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Feliciano and the King of Hearts

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Four kingdoms exist in this world. Clubs, Diamonds, Spades and the focus of our story, Hearts.

The Hearts Kingdom was as proud as all the other kingdoms, with richness in culture, history and tradition. They were widely known for their dedications to the arts, shown everywhere to their landscapes and architecture. They were also known for their sternness, for their honors in maintaining an outlook that was prideful and respectful to the other kingdoms. Their Kings and Queens were taught to show these very qualities, a couple of power and high stature that would continue to keep the kingdom with the prosperity it had never failed to withhold.

The citizens of the kingdom looked up to them, for it was their union that gave richness and life to their land, and as such were treated like the gods they worshipped and were given incredible amounts of wealth to sustain the high lifestyle that pleased them and gave them perseverance to keep doing the best for their kingdom. The Jack was in charge of making sure that the King and Queen were faithful to their people, that their jobs and their wishes were fulfilled as they hoped. They tried to keep the two together, their relationship in balance and any of the situations around them. The Jack was as needed and as powerful as the position of King and Queen, and was rightfully respected as such.

For years, the Italian province was in charge of bearing, raising and then giving the Jack to the kingdom, to serve the King and Queen in the capital city in the German province.

In the past, back in the days when the Kingdom of Hearts was still new and many say it was at its most prosperous, the Italian province was in charge of bearing the Kings, many of the most powerful and historic ones. But as times passed, the German province took that position, and for centuries they had bared the Kings.

The Queen could be from any of the main three provinces, but in the past had been born mostly to the Japanese province. That also changed a couple of centuries back, and now most of the Queens were also from the German province, a Jack sometimes being Japanese and others Italian.

But this year, what a turn it had been.

For the first time in centuries, a Queen had been born in Italy. The Kingdom and even others were in great celebration because a King or Queen from Italy usually meant change or a chance for new riches and great ideas for the years to come.

Augusto, the grandfather of the baby boy, proud himself, held a great ball to celebrate the baby’s birth.

The Valenti were a family of the greatest nobility in Italy, known for being the family line which held Romulus’s heritage, one of the greatest Kings of Hearts. Thus, they had a home large enough to accommodate all the people that had come for the celebration.

People from all provinces came, as well as others from different Kingdoms. They filled the acres of their lands with colorful flags and all kinds of gifts. Chariots, horses, dragons, phoenixes, and different forms of animals came that wondered all the children that were present. Music was in the air, songs of luck, of blessings and all the joy for the baby boy.

Even with the largeness of the Valenti land, there still wasn’t enough space to take in all the people who crowded outside, waiting for a turn to see the new awaiting Queen. Augusto, his daughter, Renata, and her husband made sure to attend even those outside with the best food of the province, hoping they each could entertain themselves with conversation and just the excited atmosphere from the new life that lay inside the household.

The house was prepared for the occasion, most furniture and ornaments moved aside to have more space and decorate everything with red flowers of their kingdom, as a symbol of welcoming to their newborn.

It was mostly those of nobility and of close friendship to the Valenti family who were inside, each admiring the beauty of the baby, who was now four months old, greeting with laughter at everyone who came to him.

“Oh, you’re just the cutest boy I’ve ever laid eyes on," little Elizabeta cooed, the young princess of Clubs, who enjoyed her time with the future Hearts Queen, playing with all the toys her family brought as gifts.

“Can I pick him up, Signora Valenti?” She asked Renata, who was in conversation with Elizaveta’s own mother.

She excused herself and went over to the richly decorated cradle, picking him up so lovingly and gentle, both sharing identical smiles.

“Of course, my dear.” She held him up to the girl, who nervously began taking him, making sure to hold him right, as the boy’s own mother did.

“Be careful with his head, tightly around his body now," she guided, until Elizaveta was sure she had a good grasp of him, rocking the baby and both sharing the same laughter from when they played. 

“Oh, he’s the most darling, Renata," Elizaveta’s mother complimented.

“Indeed he is. He will be the most beautiful Queen this kingdom has ever hard,” Augusto announced loudly for all to hear, having arrive from outside, holding Renata’s oldest son, and the older brother of the baby, Lovino.

“Oh, papa!” Renata seemed to scold, but deep inside her she hoped that would be the case.

She noticed the tears on Lovino’s eye, plus the scrape on his knee. “Lovino, tesoro, what happened?” Confiding that Elizaveta would hold her baby well, she headed to her own father’s side, wanting to hold the two year old herself, rocking and calming him from whatever hurt he went through.

The young boy wiped the tears from his eyes, settling then in the chest of his mother, wrapping his arms around her. Renata did not mind this, holding him just as tight, her hands caressing his back hoping that it would better soothe him.

“Saw one of the griffins the Diamond royals brought. He chased after it and wouldn’t leave it alone. It screeched at him after he grabbed its tails. He fell and began shouting out for me," Augusto told, a chuckle under his breath as he recalled it.

Renata couldn’t help but smile herself, her hold still as gentile as he soothed the boy for a nap.

Her own little baby boy, seeing the tears and sadness on his older brother’s face, began crying as well, loudly and one that Elizabeta could not deal with.

“Renata!” She called.

Renata, who had learned in the last few months to carry the weight of both her sons, came eagerly to take him into her arms as well. He was quickly rocked and the little baby settled his tears, also noticing the protective smile Lovino gave him. The baby laughed, kicking his legs, raising his arms, as if asking his brother to play with him.

“My precious boys," their grandfather cooed, coming close, rubbing his hand on Lovino’s hair, and caressing the baby’s cheek and little hands. “Lovino and Feliciano.”

It was such a beautiful scene to watch, the guests giving their own awes, smiles erupting to even the sourest face. Only the loud bang of the entrance doors was enough to bring it to a halt.

In entered Vincenzo, the boys’ father, a panic in his olive eyes that made everyone in the room look up worriedly.

“The King!” He shouted. “King Aldrich is coming!” And the room went into frenzy.

Augusto and Renata began to hurriedly organize anything that was moved or messed from their earlier celebrating. Feliciano was placed back on his cradle, watching as people began to run around the room, standing in their best postures, fixing their suits and dresses, becoming as stiff as if they were statues. Even the Valenti family, who stood right by the cradle, went through the same sudden transformation. Only Feliciano remained as he was, moving around rather impatiently hoping to be held by his grandfather or mother again.

A large coach had arrived to the gates of the house, four majestic horses dragging it about on its trip. It stopped right before a space left empty by others who were there, a clear entry way into the Valenti household. There was silence, but also whispers, many knowing that the coach held no other than the royal family of Hearts.

The doors extended open and out came the king, in his rich wear of reds and golds, tall, stern, powerful, but with movements so graceful and admirable to the many others who swooned at his presence. Along came the great and honorable queen, with rich wear to match her husband’s majesty, then there was their daughter with her husband and two younger sons.

Princess Monika’s youngest baby boy, Prince Ludwig, was born with the mark, and thus, after Aldrich, would be the next one to be King, and probably the young queen’s future husband. Of course he was brought along to see, Aldrich holding the one year old in his arms as he made his way, nodding and greeting to all the many that bowed to him as he walked on.

Two servants opened the grand doors for them, and Aldrich, having come here before, led his family down the known halls.

The amount of people that littered the halls halted, bowing and giving way until they finally reached the main room. Once there, everyone bowed instantly, synchronized in such a way that it was even beautiful.

“Your majesty,” even Augusto had bowed and addressed him as such.

“This is a surprise,” Aldrich scoffed.

Augusto was not one to greet him in such a way. In other circumstances, he would have embraced him, patted him hard on the back and laid a kiss on his cheek. But this time, he greeted him with the respect of a King, not even coming close, but only extending his arms as welcome to his home, and also presenting his family, especially the newest member, which was the reason of his travel, presence and even the celebration around them.

Each took their own time greeting one by one, until all that was missing was the young Feliciano. Aldrich, with his own grandson in his arms, moved first to the cradle where he first spotted the young boy, who stopped his fluttering to look up to the strange and serious looking man gazing at him entirely. He stayed staring for the longest time, not offering a smile, a hand or even an attack of tickles as everyone had done to him with each of their first meetings. The other young boy was just the same, staring with complete indifference, gazing away and trying to find something of better interest.

“I though you said it was a boy."

“Well, it is.” Augusto felt almost insulted that he dared doubt him.

Aldrich raised an eyebrow but didn’t question any further.

“He looks an awful lot like your daughter.” That had perked Renata’s attention, who smiled and bowed to the King once again.

Silence continued, he continuously stared on, with no words but judging eyes. The whole crowd awaited for new compliments or even insults, but nothing.

“Louis!” He called, and the Queen had come close to the cradle after having a small chat with Renata and Vincenzo.

She gazed down to the baby with the same uninterested eyes, but she was less fearsome than the two other men. It got Feliciano to laugh and smile, hands even extending to her for a touch or to even be held. Louis couldn’t hold her sternness any longer. She smiled back and even reached her hands to hold his little tiny ones, the small baby enjoying its softness and just the small attention and little act of love.

“What a darling." Finally a compliment from a Beilschmidt, the Queen more importantly. A united breath of relief filled the whole room.

Things settled and the ball continued with its earlier festiveness, even the Beilschmidts joining along in dances, chatter and drinks. The Queen had taken a fondness to the new younger Queen, having held him, granting a special blessing with magic, wishing him happiness and a long life. Wanting to spend her time now with the other Valenti, she placed the baby back in its cradle, leaving it quite alone for now, all the guests distracted with other company and anything the feast offered.

Only one guest seemed intrigued enough to come close to the cradle once again, little one year old Prince Ludwig, who still did not understand why this baby was given so much attention. He hoped to stay long enough to see, gazing to the other baby boy, who smiled and craved his attention like any other. Ludwig didn’t dare touch him, wanting to prove that he would not be fazed by whatever wonder this baby had used to grab all the adults’ attention. Yet baby Feliciano continued to laugh and smile to him, hoping that his own power could work to make the young prince smile himself.

Ludwig had rested his head to the edge of the cradle, beginning to tire, wanting to be held in the arms of his mother, or his grandmother. He thought of running to them instead, better than continuing to wait for something to come from this baby.

And it happened.

All it took was a single touch against his arm, holding the other rather tightly to his spot. Ludwig looked back to the baby and was perplexed by his big eyes, which seemed to beg for him to stay, to continue giving the company that he wished. The smile, the glow, the dependence in those little fingers, had Ludwig reaching, letting their hands intertwine, Feliciano shaking it excitedly, for he finally got the attention, the smile and the new friend he wanted.

You could say that it was with this little touch that it all began.

 

It was important for the King and Queen to have a stable relationship from the moment they met, being as babies, children, teenagers, adults or even later on. Because of this, the Beilschmidts continued their visits for the next months, for the two future rulers to become better acquainted. Sure, both their boys couldn’t do much as toddlers, but they had them be enough with each other to recognize and even call by their names to play as their speech grew. Their familiarity like their friendship began to grow, right upon the eyes of their families. Sometimes in the castle, Ludwig would beg to see his dear friend, and Feliciano went on nights crying if he didn’t see Ludwig. It was starting to become rather common that Ludwig would stay at the Valenti estate, either playing about in the fields, in the house or staying up for hours talking or reading the books Feliciano had in his room, immersed in the stories or the pictures they offered. The Valenti family didn’t even care anymore about preparing the house for his visit or acting accordingly to a prince. Ludwig was now like another member of the family, causing the same havocs that they were all used to seeing.

It was a beautiful spring day, a bright sun with sparse clouds, all the green was at its brightest and flowers were as colorful as the very rainbow that sometimes decorated the sky. It was the ideal peaceful weather to relax, nap, read a book or enjoy a picnic from. But with the constant clank of metals bouncing across these very fields, it didn’t seem like the best option.

Feliciano peeked his head from the top of a hill, hidden well under its wall, a bright red pot on his head giving him clear position, but the little four-year-old didn’t know that, to him this was the best of his strategic planning, a clear victory to him and his companion.

Ludwig peeked on with him as well, spotting their target picking some tomatoes from a well grown vine.

“Do you have your sword ready?” Feliciano whispered to him, and Ludwig raised a broom they had taken from the kitchen.

“What about your shield?” Ludwig in turn asked, and Feliciano raised an old foam panel.

