice to get the thoughts out of his head. He picked up another paper and began to write his real response. In this one he talked about Sam's knight and how Travis accidentally shot an arrow at a higher knight. It ended with them having to wash the bathroom but it had been worth it in his opinion. Finally he finished and put the real letter in the pile with the other ones that would be delivered shortly.

The next day found Ryan in the same routine as always. But when they all settled down for dinner a messenger appeared at the door.

“I have a request for sir ryan, sir travis, and sir samuel, to be at his majesty's throne room now.” The messenger said before leaving.

The room fell silent, everyone looking at them. Ryan looked at them, their faces wide with shock. Travis cleared his throat before standing, “Well we don't want to keep anyone waiting do we?”

That got Sam and him to stand and walk out the door. They were not permitted to walk the halls alone most of the time. 

 

They walked down the long hallway, no one daring to speak. Ryan kept his hands behind him so the others couldn't see him wringing them together.

They finally came to a stop at the large doors to the throne room.

“Well, here goes nothing I guess.” Travis said before pushing into the room.

The three of them walked up to the throne where the king was waiting. King Claude stood tall above them, his face set into a hard line, his eyes locked on them with a cold stare.

The king kept his eyes on them as he walked down the stairs. “Gentlemen,” he said, his voice carrying across the empty hall. “I’ve heard good things about you three, the knights who you squired have nothing but praise for you.”

He stopped in front of Travis, “Sir Simmonds tells me that you’re good with the spear.”

Travis swallowed before speaking, “yes my lord, we trained in the riverlands after patrols.”

The king nodded before turning to Sam, “Sir Bellemare told me about how cunning you are, that won't be a problem here, will it?” His eyes bore into Sam's own.

Sam stared straight back at him though, “No my lord”

He nodded before finally turning to Ryan, “and Sir Niskanen told me about your determination, I feel lucky that you're here today.”

Ryan nodded, “Thank you my lord.”

The king nodded again before turning around and grabbing three rolled up pieces of paper and handing one to each of them.

“These are your orders, you'll each be accompanying another knight and be observing how they work. I trust that if this is a successful outing that you'll be ready for your real orders soon after.”

Ryans eyes grew wide. He expected that it would be at least a year before he got his actual orders. He glanced at Travis and Sam, Travis was gripping his paper tightly in his hands, his eyes never leaving the king. Sam however was holding himself stiffly, his eyes locked in a cold stare at the ground. Ryan had never seen his friend look like this, it was worrying him.

They were soon released and allowed back to the barracks where they were met with cheers and celebrations from the others. Ryan was thanking the others when he noticed Sam slip into the rooms without anyone noticing. Ryan was going to follow before he was being pulled back into the festivities.

 

At night Ryan awoke to sounds coming from a few beds away. Everyone had gone to sleep a while ago so he got up to investigate. On the other side of the room was Sam, he was stuffing items into a bag, dressed in dark clothes.

“Sam?” he whispered into the room.

Sam's head snapped up, his eyes wide. He raised a finger to his lip before motioning him to follow.

Ryan followed Sam back into the meal room. “What's going on?” he asked.

“Have you looked at your orders?” was his response.

“Not yet, I got distracted.”

“I cannot complete mine, I will not do it, I have to leave.”

Ryan blinked at him in disbelief, “You can't refuse an order Sam, not at our level, they'll arrest you.”

Sam held his chin up, “They’ll have to find me first, I’d rather be thrown in jail than do what they want.”

“Sam please, what do your orders say?” Ryan pleaded with him.

“When we met with the king he said he talked to the knights we squired right?”

Ryan nodded, not quite following what Sam was trying to say.

“The king said Sir Bellemare talked to him,” his face turning into a grimace, “I have never met Bellemare, I wasn't his squire.”

“So? He got the name wrong, that's not a big deal, he's probably talked to many knights about the new guys.”

Sam shook his head, he tossed his order papers on the table, “Look for yourself”

Ryan opened the papers, it said: Sir Girard will accompany Sir Voracek on the journey to arrest and bring back rogue knight Sir Calvert. He is wanted for treason against the king. Bring back dead or alive.