They were ready, chuckling between themselves as they began to stand up, going over the hill as slowly. But even still, the armor they had whipped with strings and pans still continued to smash against themselves, creating more clanks and bonks enough to reveal themselves. Luckily, Antonio, a servant’s ten-year-old son, had been distracted enough with their tomatoes to notice the little soldiers ready to form their attack.

“For Glory!”

“For Honor!

"For Riches!”

“For the Gods!”

“For Hearts!” They shouted in turns, then screaming and chasing down the hill, enough of a noise to not only catch the attention of Antonio, but also some of the gardeners that were working there in peace.

They all rolled their eyes once they noticed that it was only the prince and the young master. Antonio on the other hand panicked, dropping his basket of tomatoes and looking around him for a place to hide before they got a blow on him. Luckily, that blow never came, for both the boys had underestimated the ground still moist by the rain that had befallen on the province the days before.

Ludwig’s foot was trapped by the ground, pulling him down until he landed on the big brown mess of mud. Feliciano tripped alongside and joined him, their prestigious white clothing dirtied immensely and yet the boys were still stuck hard enough, not to mention embarrass, to be able to stand or show their dirtied faces to those who had witnessed it. Many of the gardeners had laughed but yet didn’t do a thing to get close and help them, even Antonio lay in still shock, debating if he should run or help both the masters.

A maid, who had been searching for the missing pots all morning, quickly told the events to Signora Valenti. She had stopped immediately her short cooking lesson with Lovino to see if her son and the prince had been badly hurt and give them her best comforts. As she eased closer to them, making sure she herself didn’t fall into the mud, she saw that there was no ailment to them, just dirty clothes, skin and hair.

They looked quite adorable trying to get out and get rid of much as they could from them, dropping their ‘weapons’ ‘shields’ and ‘armor’ as well. Renata giggled, helping both boys out, not minding that she got her skirt and hands dirty, steading them both on solid grass covered ground.

“Now, what kind of war has broken out for you both to send your armies?” She asked rather playfully, a pleasant smile in her face that didn’t make this seem like a scold at all.

“We were addressing a crime!” Ludwig defended.

“A horrible one that needed to be paid with his life, for his disrespectfulness to the future King and Queen." It didn’t sound at all menacing when it came from the mouth of a four year old.

Renata looked over to Antonio, still standing as petrified, not at all understanding what the two boys meant by that. He hadn’t done anything worth of murder.

“What could have sweet Antonio done?”

“He ate the tomatoes from last week’s picking!” Feliciano instantly blamed, pointing his fake sword towards him, hoping that now his mother would understand and let them avenge their home for the food taken.

Renata still wouldn’t believe it.

“Did he really?” And there was silence, from both the boys as they though it over.

“We really don’t know,” Ludwig admitted.

“But Lovino told us so,” Feliciano defended, for he knew that his older brother would always tell the truth.

Renata groaned, already preparing her scold for her older son. She then breathed in and relaxed, still having to deal with this force for now.

“Feliciano, caro mio, it wasn’t Antonio, he was just as disappointed as the rest of us when it happened.”

Both the boys let their weapons fall to the mud mess in disappointment, dirtying more of their fine clothe and even Renata’s.

“Then who was it?” Feliciano asked.

“We’ll get him!" Ludwig proclaimed, picking up his sword again and readying himself to fight another enemy.

Renata brought them closer, cleaning what she could from both their faces with her apron.

“How about, we get you boys to take a bath and then we have some nice snacks. I’ll deal with the culprit myself.”

The boys couldn’t disagree when snacks were involved.

Chapter Text

The boys had Renata thinking twice if it was right to give them the sugary snacks they had waiting for them in the kitchen. Even without it, already the boys were as hyper running about the house. As soon as they were bathed, given both their sleeping robes, they were already coating them in their new sweat. They ran, they extended their hands as if they could fly and touch the high ceilings, climbing over desks, sofas and even vases simply out of fun.

“Boys! Slow down!” Renata had called, but it was simply a far echo for the boys, continuing on their adventurous flight across the house.

They only stopped once they reached the kitchen, taking their seats in one of the high stools that faced the counter. It was hard for their small stature, and Vincenzo, who had been in the room having a cup of coffee and making sure Lovino didn’t get burned as he cooked, had to help both the boys up, presenting them a plate of cookies and other fruits which they immediately took into their mouths. Renata arrived to the room exhausted, having to run to reach them. At least they were peacefully eating, except when they tried to talk to each other, crumbs falling on top of the counter or on their fresh new clothes. Renata groaned, but took a seat next to them anyways, noticing that the cookies they were eating were from a fresh batch, surely one Lovino had made. She took one herself and glowed at the taste.

“Amazing, carino,” she complemented and Lovino smiled in appreciation, quickly going to make a new one.

“Now, Lovi, please explain to me why it was that you told your brother that it was Antonio who had taken the lost tomatoes?” She went straight to it, already suspecting of Lovino as he stilled, placing some bowls and ingredients on the counter before they fell to the floor.

He flushed in embarrassment and anger, tears bright on his eyes as he tried to think of a good excuse that his mother could believe.

“Because he really did! I saw him! He had taken a good bag from the supply closet many nights ago! I saw him! I saw him!” He jumped on the stool he stood to reach the heights of the counter, hoping from his desperation that his parents could better believe him.

“What were you doing up at night in the kitchen watching Antonio?” Vincenzo asked, a rather teasing smirk as he brought his cup to his lips.

“Be-because I, I…uh,” Lovino stuttered and blushed, looking away from them, seeing as they all grew the very same smirk his father did.

“Because you love him!” Ludwig shouted, having just finished eating a cookie.

“N-no! No I don’t!” Lovino shouted at him, only growing the more red.

“Yes you do! You’re always staring at him and you turn this red when you talk to him!” Feliciano defended Ludwig’s claim.

“You love him! You love him! You love him!” Both the boys began to sing and chant, bouncing on their seats, Renata and Vincenzo chuckling.

Lovino's red embarassment was turning to one of anger, hands gripping the wooden spoon he held and Renata knew that it was usually not a good sign. Before things turned violent, she eased both the boys and handed them more cookies to distract them.

“Love is a wonderful feeling, Lovino, you should never deny it like that,” she told him, hoping it could quench the sudden anger he grew.

It had worked, but he still pouted angrily, and he wasn’t as excited to bake now.

“Also, the tomatoes Antonio had taken that night were rotten ones that I had asked he threw away,” she cleared.

“Then who took them?” Lovino wanted to know now.

“I did actually,” and there came in his grandfather, large bags of grapes in his hold, surely from the picking he had done in the day. He placed them on the floor, stretching and enjoying from the cool air of the home after working out there under the sun.

“May I ask for what?” Renata asked, looking to him with a scold that was similar to the very ones she gave to her son and even Ludwig when they didn’t behave.

“For the lovely lady in the small cottage next to our land." Of course, another one of his many love interests.

Renata rolled her eyes. She was used to her father constantly doing these kinds of things, which in turned created havoc as the one with Ludwig and Feliciano and their vengefulness on Antonio.

“And in turn, she gave me the most wonderful vinaigrettes,” he pointed to them in a cabinet.

Renata had been wondering where he had gotten them.

Augusto went and took a cookie from the ones in the kid’s plate, but both Ludwig and Feliciano tried to stop him by hugging themselves against his large arm.

“What is this?” Augusto wondered, still trying to take it, even if he had to carry both the boys in the air, trying to get it into his mouth.

“No! You cannot have one!” Feliciano shouted.

“You’re the thief that took the tomatoes! You shouldn’t be taking our cookies!" Ludwig joined, both the boys glaring.

“Ah, come on, it was just a bag of tomatoes.”

“No!” They still refused to.

“What kind of unjust tyranny are you both going to hold once your king and queen?” Augusto laughed, capturing the cookie finally into his mouth, ignoring the angry groans from the future royals.

They began their attacks of little punches that did nothing to Augusto. He only laughed, easily carrying both the little boys in each of his holds, spinning them, tickling them or blowing into their bellies. The boys couldn’t hold their anger any longer, and they quickly filled the whole room in giggles and even begs for Augusto to continue throwing them or making them fly all across the kitchen.

Augusto played with them for the remainder of the day, while Renata stayed with Lovino for the rest of his cooking, having made four batches by the end of the day, many from which Augusto, Ludwig and Feliciano took from, which ruined their appetite for when they sat down to have dinner.

With the night now above them, it was time for the boys to sleep. Ludwig was expected to leave back to the castle early in the morning.

With Ludwig’s constant visits, he even had his own bed in Feliciano’s room, so he had his own place to rest, which he crashed into as both the boys were lead there by Renata. They were still as active from their playing with Nonno, boisterous on their beds, jumping and going on with the things they did.

“That’s magnificent, but now, it’s time for bed,” Renata tucked them in, but it wasn’t as easy, both had their eyes wide opened, as if they were expecting her to present them a whole new game to play.

She picked some thrown toys in the floor and placed them in their shelves or chest, then turning to see them chuckling at each other. They usually did that when they had been plotting something. She sigh, picking up two dog dolls which they tended to sleep with and hold in the night.

“Ludwig, you have a long trip tomorrow. You need the rest. Don’t let Feliciano keep you up." She gave him his dog, moving some strands of blond hair from his face, placing a good night kiss to his forehead. That’s how familiar Ludwig had become in their household.

“And Feliciano." She handed him his own dog, not kissing him yet, but staring with an angry scowl.

Feliciano stared back with an adoring smile, cheeks reddened and big brown eyes shining. She couldn’t stand it, she leaned and took him into his arms, placing many kisses across his face. Feliciano laughed and tried to ease himself closer, to hug as much as he could of the warmness he loved of his mother. They settled in a loving embrace, Renata rocking her baby boy against him, until Feliciano was at such a peace that she had though he had truly fallen asleep. When she placed him back on the bed, blankets over him, his head comfortable on his pillow, Feliciano’s eyes widened big enough, disappointing and already missing her touch. She leaned to place her own kiss upon his forehead, looking into his eyes and pocking at his little nose.

“Sleep,” she commanded, “and don’t keep Ludwig awake, mio caro.”

She stood and headed to the door, taking one last glance to make sure that they were both settled, with no hints of excitement.

“Gute Nacht, Ludwig,” she wished him.

“Gute Nacht, Signora Valenti,” Ludwig said tiredly, yawning and settling more in his pillows, covering his body well with his blankets.

“Buona Notte, Feliciano, ti voglio bene."

“Ti voglio tanto, mama." And like Ludwig, Feliciano closed his eyes and began to embrace the blankets and pillows.

Renata trusted that both would remain like this and closed the door gently behind them.

Instantly Feliciano opened a single eye, looking over to the lights that shone under the door. Once it was off and his mother’s steps disappeared into the halls, he gave a little whistle. Ludwig himself instantly sat up, pulling away all the blankets. Feliciano took a book he hid under his pillow, standing and joining Ludwig in his own bed.

“What did you get?” He asked.

“It’s about fruits." Feliciano easily found a good spot beside Ludwig, opening the book for both to see.

“Fruits?”

“Clubian Fruits.”

“Oh!”

Clubs was the most mysterious of the four kingdoms. It was the largest and with a lot of terrain that was still unexplored. It always perked the interest of children like Ludwig and Feliciano, that tended to wonder and even create what could be lost in their forests and tall mountains. This silly book Augusto had in his library could show them more of it, an array of fruits that both had never seen before, both wondrous and…disgusting.

“Eww…” Feliciano commented, pointing to a pastel green colored fruit with large and hideous seeds all over it. It looked to be dripping, a gooey mess that was close to falling from the branch it was held in.

“Would you eat that?” Feliciano asked him.

“Never, never, never, never." To prove his point, Ludwig even shook his head fiercely.

“I would!” Feliciano glowed, proud of the daringness he showed Ludwig.

Instead of praises, it only got him a disgusted look. “You would eat anything Feliciano,” Ludwig rolled his eyes and turned the page, hoping to find something much prettier than whatever they had just seen.

And there was, like limes and other beautiful green citruses. They spent a good amount of the night going through the entire book, never a part of them tired. Renata came to wake them the next morning, only to find them dead asleep, cuddled together in Ludwig’s bed, the book over them as proof of what they did last night. Renata didn’t know whether to huff angrily or smile at the dear hold they had of each other.

 

An uncle of Ludwig was getting married, and he had chosen the Italian province as the setting for his wedding. Many families were handed invitations to attend, like Feliciano’s family, who obliged in attendance. They had chosen an old church of a near village to the Valenti estate, and the very family had given the couple their fields for the feast after the ceremony. Feliciano had watched them prepare curiously, wondered at how they accommodated tables, chairs, fabrics, glasses, flowers, stones and even food to make a refine scene.

This was to be the very first wedding he would attend and he couldn’t wait to see it take place right before his eyes.

Despite his wish, Ludwig, as one of the couple’s nephews, came to the event, and when both the Prince and the young Valenti got together, no calm or concentration was expected. Throughout the silence of the ceremony, both the boys wouldn’t stop giggling, sending each other faces, playing hands games or making comments that got various hushes from their families. Hoping they would let the ceremony continue in peace, they let them run about the second floor of the church, yet with a perfect view to the altar, where the preacher continued and the couple lay before them, readying their vows and commitment.

Ludwig and Feliciano paid no mind, finding it boring, preferring to entertain themselves with whatever items they found on this floor. But the beginning of a tune halted them, a song that began with a playing of the piano, the star and lonesome tune that brought the room into calm, even the two five year olds who hadn’t sit still all throughout.

Violins and flutes joined in by a signal, truly beginning the song, a tune relaxing, enchanting, like the lullaby of a music box, something indeed belonging to the silence of the church, but also intimate to the couple that were becoming one.

The tune began to disappear, leaving the church once again in mute silence, all looking to the groom, waiting.

“I’ll journey and see beyond the lines of our kingdom,
Never a fear to be lost, never a fear to fall,
In pleasure, I will take the mysteries of what I could meet,
If you accept to be mine, my Queen.”

The groom sang, although directed to his bride, loud enough for all who were assembled to hear. The bride in turn grew a great smile. Feliciano and Ludwig, both seemed hypnotized by the music, and moved close to where the rails lay.

“No heat, no cold, will stop me of my search,
No sun, no rain to go against my strength,
Just promise me your hand,
And love me in our eternity.”

Ludwig and Feliciano were far too short, they could not lean over the rails and gaze on. They stood between the gaps, staring down, each their hands embracing a baluster. It was a good hold, for the music could be enough to have them hurdling down from the space.

“My sun, my moon, my land, my love,
I know it’s a journey you will overcome,
But I don’t need you to go so far,
I want you here to kiss me.”

It was the wife’s turn to sing, turning all to him, away from the direction she took to the front, at the altar and preacher. It was a sign that she was dedicating everything to this song, just like she was dedicating to her vows and to her soon to be husband.

“Would you want all the gold I will find for you?
Would you like the songs I will bring from afar for you?
Would you accept me as your shield?
And would you want me always by your side?”

The groom sang back to her, taking her hand in a meaningful hold, both easing just a little closer. The entire crowd could tell that the song wanted to have them truly embrace and kiss before it was told by the preacher, and it took a lot from them to not do so that instant.

“I don’t want any of the riches you will bring,
I don’t care for any of the songs,
I only want you to hold,
I only want your arms around me.”

The wife replied, and to Feliciano’s surprise, Ludwig actually continued to sing the next part, in silence with her.

“Bring me your love, your kisses, your loyalty,
Your passion, your hope, your defeat,
Your promise, your weakness, your strength,
I will keep it all in my heart.”

Feliciano stared back at him, wondering if perhaps he knew about the song, but Ludwig just seemed lost, still as curious. He truly was listening to it for the first time.

“I’ll journey and see beyond the lines of our kingdom,
Never a fear to be lost, never a fear to fall,
In pleasure, I will take the mysteries of what I could meet,
If you accept to be mine, my King.”

And Feliciano joined in the last of the melody, impressed himself that he sang readily, the tune coming from a deep part of his soul that wanted to be free with this melody. Ludwig stared in turn with the same expression Feliciano held just moments ago.

“I feel like I’ve heard this song before,” Ludwig admitted, feeling rather fearful at how well he suddenly knew it.

But the fear didn’t last, back in the Valenti estate, as the feast continued on, the boys ran across the fields, repeating the song over and over. They played and even danced to their own tune, laughing loudly, many others who were around joining them, in their own dance, smiling at the fact that the future King and Queen were already singing their song. It was a comment that had grabbed both the boy’s attention, so when dinner was served, Feliciano didn’t waste time to ask his mother.

“The song is called ‘Accept to be mine’, it was composed by one of your great grandfather’s carino,” she told him, taking a napkin to clean a stain that had gotten unto his cheek.

“Romulus created it for his beloved queen on the day of their wedding, and ever since it has been sung by the Kings and Queens. It’s a lovely song, isn’t it? Which is why many other couples use it as their vows."

“Do opa and oma know the song?” Ludwig asked.

“Ja,” Monika, Ludwig’s mother, pointed to the current King and Queen, Ludwig’s grandparents, who had a table all for themselves.

Although they had many food offerings, they didn’t eat as much, only taking small bites from time to time, distracted in their own conversation.

“I saw them mouthing it during the ceremony,” Gilbert, who was Ludwig’s older brother, snickered, holding a hand to his mouth to not laugh any louder.

Ludwig didn’t get why it was so funny. In his short life, his grandparents had always been united, their efforts together resulting in a good kingdom. They didn’t show their love as publicly as Augusto had been with his late wife, Helena, neither as Renata and Vincenzo, or his very own parents. Their love they only wanted showed for themselves, in private and intimate moments where they could focus on their own promise and lasting emotions.

That night, Ludwig had managed a rare glimpse of it.

The guests had already gone and all that was left was the decorations that they meant to take down the morning afterwards, when the couple was already settled on their way to their honeymoon. It was late, not an hour for both the King and Queen to remain awake, alone in the dim lighting of the candles that still flickered on, still in their table, gazing as if the party was still partaking.

It was neither an hour for Ludwig and Feliciano to still be awake, but they wanted from the leftovers which they took in a basket and headed over to one of the living rooms, where they had a clear view to the backyard. They munched on fruits, small cake pieces, small pieces of chicken, and of course, whatever pasta Feliciano could find. They had been distracted well enough with their midnight snacks to notice the presence of the King and Queen. It only became obvious when they suddenly stood, but instead of returning back to the house, they took the dance floor. They spoke, not a word heard to young boys, but they eased closer to the glass, wondering over what was it that they were going to do.

They took the usual position for a waltz, and after the stare they gave each other, a rare smile from the King’s mouth, a sung began, and Ludwig and Feliciano did not had to be listening to know which one it was.

“I’ll journey and see beyond the lines of our kingdom,
Never a fear to be lost, never a fear to fall,
In pleasure, I will take the mysteries of what I could meet,
If you accept to be mine, my Queen.”

Ludwig began to sing, quietly, a whisper, but yet just enough of a tune for the King and Queen to dance to.

“No heat, no cold, will stop me of my search,
No sun, no rain to go against my strength,
Just promise me your hand,
And love me in our eternity.”

He continued on, noticing how his lips matched well with the movements his own grandfather was making, spinning about his wife across the floor, taking the solitude well, enjoying from it like no other had shown during the very liveliness of the feast.

“My sun, my moon, my land, my love,
I know it’s a journey you will overcome,
But I don’t need you to go so far,
I want you here to kiss me.”

As the Queen’s part, Feliciano began to sing it, in the same quiet tone Ludwig had taken. Ludwig admitted that Feliciano made it much beautiful. He had a voice to sing and give just anything a lively aura that could awake anything.

At the last verse, Feliciano chuckled as he turned to Ludwig, offering his hands. Ludwig didn’t understand for what. It took a quick glance to the continuing dance below for him to understand. He blushed, nervous, fidgeting and even stuttering. He didn’t know how to dance at all, while Feliciano has had his chance. He saw him constantly dance with Augusto. He felt like he was going to embarrass himself, but as it was his turn to continue to sing, he forced himself to take the hand, bravely positioning them both as he saw his grandparents do. This was Feliciano, his best friend and his future companion to rule over their kingdom. He could trust him, he would show him and there was nothing to worry about.

“Would you want all the gold I will find for you?
Would you like the songs I will bring from afar for you?
Would you accept me as your shield?
And would you want me always by your side?”

And they began, taking the space of the room for their own dance. Along with the song, they filled the room in laughter, in childish energy that at points made this dance messy. But it was nothing, after all, they were simply learning. Feliciano, despite what little he knew, messed up several steps, along with Ludwig. Many times they would trip, but with each other’s help, they stood up again and continued, all until the song finished.

It ended with Ludwig’s arm tightly around Feliciano’s waist, Feliciano resting his hands upon Ludwig’s chest. They giggled, but once their eyes met, silence befall and they noticed their closeness, even the way they held to each other. Ludwig’s head leaned over Feliciano’s own and they began to laugh again, enjoying from this comfort, this growing trust, whatever that had gone through them in the silence of their stares gone.

Chapter Text

Feliciano was only six years old and already he could draw a bunny with realistic strokes and shades. He could draw the grass, the flowers and even the sky behind it to complete it, as beautiful and worthy enough to be hanged, along with the expensive paintings that were hanged about his house from his ancestors. His family considered painting and drawing a hereditary talent that all Valenri possessed, and Feliciano, even if he was to be queen, was no exception.

Now Ludwig, possessed no such thing. As any other six year old, all his lines were squiggly, he painted over them and still did not understand these concepts of perspective, shading and lighting. He always felt so inferior when he drew next to Feliciano, his childish doodles in flimsy paper masterpieces, while his, garbage, things he knew the servants would throw away once they cleaned the table. He sighed as he stared at his own lonely half drawn pink bunny, while Feliciano was adding details to the clouds he drew in his own background. He really wished it wasn’t raining that moment, he much preferred to be playing outside. He placed his pink crayon on the table, and settled with gazing to the clouds, a part of him hoping that some of his little…prince powers could do something to stop this storm.

Feliciano noticed his halted movements and raised his head. “What’s wrong?”

“I don’t want to draw anymore, I want to go outside.”

“But why?” He looked to Ludwig’s drawing, only a half drawn bunny, a couple of flowers and blades of grass. “It looks fine."

“No it doesn’t. Yours is obviously better. Why even bother?"

This is what Feliciano disliked to see the most from Ludwig, doubt and lost to his negative thoughts. It hurt him, because he believed in him and he looked to him already like he was supposed to at a king. It was just painting, he shouldn’t give up so easily to it just because of his own talent. He inched closer to Ludwig, placing a gentile hand to his shoulder.

“It really is fine, but it won’t get any better if you give up like this." He gave him one of his famous sunshine smiles, always a light enough to give back Ludwig his confidence, his wishes and perseverance to continue and try. He still wouldn’t dare pick up his crayon though, even now it seemed to be taunting him about the talent he did not possess.

“Come on!” With surprising strength, Feliciano pulled Ludwig back to the table, forcefully placing the crayon into his drawing hand.

“This time, I’ll be helping you.” He seemed extremely excited to do so.

Feliciano held a tight grip with Ludwig’s hand and Ludwig let him, letting him ease to where he should paint and how much force he had to apply. Even when they switched colors to create a shade or even a gradient, Feliciano maintained the hold of his hand, and with it Ludwig began to learn, smiling and gleeful that he managed to improve his drawing, even with Feliciano leading him and always with his hold.

A maid had come to check on them and was still on her spot as he gazed at them, both the boys not knowing of her presence yet, so Feliciano continued with his lesson. It was a giggle from her than made them notice.

“Awww, look at you two, already holding hands. Beautiful little romantic seeds you both are. What a couple you will be when you are married.”

They both gazed over to her curiously, wondering what she was talking about. Ludwig noticed their still joint hands and quickly let go, blushing red and rubbing them on his vest, as if to hide the proof of what the maid already saw.

“Married? We’re not getting married Signora Bernadetta,” Feliciano answered.

“Yeah, Feliciano is my best friend, it be too weird,” Ludwig added.

She only chuckled, beginning to dust and clean some small things in the room.

“You say that now, but wait until you both grow into beautiful and handsome men,” she eased and rubbed both their hairs, “you won’t be able to resist each other.” The boys still sat with deep confusion, looking to each other hoping that maybe the other could better explain, but no luck.