“My knight was not Sir Bellemare, I trained under the noble Sir Calvert.” Sam revealed. Ryan looked up from the papers, seeing tears forming in Sams eyes.

“I knew Calvert well, he spoke nothing ill towards this kingdom and I do not trust what they are trying to do here.”

Sam started to pace, “I am leaving, I am going to warn Matt before Voracek can get to him. We’ll flee somewhere safe.”

Ryan shook his head in disbelief, “Sam if these are your orders you have to do them, you could end up on this paper if you don't.”

“Then let me be wanted, I refuse to harm Calvert, he has done nothing,” Sam said with determination on his face, “What do yours say?”

Ryan pulled out his papers from his pocket, “They say I have to return to my home with Sir Hayes and collect payments from people, and to bring them back if they refuse.”

Sam grabbed his arm, “Ryan I do not trust this, You know that something isn't right, please come with me, we'll get to Matt and head to the kingdom of Denver and they'll protect us.”

Ryan realized something then, “They'll protect us or will Erik protect us?”

Sam blinked, “what?” he asked.

“You're just trying to see Erik aren't you? That's why you want to leave so badly, you got your knighthood and now you're leaving.”

Sam shook his head, “Ryan no, no, I promise that's not it, everything I told you about Sir Calvert has been true, please come with me and I will prove it.”

Ryan shook off his hand and turned away, “Go, leave, I was not here, I never saw you leave and we never had this conversation.”

Sam opened his mouth to respond before deciding against it. He picked up his papers again before walking to the window.

“Goodbye my friend. Maybe we'll see each other again.” He said before climbing out and running into the night.

 

The next morning Sam's departure was all anyone could talk about. He had left a note along with his helmet that said he was sorry but he was done.

People kept asking him and Travis if Sam had told them anything, Ryan tried hard to convince them that he was just in the dark as travis. He couldn't help feeling uneasy though. The way Sam had spoken with such anger towards the king and the others was shocking. It bothered Ryan to his core but he didn't get a chance to think about it because it was time for him and Travis to leave.

They met their partners at the gates. Hayes was a tall man, as tall as Ryan himself. He had an expression on his face of a defeated man, the opposite of Niskanen. Hayes motioned to the horses that were prepared for them and they both mounted them, then they were on their way back.

Ryan and Hayes didn't talk much on the trip. Hayes preferred to only speak when there was information to know and to tell. During the silence Ryan let his mind wander to what could happen when they finally got to the town. Maybe if things went smoothly he'd be able to stop by Nolans shop. It had been so long since he'd last seen him.

The two finally breached the edge of town, it wouldn't be long before they arrived now.

Ryan turned his head towards Hayes asking, “who are we collecting money from?”

“A shopkeeper, the tailor I believe” was his response.

Ryan slowed down, He didn't know a lot about Nolan but he knew that he would never take a loan from someone, he was too proud to do something like that. Nevertheless he picked up speed again and caught up to Hayes as they finally entered the town. 

Ryan pulled off a bit, ready to dismount but Hayes stopped him. He motioned him to get back on his horse and follow him.

They drawed a large crowd, everyone coming out of their stores and homes to get a look at them. Ryan knew that not many recognized him, he was gone for some time and his hair had grown quite long, plus he was wearing a king's helmet.

In the crowd Ryan spotted the tailor's shop. Nolan had the door slightly open, his head peeking out. When he finally saw them, he paled before slamming the door shut.

Ryan and Hayes stopped at the door to the shop. “Let me handle this, if it goes south you're the backup, understand?” Hayes said.

Ryan nodded but he couldn't make himself speak, a lump forming in his throat.

Hayes didn't bother knocking, he just pushed his way in through the door, Ryan closed behind him.

Nolan was nowhere to be seen however, which seemed to anger Hayes.

“Patrick! I know you're here!” Hayes called out into the shop. His face turned down into a frown, he eyed the stairs that Ryan knew led up to Nolans rooms.

“Patrick I know you're up there, come down now or I’ll be forced to get you myself!” He shouted once more.