They sometimes forget that they were indeed humans like any other, who grow and will one day be as old as their parents. As so, they did not think they would even grow up to be as handsome as Signora Bernadetta said or how even the entire kingdom hoped. All they knew was their now and they believed all they had for each other was this friendship and how it would always remain.

“Besides, it’s not for me or for you both to decide, it’s for your parents, but I believe they will go through with it, after all, you both get along better than we ever expected." She picked some mantels to wash, bowed to the future rulers and left back to her usual duties.

The boys remained still as confused, expecting her to come back and better explain, but she never did. They once again looked to each other for explanations, but still nothing. They continued on with their drawings, Feliciano still trying to show Ludwig, although now they were too nervous to once again have the hold of their hands.

The next hours just became awkward for them, as they thought about what Signora Bernadetta just told them.

Their parents couldn’t just do that…could they?

Ludwig and Feliciano always thought that being King and Queen meant just making decisions and working together for their kingdom. They never though it actually meant getting married.

They though to all the marriages they knew, their parents and grandparents, how romantic they were, their embraces, their kisses on the mouth or whatever else they did behind closed doors that had the servants moving them away and telling them to leave them in peace.

Did they have to do all that? Did they have to show each other such devotion and attention? Go on dates and give exaggerated presents to the other? To both, it seemed weird and unusual.

Yes, they did care for each other deeply, almost like family, but they didn’t think it was to that extent. It was disgusting, and they made silent promises to themselves to never get mushy with each other. They would rule this kingdom just as they were, best friends.

 

Rome was the capital city of the Italian province. It was wonderful and enchanting, with great culture, ancient relics of their past and the most amazing places to dine. It was constantly visited from many others outside the province and even kingdom. Because of its great beauty and important historical value, it was many times chosen as the city for the Four Kingdoms meeting and later ball.

It was held once a year, mostly as a great exchange of the four kingdoms, for all the Kings, Queens and Jacks to meet in friendly manner away from the constant duties of their positions, hoping to better strengthen bonds and better depend on the other in the case of war or another sort of emergency.

Many nobles were invited to attend, or others who were just lucky enough to get an invitation. Those who couldn’t only remained watching by the streets, held by gates or guards to not let them impose on the feast. Yet they all came, hoping for a glimpse of these royals.

Feliciano was finally seven years old and could be accepted to come to the ball as the future Queen of Hearts along with the rest of his family. He was dressed extravagantly well for the occasion, all sewn by his mother and help from the maids in his household with the richest of fabrics and most expensive details.

When he was first seen by all with it, they all glowed, showering him with compliments, hugs and kisses. They were indeed proud of what they made and that Feliciano looked dignified enough to be in this ball. Feliciano on the other hand, hated it.

It was tight, stuffy, certain parts piercing or scratching on his skin and it brought him immense heat. Many times on the carriage trip he tried to get rid of it, only to have his mother tighten whatever was loose that could give Feliciano easy escape.

It was horrible and he already couldn’t wait to get off from it.

It was Feliciano’s very first time out of his home and village, quite a long way to take to the city despite it being in his very own province. The views, the hills, the lakes, rivers and just all the land the beautiful sun of the day shone upon as they continued onwards to the city was just enough to make Feliciano forget about the annoying clothing he was draped with, eyes glued to the window as he witnessed the beauty of his Kingdom.

The city was just as spectacular as anything he had seen on the route, like a marbled jeweled crowning the long line of hills, seeming to bow to him as he entered through the main gates. He saw buildings taller than he ever knew, piled together, an intimidating maze that he knew he would get lost in if he dared go alone. They were adorned in all forms of marble, to give it breath and life, looking to be moving along with the grand amount of people that piled and walked among the streets. Feliciano had never seen so many people in once place before. It was packed for the ball, all sides of the rode covered with eyes on the moving carriage Feliciano was on. He didn’t understand why all these people were staring at him, screaming, shouting and pointing to him excitedly. He waved to them though, as happily as he was meeting with a good friend. It only got the crowds to get more excited, jumping and waving back to him. To Feliciano, it was fun, so he continued to do this, even getting the window down and shouting to them in their greet: “Ciao Ciao!” hoping for all to hear. And they did, giving him the very same greeting, ogling at his cuteness and even kindness. No other noble had greeted and waved to them like this. Feliciano was so tempted to step down and join them, play with the countless of children and just spend a nice walk through this new city. He was not allowed though, he was even pushed back into his seat the closer they got to the main building of the city.

Walls rose to divide it from the rest, all entrances packed with heavily armed guards who only gave entrance to the finest carriages with royal or noble symbols. The building stood like a fine palace, much bigger than Feliciano’s own mansion, in red and gold details and symbols, the yard paved in a cream cobblestone and wonderfully kept grass, bushes, trees and even flowers. Already Feliciano wanted to run through and loose himself to them, pointing to his mother, suggesting the most beautiful flower accessories to make.

They waited in a long line of carriages. Once they arrived to the entrance, all the passengers would step down and make their presence known to the air of the palace. They were greeted by servants and then lead forward inside. Feliciano saw as the carriage before them was the one that held the Hearts royal family, King Aldrich being the first to step down, followed by the rest of his family, which got more servants, banners and flags to decorate their welcome.

“Guardati mamma! È Ludwig!” Feliciano began to jump in his seat as soon as he saw him appear right behind his mother.

He couldn’t hold it, and as soon as he noticed the distraction the rest of his family had, he pulled the door open and rushed off, ignoring the shouts his mother and grandfather gave him.

“Ludwig! Ludwig! Ludwig! Ludwig!” He shouted and ran at rapid speeds towards him.

It was too fast for even the young prince to notice, quickly jumped on in a tightening and even choking hug. Everyone turned worriedly towards him, but quick breaths of relief were taken when they saw that it was only Feliciano. Ludwig didn’t mind at all, he was used to Feliciano always greeting him in such a way, especially after they haven’t seen each other in a couple of weeks, which was an equivalent of years to them. He easily embraced him back and they both didn’t mind their clothes getting dirty as they rolled about the floor, giggling and laughing.

“You’re here! You’re here! You’re here!” Ludwig shouted, of course ecstatic, he was worried that he would have to go through this stuffy meeting bored in a corner just watching people talk, eat and dance.

“All right, that’s enough boys,” Monika had to depart and stand them properly, fixing what she could of their clothing, even complimenting on Feliciano’s handsome wear.

“I’m so sorry about this,” Renata came and quickly apologized.

“It’s all right,” Aldrich spoke up, “we must be getting inside immediately, the rest are awaiting us.”

They all nodded and both the Beilschmidts and Valenti came inside in quite a mess together, talking among each other much to the surprise of the guests. The Beilschmidts had fame with entering such feasts with seriousness and order, but here they were, laughing and even joking with the Valenti.

While both families were distracted with greeting many of the guests, Ludwig and Feliciano escaped together to meet more of this palace, see what fun they could have while here. Ludwig admitted that it was probably the finest ball he had ever attended, and that was saying something, for he lived in the main castle in the kingdom capital and had already seen his fair share of royal balls.

Everyone, especially the royals, were dressed in their finest wear, all types of expensive jewels adorned them, the greatest colors, with attitude and slow movements that seemed they had trained to take. They both admitted it was quite beautiful, but they also seemed so strained, still and serious, their conversations boring and uneventful.

Only a couple of minutes into the feast and already the boys wanted to leave, tempted by the fields of the outside they saw through the many large windows. They had found an exit, and readily took it, wanting to head off and have it for themselves. Renata had spotted and stopped them on time, grabbing them by their shoulders and stilling them in their spot.

“I’m sorry boys, but we all need you to stay inside."

“But why?”

“There’s nothing to do in here!”

“Please boys, just stay in here,” she begged, a worrying look in her eyes that even scared Feliciano.

He didn’t say anymore and Ludwig did the same, settling on just walking around with their mothers, greeting many who coed at them. They commented on their future positions, on how nice it was that they already got along so well, at how cute they were and already giving them advice on what to do once they were at the throne. Both of them were only seven years old, and none of the things they said when it came to that aspect made sense to them. To appease to their families, they only nodded and smiled, many times glancing to the exits hoping for a chance to play outside, but everyone kept an eye on them, knowing of their want, and for some reason they just wouldn’t let it happen.

They were taken to dinner in one of the high floors, near a balcony where they overlooked to the still continuing feast, dancers taking the floor, music playing, and guests still arriving. With their food done and their families impending them from doing much, they gazed down in silence, commenting from time to time on some outrageous hat or exaggerated make up on either a man or woman.

And then they entered. This small family of only a father, a mother and a small child who seemed around Ludwig and Feliciano’s age. Jet black hair, slanted eyes, and despite his age, walking knowingly, like he already had the wisdom of an old man. The rest of his family came into the feast just like him, their clothing of red kimonos and hakamas standing outrageously different from the rest, but just as extravagant and beautiful. Ludwig and Feliciano’s eyes were settled on them, intrigued, never had they seen people from the Japanese province in person.

The Japanese province was an island just off the coast from both the German and Italian province. Despite their general closeness, they held a great cultural difference from the main land. Some wondered if it could even be a kingdom of its own, but their similar climates and nature opposed to that. The Japanese rarely left their island, thinking the German, Italian and other provinces of the kingdom too brash, rude and of course, different from themselves. They only showed themselves on such occasions as this, especially this family, who held a rather important member in their mist.

“Mamma, who are they?” Feliciano asked Renata by pulling on her long dress, clearly pointing to the new inhabitants of the ball.

She smiled, knowingly, even giggling for this was an opportune moment.

“That’s the Honda family, a great noble family of importance from the Japanese province. You see that little boy,” she pointed over to the youngest member, “that’s Kiku Honda, chosen by the gods as the next Jack of Hearts.”

That truly perked the children’s attention, both the boys smiling as if they were just introduced to a new friend that instant.

“So he’ll be our jack of hearts then!” Ludwig jumped in enthusiasm.

“Precisely.” Renata confirmed, receiving a chorus of ‘Uuuuu’s’ from the boys.

“Then we have to introduce ourselves!” Feliciano shouted, eagerly jumping on his spot, Renata fearing that he was willing to jump from this floor just to get to the family.

“What?”

It was quite sudden, Feliciano’s impulse, already wanting to come towards them, rushing off to leave their secured balcony.

“Feliciano! No!” She called out, trying to catch with him on time.

“Why not?” Even as his mother tried to rush towards him, Feliciano didn’t stop at all, continuing all until he crashed against a strong pair of legs.

He fell to the floor by the force, and the figure didn’t dare help, he found this just the force enough to stop the young boy from moving any further. King Aldrich looked down to him, a pillar thick and tall enough to reach the high ceilings of this palace in the young boy’s eyes. Feliciano was rarely intimidated by the King, he had learned to be as friendly with him as he was with the rest of Ludwig’s family, but this time, his blue eyes shone like a predator, a darkness in him that made the young boy quiver, wishing he could move and rush over to his mother’s side for comfort.

“A meeting between the King, Queen and Jack is prohibited before the age of arising. It is a law given to us by the gods and we must play our part that such a meeting does not take place until then,” Aldrich told him, forceful, enough for Feliciano to hear and understand him. He was not willing to repeat himself.

“But why?” Feliciano dared ask, “I can meet Ludwig just fine. Why can’t we meet Kiku? Isn’t it just as important as getting to know Ludwig?”

Aldrich didn’t answer him, he simply stared on, seeming to grow taller, getting the young boy to meek down fearfully. Not being able to continue his watch on him, he turned his gaze down.

“Do not get near him. Just honor my command and don’t question it any further."

“But I want to-”

“Feliciano!” He shouted, a commanding tone that was just what got Feliciano to give up, to practically scramble back to his mother’s side, holding to her skirt, trembling and not daring to gaze back to the King.

The room went somberly silent as they all witnessed the scene, the only sound being Feliciano’s whimpering. Renata rubbed at hand on his hair and Ludwig had taken his hand to caress, both comforting gestures enough to make the future Queen relax.