He was getting agitated Ryan could tell. So he stepped forward and called up to where he assumed Nolan was hiding, “Nolan please come down, it'll be okay I promise.”

Hayes quickly turned his head to look at him in shock, almost disbelief. Hayes opened his mouth to call up again but before he could Nolan emerged slowly down the stairs.

He looked at Ryan before turning to Hayes. “I made my last payment last month, that is what you said, there should be no reason for you to be here.” He stated.

Hayes’s face turned up into a devilish grin, “I'm just following orders sweet thing”

Nolan flinched at that, bringing his arms up around him. Seeing him look so vulnerable and uncomfortable made Ryan want to wrap him up in his arms but he stood his ground.

“I can give you all that I have now, it won't be much but it's what I have.” Nolan said.

Hayes just shook his head, “You know the rules baby, you can either pay us in full or you return with us for your punishment.”

Nolan's eyes widened, “No I was told that I made my last payment, I will not be giving you anything.”

Hayes’s smile grew impossibly bigger, he stepped forward menacingly while Nolan stepped back in fear.

“Please” was all he said, his eyes locked on Ryan.

Hayes cackled, “your boy isn't going to help you, he has orders that he has to follow.”

Nolan shook his head, he launched himself at Ryan. Tears flowing down freely now, he was pleading at Ryan to help him. Ryan couldn't do anything, he was frozen, like something had taken over him.

Hayes laughed again, he grabbed Nolans arms and bound them together before tying a handkerchief around his mouth and eyes before dragging him outside.

He called out to Ryan, “Get the money from the drawers and anything of value, I’ll meet you at the castle.” Hayes said.

Ryan watched as he dragged Nolan out, him struggling against his grip. He heard Hayes’s horse ride off but he still couldn't bring himself to move.

He slowly walked out of the store. His mind was still reeling when he saw them.

Nico and Sir Niskanen were standing in front of the crowd. Matt's arm was wrapped around Nico, holding him up. Nico had a hand over his mouth and tears streaking down his face. Ryan looked over to Matt and watched as he shook his head slowly. He let go of Nico for a moment before approaching Ryan.

His eyes were hard, his face turned down into a scowl, “What happened to having a good heart? What happened to you Ryan?” he asked.

“I- I was following orders, I didn't know..” Ryan trailed off, he glanced behind Matt to see Nico still crying and it made Ryan swallow a lump again.

“Do you follow any orders even if it means pain for those you love? you’ll allow that?” Matt demanded.

Ryan shook his head, pleading at Matt, “I didn't know what was happening, I swear, I didn't, you have to believe me.”

“I’ll believe you when Nolan is returned, unharmed.” With that Matt turned his back to Ryan, He gathered Nico under his arm again, he looked back at Ryan once more, his eyes disappointed, before walking off into the distance.

 

Ryan stepped into the castle silently. He kept his head low, not looking at where he was going, ignoring the questions from his fellow knights.

He was almost back to the barracks when a hand grabbed his shoulder and pulled him back. It was Travis, he looked pale, he had a bruise on his jaw as well.

Ryan lifted an eyebrow at his appearance, “Travis?”

“Ryan, come with me” was all he said before rushing down the hall and turning a corner.

Ryan followed behind him. They turned down corners and hallways, Ryan already feeling lost. Travis stopped in front of a staircase, glancing behind to make sure that he was following. They went down the stairs and entered through another door that led to a tiny room.

Ryan stood in the doorway as he watched Travis pace back and forth in the small room.

“Travis what's going on?” he asked.

Travis just shook his head and continued to pace, “this is messed up man, something isn't right.”

Travis stopped pacing and grabbed Ryan by the shoulders, “We were set up, somehow, I know it, you, me, and I'm sure Sam as well.”

“Set up?”

“I went with Raffl to get supplies, or that's what I thought, but then Raffl, he started demanding stuff from the owner, saying that he had to give it to us or there would be consequences. Raffl and I aren't the biggest so the owner had someone kick us out but… We came back later, at night, Raffl kicked the door in and told me to grab as much as I could, I must've hesitated or something cause he hit me,” He motioned to his bruisie, “I ran out of there and Raffl followed… not before setting the shop on fire… I asked about the owner and he said they were fine and we left.... But I could hear them, Ryan, they were still in there, they were trapped.” Travis explained frantically.

Ryan tried to process what he was being told. He watched as Travis continued to pace before he collapsed on the ground, tears flowing down his face. Ryan slowly sunk down next to him, wrapping his arms around Travis and pulling him in close.

“What have I done Ryan? This isn't what I wanted,” He sobbed, “I just wanted to make my family proud, I wanted to help people!”

They sat there in that room for who knows how long. Both of them held onto each other as they cried. Travis for hurting those who didn't deserve it and Ryan for hurting those he loved.

Eventually they calmed down. They both sat there in silence before Travis spoke, “This is why Sam left isn't it?”

Ryan could only nod, knowing that he should've left with Sam when he had the chance. But he had made his choice that night, and somehow it spiraled to being here, on the floor of a random room in the castle that seemed to be covering something more sinister than what he had thought.

“Sam knew something was wrong, his orders were something closer to mine, he refused to do it and left to warn the person he wanted me to come with.” Ryan said,

Travis didn't look at him, just continued to stare at the same place on the wall, “Did he say where he was going?”

“I assume to the kingdom of Denver, that's where his knight is.”

“Then I’m going there too.” Travis stated.

Ryan looked at him and thought for a second before responding, “I will join you.”

“We leave tonight then” Travis finally looked at him, determination spread across his face.

“We’ll meet at the stables after everyone is asleep, I will meet you there, if I’m not there as soon as the moon is at its peak, leave without me, I’ll be right behind you.” was Ryan's response. He was going to follow but he needed to find Nolan first. Then he could finally be free from whatever twisted thing was happening here.

They shook hands and left, Travis turning towards their barracks, and Ryan the opposite, hoping to find wherever they could be keeping Nolan.

He followed the twisting hallways, turning multiple corners and opening random doors he came across. He didn't know how long he was searching, not getting any closer. He wanted to give up but everytime he went to turn around the image of Nolan being dragged away burned into his head. That coupled with the disappointed face of Matt and Nico when they were outside.

He finally made it to the last door in the hallway he was in. He pushed it open to find stairs leading up. He stepped inside and closed the door behind him. As he climbed the stairs he began to hear voices, their voices weren’t distinct, but they didn't sound like anyone he had heard before.

The voices seemed calm. Talking to another person who had yet to speak. He climbed up before he got to a door that was at the top of the ceiling. He knocked lightly on it, the voices abruptly cut off and the sound of scrambling feet running away made his heart start beating faster.

Ryan pushed the door up and poked his head through. He looked around the room to see beds pushed along the wall. Directly in front of him there were men, all young and disheveled. There were two of them, both looking too skinny and too bruised for Ryan to assume anything good. The men were chained by their ankles to a post on one of the beds. One of them, tall and blonde, slowly stood up and walked towards Ryan.

“They said that we were to be left alone today.” The man said, crossing his arms around his naked chest.

Ryan just opened his mouth, not knowing what to say. He started to push himself up through the door on the ground but froze when the man flinched back.

“I… I'm not here for anyone, I won't do anything, please trust me.” He said to the man.

The man didn't look like he believed him until a voice called out from behind him, “He's telling the truth.”

That seemed to be good enough for the man in front of him who held out his hand and pulled Ryan up into the room. He closed the door and offered his hand back to the man. “Thank you sir, I'm-”

The man cut him off, “we know who you are Sir. with all due respect, can you tell us who you need and get on with it.”

Startled Ryan shook his head fast, “I don't, I'm not, I..”

Someone laughed behind him, “Oskar please, you know he's not doing anything like that, stop teasing.”

Oskar scowled at the man behind Ryan, “Just because you met one nice knight doesn't mean they're all like that, be grateful Claude thinks you're too young to have yet.”

Oskar turned around and sat down on the bed he was chained to, the one next to him moved onto his as well.