They had brought him to the table, distracting him with some much loved desserts. As the minutes passed, Feliciano was soothed enough as if nothing had ever happened. Renata had gone to have a dance with her husband, along with many others, leaving the two children alone with snacks and desserts that hopefully will keep them put there for the rest of the ball. But it wasn’t enough to still the curiosity they held for Kiku Honda, who spent most of the feast by his parent’s side, no emotion shown on his face, not even boredom or excitement. Ludwig and Feliciano kept their gaze on him like magnets, an impulse in both of them to do something against what King Aldrich just made them clear.

Chapter Text

Despite the many words he heard back in his island province about the main land, he had actually been quite impressed with what he had met in his first trip. Everything indeed had been different as he had been warned. The buildings, the food, the customs, even the people. Even with how well they had taught him a good basic grasp of both Italian and German, he still felt behind as he talked to all these native speakers. None didn’t mind, they shooed any mistakes and only made comments on how cute it was, some even reaching down to pinch his cheeks. That was probably one of the only things he disliked…the constant touching from all these nobles and royals. Was this what he would have to deal with constantly once he made permanent residence in the Kingdom to fulfill his duty as the Jack of Hearts? Never mind that, he would endure it for his kingdom, he had been chosen by the gods after all.

His parents wanted him to meet with the current King, Queen and Jack of Hearts and he was eager to ask them questions and to hope he already had some blessings from them. A part of him had hoped to meet with the young prince and his future Queen, and his eyes had searched eagerly for any hint of them, but with so many people wanting to converse and grabbing his attention, it had simply been too hard.

It was unfair, he should be given a chance to meet with the two people he was to serve and rule along with, but everyone had denied him the chance, for a reason none seemed to want to explain. But for now, he wanted peace. He waa dealing with too much commotion all of a sudden. He was not used to it and he needed some quiet as a good recharge. The owners of the palace had granted him entrance into one of their galleries for that peace, giving the young future Jack of Hearts a chance to witness the arts that their kingdom was greatly known for.

He was lead inside, the large red doors shut behind him and he was left in a pleasant quietness, too much for a room that was right next to a continuing ball full of chattering and music. With all these artistic treasures surrounding him, he could easily forget about it all and loose himself with many images of men, of nature and of their gods, the Aces. They were all so beautiful, a dance of images for his eyes, a partner for him in each masterpiece. Part of him wanted to take the hand of one of those many statues and dance like those he had seen in the ball. They just seemed so real, so lively, like they could jump out and- okay, not like that.

Ludwig couldn’t hold his balance any longer, and as so, Feliciano had fallen from it, pulling Ludwig along with him to the floor. The crash against the floor was enough to shake a near pillar, which held a large bust of one Heart’s greatest warriors, fallen to the floor in pieces. It was the crash that brought sudden silence between the three, only for a short moment worried over it. But Ludwig and Feliciano didn’t think more of the worthless mess when finally they had Kiku for themselves.

“Hi, Kiku!” Feliciano jumped, rushing towards him, taking his hand to shake like he had seen many adults greet. It was hard enough to shake all of Kiku’s being, already getting dizzy and trying to let go of the hold.

“I’m Feliciano, and this is Ludwig!” Feliciano helped Ludwig up and ushered him forward to meet, and the young prince gave him the same shaking greeting that Kiku was starting to dislike.

“How did you-”

“You look very pretty!” Feliciano complimented.

“Your clothes look really comfortable,” Ludwig continued.

“Your hair is so soft,” Feliciano went ahead and touched it.

“Can you see with your eyes like that?”

Kiku gasped offended.

“Did you come here riding a dragon?”

“Huh?”

“The Japanese province has the prettiest dragons, not that ours aren’t.”

“Is it true what they say about ninjas?”

“Can you teleport?”

Kiku held his hands to both of them, a form to tell them to fall silent. It surprisingly worked, and they had stopped their insistent and frivolous questions. Like training puppies they held and waited for a command, just as eager and active despite their sudden stillness.

“Um…who are you both?” He asked, easing himself and being presentable. Despite how they acted and addressed themselves toward him, he still wanted to continue to treat them with respect.

“Didn’t I-”

“I know, I meant if you two are perhaps sons of nobles or perhaps even servants?” He talked like an adult, and that was something that just didn’t seem to make sense to Feliciano and Ludwig.

They stared on as if Kiku had spoken to them in a different language. The silence was finally broken with laughter from Feliciano, a sound so beautiful to fit well with the gallery.

“Why should it be important now?” He took a gentle hold of his hands, one that Kiku though comforting and very soft. “We should go play and have fun.”

What a suggestion they had given him, what a chance, one many times he wasn’t given despite being a child. He was so tempted to take it, join, go and see what it was like, with children just like himself.

“Come on, we found some weird looking spheres in the third floor,” Ludwig said, already leading them forward.

Feliciano took a strong hold of Kiku’s hand and lead him, giving him no choice but to participate in whatever silly game they had planned.

As Ludwig had said, the third floor had a room filled with amazing colorful spheres, looking like large marbles, expensive, surely fragile and definitely not to play with. But both Ludwig and Feliciano didn’t seem to pay attention to that detail. They looked just like any other balls they had played with, surely they worked just the same. Kiku, who could tell the fragility of the items, though of stopping them, but his curiosity beat anything else, and like the others, had taken a bright red-orange one that seemed like fire blazing in his hand. It looked, to all three, like magic they could omit, like the ones they had seen their own parents do. It was the image they needed to start their pretend game, one where their minds let them think they were throwing the most powerful magic at their enemies.

The three of them started a song of booms, cracks and shots from their mouths, throwing all the different spheres across, many landing on either the floor or the top of other surfaces in the room without a single damage. With no harm, no matter how harshly they threw, it simply let them become much more chaotic with their throws, even beginning to throw them at each other. A game of simple catch was starting, a mess and array of different colored spheres to entertain their eyes, to smile, to play, to jump all across the room and just grant to the three future monarchs a moment to live their childhood.

The loud laughter and childish screams would of course attract attention, by another monarch who had just happened to be walking by the area and noticed the sound. This prince opened the door just as he saw a pink sphere pass right by his head, then a yellow one, a green, all quick dots dashing before him dangerously.

Did these people know what those even were?

“What in the-” and that’s when he finally laid his eyes on the culprits, a mischievous laughter that was enough to alert the others of his presence.

They each dropped their own sphere, perplexed, caught, the weight of what they were doing wrong suddenly dawning upon them.

The thirteen year old prince of Diamonds, Francis Bonnefoy, entered the room with an evil smirk, doing a favor and even closing the door behind them. “What a predicament I have found our three future rulers to be in. What would your parents think if they knew about this? Playing with the spheres of Validity and look,” he turned his gaze towards the young Japanese, “speaking and playing with your future jack. The consequences could be pretty dire.” He didn’t look at all worried about that, after all, the punishment was not to be for him but for the young future monarchs.

“You don’t know that!” Ludwig stood out.

He always held a great dislike for the Diamond prince, particularly for this attitude as if he’s always challenging, belittling him. Ludwig was to be King of Hearts, one of a powerful kingdom, much so than the Diamond Kingdom had fame for, and he would not be looked down upon from other princes and princesses.

“Oh, but I do, and you’re making a big mistake. I suggest you put all the spheres back in their place and begin to head out.”

“Yo-you won’t tell our parents, right, Francis?” Feliciano begged, teary eyes, already placing his own sphere back, wanting to come close and try what he could to convince him.

Francis had a soft spot for the young Queen, his demeanor completely changing to the kind brother figure Feliciano looked up to. He soften his hair and let his hand caress at his cute puffed cheeks, touches that Ludwig seemed to despise, Kiku having to hold him down from moving any further to stop it with brute force.

“No, Feliciano, but only if you come out this instant, return to the ball and let Kiku return to his family.”

“No!” Ludwig interrupted, angrily, a glare that he tried to make fearsome, but his childish face and baby blue eyes didn’t help at all. It only received a chuckle from Francis.

“Don’t make this any harder, Ludwig. Come on, before anybody else finds us."

“No! You’re not in charge of telling me what to do. If I want to keep playing, I’ll stay, if I want to keep spending time with Feliciano and Kiku, I will, and you won’t stop me!” He pulled Feliciano back to their side rather harshly, in the process knocking one of the biggest spheres in the room, the one they had tried avoid due to its largeness and dark colors. Ludwig caught it just in time before it smashed against the floor, but it began to tremble in his fingertips, and from its stillness, it dashed off like a bullet across the room, smashing a window and flying off to land in another distant corner in the deep forest.

All four stood astonished, the echo that the sphere left still a haunting sound, a reminder of the great trouble they could get in now that they had lost one of the spheres. Paralyzed they remained, hoping it could return just as it had flew off, or thinking about how they could get it back, each with their own idea until Ludwig decided to act on his own.

He took off the cape he was given to wear and left it over a chair. He headed towards the cracked hole in the glass, looked to the distance below him and over to the dark woods that now looked rather fearful, like the dwelling of villains in the fairytales they told him about. But he had to get it back! He couldn’t be the cause of getting both Feliciano and Kiku into big trouble.

“I-I’ll go get it!” He ran passed them, quickly before they dared want to stop him.

But Feliciano couldn’t let him, not at least alone, when he looked so scared, tears surely swelling in his eyes from the fault he felt.

“Ludwig, wait! Wait!” Feliciano called after him, but Ludwig didn’t stop, he continued trying to find an exit. He would take any, even a window if he had to.

Francis and Kiku ran right behind them, hoping to stop them, hoping to find a better explanation to what had happened. Something about just getting it in those woods seemed out of place, especially with the heavy security and Renata’s clear warning of not wanting them to leave the ball. Ludwig didn’t care about this, he found an open window in one of the halls, leading right to the garden, by tall bushes that could cover well his escape to the few that strolled away from the commotion of the ball.

He was sure he was going to do this alone, but he felt the joining of steps, the tired breaths of Feliciano, right behind him, following along without a moment’s hesitation.

“Ludwig! Feliciano!” Francis called out to them, but he was left ignored.

At least Kiku- he turned and he was gone as well, following behind the royals he would serve in the future.

“Yo-you-you three!” It wouldn’t work.

The three children had gone off, over the gates that separated the palace from the woods, to whatever they would find alone.

He had to get Aldrich and Augusto.

 

“I obviously won,” Feliciano commented.

“It’s unfair, you didn’t get tripped,” Kiku tried to reason.

Ludwig didn’t make any comment, he was busy looking for any hint of the sphere, searching behind trees, bushes, in the mud, even in plain sight. It was hard when the sphere could easily blend in with the darkness they were surrounded with.

It was odd, how scared he felt in these woods, lost, in danger, like a monster could soon rise from beneath their feet and eat them. The forests of the kingdom were usually beautiful, perfect to stroll around, with a paved roads or not, safe enough for even three children to play in alone. Yet this one, sent a shiver through Ludwig with each step he took deeper. It was a surprise Feliciano could remain as lively, their light to continue across, keeping their small conversations active and with shine in them, playing games, making their experience even here fun. But it was weakening with each crack or sudden far off step into the distance. Feliciano cowered more, holding on to Ludwig’s arm tightly and Ludwig even found comfort in it, slowing his pace just so Feliciano could remain close to him. Kiku was just as close, keeping his eyes open like Ludwig’s for the sphere, the chills of the forest reaching him.

They only continued because of the need to find the sphere to avoid large trouble.

Minutes went on, Kiku thinking maybe hours, recognizing a boulder they had passed once already.

“I-I think we should head back,” he suggested, forcing them to a stop, looking around him to find the route back.

None was presented to them, only fading footsteps that had already made circles around the woods.

“Bu-but what about the sphere?” Feliciano asked, scared and trembling enough to just hide under Ludwig’s shirt.

“We can’t just return without it." Despite how fearsome the situation looked, Ludwig didn’t want to give up yet.

“This place looks really dangerous. I think if we just told our parents what happened, they’ll have better luck finding it,” Kiku suggested.

“It-it’s not, dangerous,” Ludwig still trembled, and there was hesitation as he let go of Feliciano, moving ahead to prove that there was nothing to fear.

It didn’t calm Feliciano at all, who extended his arms, begging for Ludwig to come back to their side. The three of them couldn’t get separated, they would just get lost and worsen the situation.

“Lu-ludwig!” Kiku called.

“There’s nothing to be afraid of, it’s just-” a look between two large trees, a gasp, and Ludwig fell back to the floor.