Ryan finally got a chance to look around. The space was smaller than he thought. There were nearly ten men in there with him but there only seemed to be four or five beds. The ones not chained to the beds were chained to a place on the wall, which made the distance that they could walk around shorter than others.

“If you're not here for one of us, then why are you here?” Oskar asked.

Ryan paused, unsure what to say. He hadn't expected to come across a room of men that he had never seen before. “I’m looking for someone.” he finally said.

Oskar raised an eyebrow, “And they are?”

“Nolan?” he said, “he's about this tall, long hair...”

That seemed to get everyone's attention, the tension in the room began to grow. Ryan looked around again to see that almost everyone was avoiding looking at him. He finally looked back at Oskar who had a scowl on his face, “What could you possibly want with him?”

“I… I know you don't know me but I've made a mistake and I want to correct it. Me another, we're leaving tonight for a safer place, and if there's any chance that Nolan is here, I want to take him with me… to make sure he's safe.” He pleaded.

Oskar glanced around the room, “How can I trust that you're telling the truth? Many knights have come here saying they'll save us but it never happens.”

Ryan reached into his pocket and pulled out the handkerchief that Nolan had given him so long ago, he held it out to Oskar for his inspection. “I know you have no reason to trust me. But when Nolan gave that to me, I made a promise that I would never forget him, I nearly broke that and I won't ever do it again.”

Oskar examined the fabric in his hands before nodding. He turned to Ryan, still looking at the handkerchief. “Wait here,” he said. He then reached down and wiggled his ankle free of the chain, and walked off into a darker corner of the room and stepped through a hidden door.

One of the men patted the bed next to him, waiting for Ryan to sit. When he did, the others also slipped free of their chains and slowly moved around him. A few kept their distance but one of them sat directly next to him, grabbing his arm and wrapping it around him.

Ryan looked down at the man, a boy really, who had tucked himself into Ryan. A few of the others just shook their heads at him, as if this happened often.

“You said you and another were leaving?” the boy asked, his blue eyes staring holes into Ryan.

“Yes, tonight, that's why I need to find Nolan, before anyone can notice we're gone.”

“Who else is going?” 

“I shouldn't tell you, it's safer that way.”

The boy pouted, “But I need to know.”

Ryan laughed, “how can I trust you though? We just met and I don't even know your name.”

“I'm Jack, see now you can trust me.”

Ryan went to respond but was interrupted by Oskar coming back into the room. When he saw Ryan and Jack he just rolled his eyes.

“Jack leave him alone, Ryan, Nolan has agreed to speak with you, but if he tells you to leave, you leave, understood?” He said.

“Yes of course, thank you Oskar.” Ryan said. He pushed himself up and headed to the area where Oskar came from.

He stepped into the secret room. Thats where he found Nolan, wrapped in a blanket, sitting on a bed, his back to Ryan.

“Nolan” he whispered. Nolan didn't react, just pulled the blanket tighter around him. Ryan noticed that he was staring at the handkerchief that Oskar must've given to him.

“I carried it with me everyday, I kept it hidden so it wouldn't get stolen or dirty…” he trailed off, Nolan finally turning to look at him. “I would look at it every night, before I would sleep, I would write letters and hold it in my hand, to remind me of what was waiting for me when I finally came home.”

Nolan shifted a bit, facing Ryan more now. That encouraged him enough to continue. “When I saw that my orders were to go back home, I was so excited to see you, I wanted to write to you that night but I figured I would surprise you instead… I never thought that this would happen, I swear.”

Nolan finally raised his head, his face red with tears. Ryan slowly reached out to grab Nolans hand. When he didn't flinch or pull away he finally said what he wanted, “Me and Travis, were leaving tonight, heading for Denver, come with us.”

“You let him take me Ryan” Nolan whispered.

Ryan looked down in shame, “I did, and I have no excuse as to why, I wasn't thinking, I didn't know what was happening I swear, please let me make this right, let me get you safe.”

Nolan nodded slowly once more, “I’ll go with you.”

Ryan let out a laugh and pulled Nolan close. He tried to convey how happy he was that Nolan trusted him still in that hug. He felt him relax in his arms, Nolan bringing his own around Ryan.