Feliciano and Kiku quickly came to his help, but as soon as they did, Ludwig ushered them to remain silent, pointing to the spot he just took a look of. Quietly, both the other boys looked, and noticed between the mist two cloaked figures, right over the very sphere they had been looking for. Ludwig covered both their mouths just in time before they gasped loudly enough to be noticed, and suggested they just looked, hopefully they would leave.

It wasn’t likely, for they remained, watching the sphere, analyzing, talking, too far off to be comprehensible. The three of them were intrigued by the cloaks they wore, black, with no recognizable symbol from any of the four kingdoms. They remained well hidden, no clear image of their faces or even skin from hands or feet. They wondered about who these people were, what were they doing there, and wondered if perhaps they were friends who had found for them the sphere. Feliciano was close to running to them, greeting them as friendly as he had learned to be with everyone, but Ludwig kept a tight grip on him, not daring give him the chance.

“What are they doing?” Kiku dared break the silence with a single whisper.

They felt a sudden huff, a breath, another presence standing tall right behind them, the shadow making them turn that instant to face what was there. It was a third cloaked figure, his brown eyes bright enough for them to see even in the darkness that he was covered well with. Despite how human he looked, something about him didn’t feel at all normal, a darkness emitting that made all three tremble, to stay close together, wishing they could run, but it was useless when they were surrounded. No words came from the man, but a striking stare that held them in place.

“Kirian! Louis!” He called, calling the attention of both the men from afar.

The next words he spouted none of the three could recognize, a language never before heard of and definitely different from the ones they knew of all four kingdoms. The other two men reached him and smirked upon noticing the presence they were blessed with.

“What a complete package, the future King, Queen and Jack of Hearts, all presented together just for us,” he made the others realize, and it only got their sinister smiles to grow larger.

“The gods haven’t abandoned us yet it seems,” one of the other men said, coming closer.

“King Khaos would be absolutely pleased,” and then one had taken out a blade from his sheath, the metal shinning bright enough to reflect on the faces of the three terrified boys.

They trembled, their breaths heavy and even tears on their eyes, holding to each other tightly, as if their closeness could work well enough as a shield. They came ever closer until no space was given to the three future monarchs to escape, increasing their fear, their cries, weeping, hoping that the sight was enough to give these other three strangers mercy. None was presented. One man had made daggers appear from his sleeve, another had begun to produce dark magic from his hand, and then there was the one who had raised his blade, ready for an easy slash that could take out the three of them in that moment.

Ludwig acted quick and gave a kick to his leg, strong enough to have him wince, moan in pain and even crouch as he tried to surpass it. It was just the moment they needed to run, Ludwig keeping a tight hold on Feliciano and letting Kiku run ahead. They were given shouts and insults, surely in the men’s language and surely they were chasing them, not willing to loose such a chance.

They didn’t care if they were on the right path or not, they just wanted to run as far away from them as possible, not caring about the sphere anymore or if it brought them deeper into the forest to the point of never being found. They preferred such a faith over being captured by them.

They tried their best to run along faster, but no matter, they still kept a sure target on them, beginning to throw arrows, magical beams and even some of their daggers. They flew past them by just inches, but never truly hitting any of them. They moved too quickly to be able to.

The chase continued further into the woods, through fiercer trees, boulders that halted their way or even made them trip, creeks, and finally a dead end given to them by the tallness of a mountain and the entrance of a cave. They were cornered, nowhere to go but the wall of rock that they spread their hands over, hoping to dig themselves in or find some hidden passage.

Things did not work like in their stories and fairytales.

Was this it? Was this supposed to be their deaths? It was only sure when finally the men appeared, noticing that there was nowhere else for the royals to go. They gave them the chance to quiver, to shake and cry, watch them die in the utter misery they deserved. Feliciano was the first to loudly cry, holding ever so tightly to Ludwig, and even Kiku quivered at this side. Only Ludwig still managed to stand tall, despite his fear and terror.

He wanted to do something, he wanted to save Kiku, especially Feliciano. Something, something, something, he pleaded in his mind, hoping for the gods to bless him with a chance. Nothing, the men only came closer. Ludwig pushed Feliciano and Kiku back, his breathing becoming so heavy that the men though he would die out of breathlessness.

But it wasn’t the fear that fueled that, it was something else, it was the breathing Ludwig’s body needed.

Ludwig felt a sudden power surge through his body, like his blood had become even stronger, and both Feliciano and Kiku witnessed as it even glowed through his pale skin. It thumped like his heart, the glowing making his way all across his body, fearsome enough to even stop the three men from approaching any closer. Ludwig groaned in pain, whimpered, holding his own body, this energy becoming painful. It had to be released, he wanted it out, he wanted it out!

Ludwig raised his hand and simply slashed it forward like a sword, a powerful beam of fire fleeing from his body, aiming right at the men, burning enough to have them move back, their hoods beginning to burn.

It was nothing, they could surely- another throw from the prince’s body, this one more intense, had them falling to the ground, lost in the heat that had them caged to the floor. Any opportune moment to stand was only continued to be blocked by the savage throws the prince threw at them.

Ludwig didn’t know what he was doing, what this was, but it was working enough to keep them away and thus he continued, to the widened eyes of his future queen and jack.

At one point it began to tire, he lost energy, he began bleeding from his nose and mouth, he turned a sickly gray and even kneeled to the floor in defeat, only maintaining awake by a need to make sure that Feliciano and Kiku were okay and to fight on if they dared move any closer.

“Ludwig! Ludwig!” Feliciano called, holding him against him, rubbing his hands over his arms and chest desperately, wanting to wake him, wanting to clean the blood and return his healthy color.

Kiku stood by his side, taking a handkerchief he had kept and using it to clean the blood, looking over to the three bodies ahead.

They weren’t dead, but surely burned intensely, not a threat anymore and they could calm for now. Their worry was now trying to figure out what happened to Ludwig and how to return him back to normal.

The hooves of horses against the ground, many by the sounds of it, came close, surely to their spot. They feared it to be more of the same men. Feliciano held Ludwig even closer, who looked weak enough to fall unconscious that moment and Kiku tried what he could to protect them by covering them. The approaching figures turned towards them, and the three children were relieved to see men with symbols of the Hearts Kingdom, a search party their families had sent to find them.

Two soldiers moved instantly to check on the other three men laying unconscious on the floor. Once recognizing their marks and their cloaks, they placed chains on their hands and tried to move them over one of the horses to imprisonment once they were back in the city. The three children now breathed easily, but once they saw King Aldrich and Augusto coming hastily towards them, they were reminded of the severe punishment they were going to get. So many things they could be blamed for, so many things that went wrong, but part of them was still relieved to see them, to be saved and be granted a safe trip back to the city.

“Are you three all right?” Augusto asked, checking Kiku, checking his beloved Feliciano, embracing him and kissing his face entirely in relief.

When he looked at Ludwig, distress could be seen on him even as he tried to look calm for the rest. What Aldrich feared happened, proof with the weakness in Ludwig’s body, high presence of power from him despite so and just the fact that he stood next to both his future Queen and Jack. Augusto didn’t know what he could say, no matter what he did the three of them were to be scolded and punished by the King. As it was Aldrich’s turn to come close, Augusto though to make up an excuse, anything to keep Feliciano from being humiliated. But he didn’t think quick enough, already Aldrich stood before them and simply stared. He gazed to his grandson, there almost lifeless, in the arms of his queen and by the side of his Jack, out of the palace and the culprits of a missing sphere of Validity. He didn’t say a word but gazed strongly at Feliciano with blame, the fearsome stare that brought Feliciano to quiver, to tear up, hang his head against his own king in shame. Augusto knew that they had misbehaved, that they had broken rules and had even put their own lives at risk, he couldn’t do anything but lean before them still, waiting for the actions Aldrich would use to deal with the situation. To his surprise, only silence continued to reign on, even from the soldiers who awaited them to leave back to the city. Aldrich came close only to pick up Ludwig, hold him against his chest, rubbing his hands against his back, a calming that worked wonderfully to ease his trembling, hopefully to rest.

Without even a glance, he turned towards his horse, now only waiting for Augusto to move along with his grandson and the Honda. Augusto picked Feliciano as Aldrich did with Ludwig, taking a good hold of Kiku’s hand and moving them towards their own horse. He made sure the three of them were comfortable before he gave the signal to Aldrich to head back, using the time to soothe Feliciano for any harshness he was to be given when they returned.

Chapter Text

Kiku told what had happened in their return back. He was truthful about everything, even admitting how Ludwig had broken a window in the palace and how he and Feliciano had decided on joining him to the woods. They all heard patiently and kept their ears for the small boy.

Ludwig remained resting over Aldrich’s body, and Feliciano only paid attention to him, relief upon seeing his normal color return, blood stopping, breathing, enjoying an easy sleep like he was in his own room and not on an easy pacing horse with his grandfather.

Kiku finished just as the palace was once again in site, the ball in an array with countless of dark figures searching.

“There they are!” Someone had called out, and already rushing figures came towards them, not wanting to wait any longer.

The first couple they recognized was Kiku’s parents, his mother quickly taking him in his arms to caress into her safety, his father relieved, stroking his hair nicely to a calm.

“We’re so sorry over what has occurred, I promise we will deal with his own punishment accordingly,” he begged to the king, turning and bowing. He would to the floor if Aldrich allowed him.

“I insist you do, but it’s already too late. The damage has been done,” he ushered his horse forward without the rest, not a word to even Augusto and Feliciano. He wanted to give his grandson proper rest for now and his family needed to see that he was well. Now they would have to prepare themselves for the changes that had occurred before planned.

Aldrich went right pass Renata and Vincenzo, who came for Feliciano and held him like Kiku’s own parents had done.

“I know it’s not in our position to speak this early but, I’m glad both our sons are all right, and I’m very sorry for everything that has happened. We will deal with what we can,” Renata told the Japanese couple, and they smiled warmly at her, surely taken by her kindness, beauty and utterly sweet voice. Her son, Feliciano, who looked remarkably like her, they hoped will grow those very same attributes when he became Queen. It was nice to know from now that Kiku would be able to serve and hopefully befriend such a kind looking and adoring boy.

They wished some last words and Kiku’s parents were off, to their carriage, to their place of stay and return to Japan the next day. Feliciano waved to his jack, and he waved back, all until they were only but specks to each other.

That would be Kiku’s last time in the mainland before he was to take his place as the Jack.

Feliciano was returned to the palace with his parents and grandfather, the feast coming to an end, many beginning to leave once they knew that the prince and the future Queen and Jack were doing well.

That feeling of security and relief was taken then by the presence of the three clocked figures. They were still tied, held and pushed on by soldiers through the palace, but it wasn’t enough to stop anyone from moving away with clear fear, quivering, and some even crying. Renata, Vincenzo and Augusto covered Feliciano entirely from the men’s angry and blaming gaze.

They could see in them intent for murder and kill, but the three only stared bravely, powerful and with no fear to strike at them if they dared do anything to their son and grandson.

The tense atmosphere continued until all three men were taken out from the palace, into the confinements of their carriage, granting a sense of peace back again to the finishing feast.

It wasn’t until the carriage began to take its route that they let Feliciano escape from the protective circle they had made for him. He stared on to the gates, where he didn’t see a sign of the metal carriage anymore.

“Who were they, mamma?” He took her hand and looked up to her for the answer.

Renata sigh, a tiredness and age shown in her face that made her seem like she was sick. Feliciano stood closer to her, placing his little hands to her dress, hoping to calm her from this sudden stress she grew.

“Nobody wanted you to know about this until your year of Arising." She looked down to him and managed a smile, stroking his hair and easing them out of the palace. “Feliciano, you know about the story of creation, right?”

“Of course I do." He was proud of his knowledge about it. "The four aces created the four kingdoms to their image and then placed their first Kings, Queens and Jacks to rule over and guard over what they had created.”

Renata chuckled. Of course he did. The story of the Aces is of the many Feliciano is constantly told about.

“Well, there’s…a part of it no one really likes to tell." He placed Feliciano in their own carriage, alone for now while Vincenzo and Augusto were looking for Lovino and settling some last things with the ball.

“When the Aces created the kingdoms, they were content of course. Their creations were beautiful, the perfection they had envisioned, but they felt like they needed to make…one last sort of blessing." She closed the carriage door tightly, so the words could only be heard by her son. “They created two other kingdoms."

“Two more kingdoms?”

“Yes, simple names they had, the White Kingdom and the Black Kingdom, one to our north, the other to the south."

Feliciano though to all the maps he knew, but none of them showed such territories to both the north and south. He began to even wander if his mother was telling the truth, but she would never do such a thing. He only continued to attend.

“The Aces created these kingdoms as a symbol of union, lands for all of the people and creatures of the four kingdoms to coexist and work as one." That sounded ideal, a beautiful utopia Feliciano though, but then Renata turned sour, a frown that already showed that it was not that promise. “Their governing systems were nothing like ours. Both these kingdoms relied on one Queen for the White Kingdom, and one King for the Dark Kingdom. They were eternal, placed on our world as powerful guardians from the Aces, watchers that peace would maintain in both those kingdoms. Queen Pisa was exceptionally kind and wanted only but prosperity and calm for her kingdom, as well as peace with all the rest of the kingdoms. King Khaos…”

Feliciano recalled the men mentioning that name, perhaps their leader, and from the sudden fear in Renata’s eyes at the mere mentioning, it could be the case.

“Was a horrid man, vengeful, murderous and not an ounce of mercy to give, even to children.” Feliciano had seen enough proof of that. “He was a greedy ruler, who took the riches of the kingdom for himself, leaving the rest of it in poverty and misery. But even everything was not enough to satisfy him. He wanted more power, control to even exceed those limited to him by the Aces.

There was a period in our time, those we call the Blackened Decades, where he pushed for war all across our world, managing the fall and disappearance of the White Kingdom. Khaos had killed Pisa himself and sought the same faith for the rest of the Kings and Queens. The world fought for many years to stop this man, but one soldier, one King, made the difference to grant us that victory.” In her story she smiled, proudness, a hand caressing a symbol of Hearts she had in her medallion necklace. “One of your great grandfathers actually.”

“King Romulus,” Feliciano wondered, who knew how acclaimed that man was in their family, the reason of their prosperity and fame all across the four kingdoms.

“Indeed. He, along with his own Queen and Jack, united the strength of all the kingdoms in a ruthless army that was enough to defeat Khaos’s. Romulus battled on Khaos himself and had come close to killing him on behalf of the life he had taken from Pisa, but refused to, for no matter what Khaos had done, he was still a powerful entity from the very Aces. Instead, he took some of his power and banished him to tough and lifeless territories. His kingdom was dissolved into the Club Kingdom, and what was left of the White Kingdom was dissolved into the Spades Kingdom. That area he was imprisoned to was locked well with magic from all the Kings, Queens and Jacks of the time. He was left alone with nothing, but it never ceased his anger and vengeance. Many times we have received threats of war from him, especially to the Hearts Kingdom, for it was the one that led his defeat.”

“But you said he’s alone, vanished, imprisoned with magic. He can’t really be a threat anymore,” Feliciano hoped.

“As you saw yourself, many in his council had survived, as well as supporters who harbored hatred for the four kingdoms and had joined him throughout the years. Since the power of the locked wall and field only applies to him, his henchman can come in and out as freely as they wish. Each have different duties, but some specifically target the royals, especially those of the Hearts Kingdom. They usually provide a threat in feasts like these and bring with them dark magic that turns everything around them grim and deathly."

Feliciano was reminded on how darkened the woods seemed to him as he walked with Kiku and Ludwig, nothing like the security and enchantment he felt playing in any forests of Hearts.

“That’s why nobody wanted you out of the palace during the ball. Part of us knew some of them were bound to come.”

“Isn’t there a way to really stop them?”

“For now, all we can do is capture and imprison those we do find. The King and Queen of Hearts are actually in charge of travelling to the field that keeps Khaos a certain amount of years, make sure it’s strong and that he hasn’t done anything out of hand.”

Silence as Feliciano though about what she just said, as his position knowing he will one day be Queen.

“So…I have to do that?”

She nodded and he grew terrified, holding to his mother closely, as if they could take him that instant to see those walls.

“But do not worry, when the time comes, you’ll go through the right preparation, and I don’t think anything is bound to happen. Those walls are powerful and had stood so for many centuries.”

He could trust his mother’s words, he could ease for now, it was a duty far from their moment. Silence went on for now, both watching outside the small windows as other dignitaries began to leave, the palace settling to a shush, many servants turning off or dimming the palace lights. Even if Augusto and Vincenzo had found Lovino, they still lay conversing with the owner of the palace, the guardian leader of Rome. From how immersed they seemed, plus Lovino’s annoyed looking face, they still had a lot to talk about.

“Mamma, what happened to Ludwig, did they cause it?” He asked, worried that he would get scolded for asking, but he needed to know, he needed to know Ludwig was going to be all right.

Renata sighed heavily, a worry that was to compare to Feliciano’s own.

“I’m afraid not. What happened to Ludwig…you and Kiku caused it,” she admitted, no matter how painful it would be for Feliciano to know, she would have to explain.

“No, no, I couldn’t have caused it. I didn’t want anything to happen to him, I love him, I would never,” he cried, big tears staining his entire face, a weeping that brought sorrow to Renata herself, taking her small boy to cradle into her lap, no matter how big he was starting to grow.

“Feliciano, you, Ludwig and Kiku were granted with immense power from the gods, one that is too much for your little and young bodies to take, and thus was no meant to be activated yet. That amount of power needs to be dealt with carefully and were not meant to be used until your year of Arising, when your bodies are grown and can deal with the training that comes with it. That’s why you were not meant to meet with Kiku yet. The Heart’s royal’s power is activated by the union of the three.”

That fire that Ludwig blew then, was actually his own power, the magic that had wondered Feliciano about the adults, one that at some point he thought of wanting to have, but now that he saw what it did to Ludwig, it was no longer appealing, nothing he wanted for himself, for Ludwig and for Kiku.

“He-he’s going to be okay, r-right? I-I mean, nothing happened to me or Kiku." He looked up to her with big brown shinning eyes, wet still with tears.

Renata only continued to look back with a great saddened expression, rocking her son, hands caressing at his arms.

“Ludwig is the future King, Feliciano. Of the three, he holds the more power and will show the more power. With the activation and with his little experience, he has to continuously use that large amount that cannot fit in his body, releasing whatever harm that could be kept inside so it does not clog or burn. It could severe him horribly or even kill him if he does not deal with this well.”

And there was no ease to Feliciano, who felt more at blame, knowing his best friend was to suffer out of their childish and careless actions.

“His family will do what they can, it’s not the first time it has happened to a King, but he will go through some harsh training and the next time we meet, things might be different and we’ll have to go along with them.”

He nodded, he will, anything to not see Ludwig fall so lifeless again.

“It all depends on how he can deal with it. Ludwig is strong, I’m sure he’ll manage.”

Renata smiled down to him and Feliciano finally smiled back, content and hopeful.

He truly did believe in Ludwig and surely this wouldn’t affect them so bad.

 

Elizaveta and Roderich rarely came to the Hearts Kingdom, but how they wished they could. What a breeze, what a color, what a view, what peace. They adored taking these joyous trips, out of the stress that came with the coming preparation for their own years of Arising. They took an easy stride on two well-kept horses, ones Augusto had offered to them, gladly for it was just the right animal companions that could help them make their way across the near fields, valleys, forests and hills. They were nearing the goal they had set, and what a pity it was. They still wanted to keep on daring further, but they thought of the tiredness of the animals, plus other responsibilities they were given once they agreed on this little excursion.

They found a nice place to just stop and admire the height, all the grass and trees that extended all around them in great beauty. The breeze that blew was very refreshing, but not chilling. Roderich had to breathe it all in, all to himself if he could.

“No air is fresher than this,” he said to the very wind, for a moment forgetting that he was joined by the princess and Queen he would one day serve.

“Not even Club’s?” Elizaveta chuckled.

Roderich was not one to compliment other Kingdoms that weren’t his. But then again, part of her future Jack’s family is from Hearts.

“It’s comparable,” he defended, but the glint in his eyes was nothing like he had given any other kingdom other than his own Austrian province in Clubs.

Elizaveta could see past all that and find the hidden wonder Roderich harbored for Hearts.

“I wish we could stay like this, in this peace, it’s just what I need.” He seemed like he would fall off from the horse and let himself float in the air.

“I’m still leading!” A shout broke it all.

“I can still reach!” Another called.

“Prove it to me!”

“Just you wait, Prince Potato!”

Three riders passed by them, in rushing speeds that had dust blowing to the face of the Jack, who tried to keep his patience, blowing in and out and not wanting to anger himself just yet.

The culprits to this, no other than the future King and Queen of hearts, Ludwig and Feliciano.

Their horses ran next to each other, surely on one team, laugthing, their small bodies jumping above in the air as they quickened the pace of their animals. Right behind them rushed the Prince and future King of Spades, Alfred, surely their competition trying to catch up to them. Then there was Gilbert’s, a maniac laugh as he passed. Francis’s, ever so elegantly and clean, like he was parading on a feast for all his subjects. Finally, there was Antonio and Lovino’s horses, who had a slow pace, easing past them without a trouble, immersed in their conversation. It was a surprise Lovino hadn’t joined in on this race, probably preferring to instead talk to the older servant boy. Even so, Roderich wouldn’t quench, he still laid huffing, dirt now covering his very nice coat.

“Goodbye my peace, goodbye,” he protested, trying to clean what he could.

“For a boy whose powers got accidentally activated, he has made no difference.” He wished he did, but Ludwig continued with the same games and playfulness.

“Roderich, that happened a year ago and he’s dealt with it rather well. Besides, he’s only eight, let him play for now,” she smiled, looking to the rushing figures ahead of them, feasting in their own race.

And just like Elizaveta could read his own thoughts, Roderich could do the same to her.

“You want to join in,” he noticed, having given up on riding the dirt, settling with it.

Elizaveta tried to hold the smile and the want, but it was very hard. She was already asking for a sort of permission with her gaze to him, and he sighed and let her. Not even a second passed and she rushed forward, raising more dust to dirty him.

“Just you guys wait,” she called loudly for the entire valley to hear, and she was received with shouts of both acceptance on her joining and insults when she dared pass them.

Roderich still refused to take part of this silliness and went on with his normal pace towards the spot they had all decided would be their final reaching, where they would rest and have a nice picnic.

It was at the top of a small clear hill, only decorated with a single tree on its top, covering the hill’s entirety in a cool and wonderful shadow. It had an excellent view all around them, space to enjoy all together and grass for their horses to eat. By the time Roderich had arrived, a blanket was already placed and they were preparing a small banquet of all the foods they had brought. Ludwig had to constantly stop Feliciano and Alfred from taking anything before everything was ready.

“Is that a Sachertorte?” Roderich gasped when he noticed it.

“Mütti made it for you,” Ludwig said proudly, having just placed it on the blanket with some other sweets and candies.

“Which reminds me. Ludwig, eine Rot.”

The young prince groaned, “I already did one in the last hour."

“Do we have to constantly remind you it’s two each afternoon hour. Now come on, the sooner the better.”

Ludwig put up a face. This had been fun the first few times, but now it was just tiring and repetitive.

“Please, Ludwig.” Of course it was Feliciano who would convince him.

He sat by the base of the tree, crossed his legs and made himself comfortable. Feliciano joined his side and laid his head on his shoulder, his own comfort, looking up to him expectantly for his exercise. Ludwig held out his arm, closed his eyes and focused as he was taught. The veins in his arm thumped and turned bright red, all like rivers making their way to his hand, where from his palm grew a shining red ball that then transformed into a tamed flame. He was to hold it there for two minutes, let the magic in his arm relax slowly by second until it disappeared along with the flame, and his arm was free for now until a couple of more minutes for his next turn.

“There, all done.”

Everyone was seated and thus their digging could begin. They all gathered plates and served themselves, some already hasting into biting, dirtying the blanket, the grass and themselves.

What savages, Roderich thought.

At least they were all enjoying from their snacking, all until Ludwig felt a sudden burn, ones that were constant ever since his activation. He winced and dropped a strawberry, shaking his hand as if trying to turn off a blazing fire on his hand. It truly felt like it.

“I hate this so much,” he complained, going to the breathing exercises they had taught him for when this happened.