He doesn't know how long they sat there but reluctantly Ryan pulled back. He helped Nolan collect his few things he had before they stepped out the door. Ryan held out his hand for Nolan to take and his heart started to beat faster when Nolan accepted it.

They stepped back into the room and they were immediately stopped by Jack standing in front of them. He looked upset, tears threatening to break free from his eyes.

“Who did you say was going with you?” He demanded.

“Jack, what-”

“Who are you taking with you? Who is the other knight?” He spoke again, his voice rough.

“Travis, Sir Konecny,” Ryan responded.

Jack wrapped his arms around himself, shaking his head. He walked slowly back to the beds where the others were, “No, no, he said he would take me with him, he promised me.” The tears finally flowed down his face.

Oskar wrapped Jack up in his arms, rocking the young man slowly, trying to get him to calm down. They approached the bed and heard Oskar talking low to Jack. “I told you to protect your heart, That these men make promises they don't intend to keep.”

“He was different!” Jack yelled, “He..he was going to take me back to my brothers, to my family.”

Ryan went to say something but a hand on his shoulder stopped him. It was Noaln, saying softly that they should leave. Ryan nodded and let himself be led to the door, he looked back one last time, to the men. He made eye contact with Oskar who called out, “Once you get to Denver, tell the king that I’m still waiting.”

With that they left the room. Ryan had many questions that he wanted to ask but the moon was almost at its peak now and he didn't want Travis to be alone. Ryan led them through the halls, turning the corners and hiding when he heard footsteps. Somehow they managed to finally make it to the back stables where Travis was waiting with two horses.

At the sight of them both Travis’s eyebrows raised. Ryan held up a hand to silence his questions. They could talk once they made it far enough away. They mounted the horses and were finally on their way. Ryan didn't look back as the castle faded into the distance. He didn't know where he had gone wrong. This was something that he always wanted, to be a knight and to fight for the kingdom. He wanted to be respected and to have the honor of having someone to love.

But here he is, riding on horses away from a cruel king who didn't care about his subjects. With the man who he cared for so much behind him, only due to his own foolishness because he couldn't protect him before. They were fleeing to a kingdom where they weren't sure they would protect them. He doesn't know what would happen once they reached Denver, he could only hope that they would find Sam and he would help them be safe.

 

They rode for hours, not stopping until the sun began to rise. They made it to a small village where they all got a room for the night. Nolan refused to be alone, choosing to bunk in Ryan's room with him. They sat next to each other, in silence for a while. Neither of them sure what to say.

Nolan reached out and grabbed Ryan's hand, “Thank you, I… I don't know what would've become of me if you didn't show up.” he whispered.

“I would do anything for you, you have to know that.” Ryan whispered back. He wrapped his arm around Nolans shoulders pulling him in close. Nolan leaned his head on his chest, they let the silence wash over them once more.

Ryan was dragging his hand slowly through Nolans hair when he spoke up again. “My family was poor, they did everything they could to take care of me and my sisters but… they were barely holding on.”

Ryan didn't say anything, just let Nolan continue, “When my youngest sister was born, they took out a loan from the king, he wasn't like how he is now, he was kind and understanding.”

“It was a few years later when things started to change. He started to send more knights more often for payments, and one time they didn't have enough, the knights threatened to take me and my sisters, my parents begged and pleaded and eventually the knights left.” His eyes were closed now, trying to block out the memories.

Ryan just held him closer, not wanting to break the moment, “when they died, My sisters moved in with our aunt and I stayed, I had met Nico and he wanted to open a shop and I agreed, I thought the visits from the knights would stop, but they found me, kept coming back and everytime they did, I feared that they would take me,” he laughed, “And they finally did.”

“You're here now, no one is going to get you” Ryan whispered into his hair, “I will fall on my own sword before I let you get taken again.”

Nolan slowly pulled away, Ryan sadly let him, missing the warmth from his body already. Nolan looked into his eyes, searching for something. He brought up a shaky hand and cupped Ryans cheek. They both leaned in slowly, their lips connecting softly. Nolan let out a sigh as Ryan pulled him impossibly closer.

They kissed for a while, Ryan turning them over and pressing Nolan into the bed. He pulled back a bit, “Is this alright?” he asked.

Nolan nodded, and pulled Ryan back down. They melted into each other, getting lost in each other as neither of them had before.

 

The next morning Ryan woke up to the sun slowly seeping through the window. Nolan has wrapped up in his arms, his head resting on his chest once more. Ryan brushed his hand along his side, feeling the soft skin that was littered in small marks from the night before.

Ryan was watching Nolan, his face soft with sleep. Nothing was out to get them at that moment. He let himself get lost in the memories while Nolan slowly woke up. His blue eyes blinking the sleep away, He gave Ryan the smallest smile and snuggled closer into him.

 

Reluctantly they had to get up and continue riding. They were only a few miles out from the kingdom of Denver and they wanted to get there before nightfall. They paid the owner and set out again on their horses.

The sun was setting by the time they passed through the town. Travis was leading the way to the castle, Ryan and Nolan right behind.

They finally reached the gates where there was one guard stationed there, which was surprising to see after seeing the 5 or 6 guards who were always stationed outside the Gates of Philadelphia.

“Who goes there!” The guard shouted at them. They dismounted and walked slowly up to him. 

It was Travis who spoke, “My name is Sir Travis, I travel with my fellow knight Sir Ryan and his companion, who seek asylum in your kingdom from Philadelphia, under the rule of King Claude.”

The guard sized them up, “Philadelphia you say? Follow me gentlemen.” He turned and led them into the castle.  Ryan paid attention to the halls, lined with art and different lights. It was a much bigger contrast that he began to notice. 

The guard stopped in front of a room, “The king is in here, welcome to Denver.” The guard took off his helmet and held out a hand to them each. When Ryan shook his hand the man flashed a wide, toothless grin at him. It took Ryan a second before he connected the dots, this guard was the one that Sam told him about. Ryan returned the smile and walked into the room.

Inside was a man, the king Ryan assumed, he was sitting at his desk, a servant at his side. The man looked up and flashed a bright smile at them.

“Gentlemen, welcome, I am King Gabriel, how may I assist you?”

Ryan stepped forward this time, holding Nolans hand in his own, “My lord, we come from the kingdom of Philadelphia, under the code of king Claude, we have abandoned the king after revealing dark inventions under his rule, a fellow knight who trained with us came here months ago, we hope you can open your arms to us three as well.”

The king raised an eyebrow at them, “dark intentions you say?”

Ryan nodded, “The king ordered us to do heinous things, Travis witnessed his partner kill a family, and I witnessed my,” He looked back to Nolan, “My partner here, be kidnapped, and Sam, the one who came here before, he was to kill the knight he squired under.”

“I see, well then, of course you can stay, we welcome you to stay, under our protection.” the King said.

“Under one condition,” He continued, “you knights will serve for us when you are deemed ready? Do you agree?”

Travis and Ryan agreed fast, thanking him. They were exiting the room when Ryan remembered Oskars words. He paused and turned back to the king, “I apologize for speaking out of turn, sir but someone I know wanted me to give you a message.” 

The king gestured to him to continue, “Oskar wanted me to tell you, that he is still waiting…” he trailed off.

The king looked taken back, “Thank you, I… Thank you for the message.” He said before turning back to his papers.

Ryan left finally and was led to his room where Nolan was waiting.

Nolan looked up at him as he entered. He jumped up from the bed and wrapped his arms around Ryans next. “We're free Ryan!” he laughed, “We're finally free!”

Ryan wrapped his arms around Nolan, planting a soft kiss to his lips, “Were free Nolan, were here together and were safe”

They looked at each other again, looking into each other's eyes and laughing more. They both pulled each other close, happy to finally be together where they had no fears.

 

Ryan Graves was a simple man. He wanted to do right by the world. And sometimes he might've done the wrong thing. But in this room, far away from a corrupt king, with his love in his arms. He knew that no matter what happened next, they would be okay.