“Well, if a certain set of children hadn’t gone and met with their own Jack before time, this wouldn’t have happened,” Roderich reminded, always something that brought sour faces to both Ludwig and Feliciano.

“It’s still a really stupid law,” Ludwig hoped to defend himself.

“How can it be stupid when it prevents from this happening. It’s done for your safety.”

“You spend time with Elizaveta just fine."

“The activations are different in Clubs. You’re lucky that you even have a chance to meet with your Queen. Alfred here,” he pointed to him just as he was trying to eat a whole jar of marshmallows in one swallow. He was stopped by an angry glare from Elizaveta. “Won’t meet his Queen until his year of arising."

“My queen hasn’t even been born yet,” Francis added. Ludwig did not know how that would work, since the Diamond prince is already fourteen years old. “Don’t worry, in Diamonds, the King and Queen are not to wed, but the King does need to have a guardianship to the Queen, sort of like a teacher,” he explained before the prince got any wrong ideas.

“It’s just the way the Aces settled everything when this world was created,” Elizaveta said, her more gentile voice enough to calm any hostility that might grow over these differences.

“Well, when I’m king, I’m going to talk to them myself and make them change things,” he pouted, which only received laughter from many of them. “I’m serious."

“Just as I’m serious about marking Roderich’s ass with a Joker symbol,” Gilbert joked, which earned another round of laughter and a glare from his cousin.

“I think it’s a great idea!” Alfred interjected. “I will talk to the gods as well. When I’m king, maybe I can get them to give me super strength!” He glowed.

“The Kings our gods will be counting on,” Roderich rolled his eyes.

“What our people will be counting on,” Elizaveta added.

“Can I also ask the gods for something when I’m Queen?” Feliciano asked.

“Of course you can!”

“Ludwig, it does not work like that!”

“When I’m King, I’ll make it illegal for you to speak.”

Elizaveta laughed while Roderich looked purely insulted.

“You wouldn’t dare!”

“I would!”

“It would still need another acceptance from your Queen."

“He already has my acceptance then!”

“Do not treat this like a game!”

“We would play games all day when I’m King!”

Alfred applauded to that.

“Being a King will not depend on playing."

“I’ll make it so when I am.”

Roderich was honestly getting tired of this. He was about to say more words on the matter, make Ludwig realize and put him in his place, but a sudden movement caught all their attention. The presence of a St. Mark lion, beautiful lion creatures with fire manes and wings, natural to the Hearts Kingdom, but yet still so rare to encounter. Once they noticed it, they all hurriedly stood up and begged for a look. Francis made sure none got too close to it and surprisingly they all behaved and stayed put, the sounds only those of wonderment and intrigue as they saw it feed from a nice area of grass and water from a near river.

“Those boys, they will have the kingdom destroyed like this,” Roderich commented to Elizaveta, both still remaining in their spot by the picnic.

“Roderich, they’re all just teenagers and children for now. They’ll realize their true duties in the future, but for now, just let them be, let them dream and hope for what they can have. It will get them to work harder in the future,” Elizaveta explained, taking what was Ludwig and Feliciano’s resting spot by the tree for herself now. It was indeed comfortable.

“It’s still a nuisance to know that these will be the people I will be working with in the future."

“You say it like you’re the only one who’s going to do his job.”

“I will do what I can to make it properly.”

“And I’m sure they will too. Just give them the time to mature and grow.”

Roderich trusted her words for now, gazing over to the pact of children who still gazed on to the creature.

They were all so innocent, a scene of peace and color, of fairytales and not the worrying future ahead of them.

Yes, Elizaveta was right, they should enjoy it for now, for things were not always going remain like this.

Chapter Text

It was such a pretty cake. Tall, big, coated in a special vanilla fondant made to look like marble. Golden chocolate flowers sprinkled around it, Feliciano tempted to take one of those into his mouth. He couldn’t. He had already taken a sample as he had helped make it with his mother. Even still, he couldn’t wait to cut into it and indulge from the chocolate and fruit mix inside. Preparations went around him and for him, only the well-presented cake was what mattered. Too distracted he was by it that he though no one would notice if he neared to take a flower.

“Feliciano!” His mother called, joining him by the large table to place some decorating chocolate coins. “You already had enough this morning. If you want more, you have to wait till we sing you happy birthday."

“It looks so yummy, I couldn't hold myself.”

Renata chuckled. She handed him a chocolate coin for now, which he gladly took and was already unwrapping.

While his mother continued decorating the table with his birthday cake, Feliciano decided on helping two maids who were placing some curtains on a corner of the gazebo.

“You don’t have to do this, Feli,” one said as Feliciano tied it down with a beautiful bow.

“It’s all right! I don’t mind!” He told ecstatically, really trying to prove he had no problem with offering help.

He ran all around the area as he helped on different maids and servants, with great dedication and happiness, surely the glee that came with it being his ninth birthday.

He was helping someone light up a chandelier in the halls when an informant came in his horse.

“The King is approaching. He’ll be in our home along with his family in a matter of minutes."

“It’s quite early to already be having guest,” Renata said as she gazed around the feast.

There were still so many things that needed to be done. It was in no state to accept the King of Hearts.

“We told him so, but he seems rather insisting on coming.”

She groaned, but there was nothing else she could do. King Aldrich will just have to do with the ongoing preparations for his arrival.

“All right then, well, Felici-” she turned towards him but didn’t find him at all in the spot he was just at merely seconds ago. She turned all around her and nothing. It was like he had suddenly disappeared. “Feliciano?” She called. No response. Where did he go?

 

A bright ball of light gleamed all throughout the carriage. The source came from one Ludwig currently held in the palm of his hand. His fingers moved to intensify it, to make little rays dance around it, stretching all around in swirls and some of them trying to form into beautiful flowers. Ludwig still needed to keep training to be able to do that.

Everyone in the carriage was deeply impressed, but Ludwig couldn’t hold it for long, and like the blowing of a flame, it was gone, his hand now pulsing in light, paining him. He held to it as he breathed in, and quickly it all disappeared and he settled back into his seat, already tired.

“You’re improving,” Aldrich complimented him, an actual smile forming on his lips.

Ludwig smiled back proud, his hand back to normal, no trace of the magic he just used.

“Not falling as breathless as he used to,” his grandmother noticed.

“And your abilities have improved greatly. At this rate, you can definitely-”

“Start the next part of your training,” Aldrich interrupted his daughter, brightness in his face that no one understood the reason for.

Only Louis seemed to know, quickly settling her gaze outside to the landscape of the Italian province, as if to hide or avoid hearing what Aldrich could be telling their grandson.

“The next part?” Ludwig questioned.

“Yes.” Aldrich took a quick glance to the window to see how close they were to the Valenti home, noticing it appear in the distance.

He had never been this hesitant to arrive.

“Ludwig, you’re a growing boy, and in a matter of a few years, you won’t be a child any longer.”

Ludwig saddened, head down, hands intertwined on his lap, a haunting realization falling over him.

“You’ll be a man, a king, with power from the gods and a beautiful queen at your side to your disposal, that is if Feliciano continues to be remarkably like his mother.”

To Ludwig it felt like he was addressing his best friend and his own mother as just an object to own, which he completely disliked and what was about to comment on it, but a strong gaze from his mother halted him from starting. He settled yet again, sat loyally and silent as his grandfather would want him for the rest of this conversation.

“You have to live up to all these things, and as so, in this particular part of your training, we’ll already be teaching you the ways of the Kings."

“I thought that was only meant for my year of arising."

“The early activation of your power has brought the decision to begin. Not only will you continue to practice your power and magic, but we will also need to strengthen your body for the new increase it will get.”

Ludwig gripped his arm tight, worried over what new pain that could mean.

“Not just physically, but your mind must begin to go with these changes as well. You have to begin to act more respectfully and responsible, leave behind your childish ways. They’ll offer you no chances of moving ahead."

“Ho-how will I be able to do that?” He asked.

“You’ll learn yourself,” was his only reply after a long thinking silence.

And that silence continued, an aura of haunt spreading throughout the carriage, surely from Ludwig, who looked still as uneasy, quivering and tightening his hold upon himself, as if he was trying to hold himself from crying out the great worry he felt.

“Ludwig." Aldrich moved close, thinking of a way to try and ease him, but their closer approach to the Vargas’s home made any comforting words leave his mind. Even if he did have them, he had never been good at this. It was always something he usually let his wife or daughter deal with. But now, both these women were just as uneased, worried for their little boy of course, who was now soon to face the adult world before he should. Going to the Valenti house reminded them of his joy, of his freedom, of a chance that his childhood could live forever.

Knowing what Aldrich was going to tell Augusto today was like coming to destroy it, and now beginning the coming of a new stage of their life.

“I want you to really enjoy what time you have left with Feliciano."

Ludwig raised his head suddenly, concern much more intense than the one he just felt.

“What do you mean time left?”

Aldrich didn’t answer, he didn’t know how he could explain it to him at that moment.

“Feliciano is a precious friend to you, one that you should treasure every moment with. But now especially, you should more than ever,” he told him sincerely, placing a hand on his shoulder, to calm him down over this new stress. “Do not worry so much, it is still not yet.”

What was not yet? Ludwig asked to himself. Why was his grandfather telling him all this? What was everyone in the carriage so worried about? Why was he feeling so scared?

“Calm down, Ludwig, calm down, nothing to-”

“Ciao, tutti!” Feliciano appeared suddenly on their window, hanged from the side of the carriage and everyone started screaming.

The carriage shook and to the surprise of many, Feliciano still held on as it soon entered the gates. It went back to its easy pace while everyone in the carriage was taking back their breath and trying to calm down from the future Queen’s suddenness.

“Feliciano! What in the world?!” Aldrich exclaimed, fearing he had just gotten a heart attack from his surprise.

“Mamma said you were coming and I wanted to be the first one to say hi.”

The rest groaned, but for once after Aldrich had begun speaking to him, Ludwig smiled and laughed as he usually did with Feliciano.

“Well at least get down from there before you get hurt." He helped him to get down and had him join them inside for what remained.

It was rather quick, for in a matter of seconds they had stopped and a servant had come to open their door. As soon he did, both the young prince and Feliciano rushed off into the home.

“Come on! You have to see what Nonno gave me for my birthday!” Feliciano shouted, and they disappeared into the home before the rest could even place a foot on Valenti ground.

Aldrich was the only one who groaned at such behavior, but the rest smiled on. Louis and Monika were glad to have the Valenti home in silence, surely time to speak to Renata peacefully before the guests began coming in and they would have various more children running the land and shouting as eagerly as Ludwig and Feliciano.

“Antonio here?” Gilbert asked the servant who came for them.

“He’s helping with the preparations.”

Gilbert rushed to find him.

“And Augusto?” Aldrich asked.

“In the study room, your majesty,” he bowed and led a hand to the hall he was to take if he wanted to reach him.

Aldrich wasted no time in coming in, much to the startlement of many servants who did not expect the king to come so early. They bowed and fixed things rather messily for him, but Aldrich didn’t give them any sort of glance or attention. He had a goal for the night and nothing was going to stop him from bringing the fated question.

 

The glass with wine he had in his hand was delicious, exquisite, sweet, a bit of sour that didn’t damage the overall taste. It was a bottle from the year his daughter was born, harvested right in their fields and kept in their large cellars. He was proud of the wine label his family owned, proud to have worked for it, proud for the fame they held not just in the province, but the Hearts Kingdom and the others. He wished he could take more often from the ones of that year, but he promised to only drink for certain special occasions. His grandson’s ninth birthday was a sufficient excuse, and thus he enjoyed from it alone in his study, immersed in the silence before the feast truly began.

His study was a comfortable one, for his work, but also to relax. Sometimes he would catch Ludwig and Feliciano taking a nap there, or maybe Lovino. He did have some comfortable sofas there for them to take, the right colors, dim lighting and a great view to their fields and beyond to the forest and mountains. The windows were large enough to showcase everything to Augusto, making him feel like he ruled upon it all with his own throne. He noticed from there the ongoing preparations, the figures of his daughter and Princess Monika, conversing together as they helped each other with table preparations.

Princess Monika? What was she doing here so early? If she was here, then that meant- there was a knock at his door and already he had an idea of who it could be.

“It’s open,” he called, and instantly the large doors headed open to the King of Hearts.

He arrived alone, with no announcing guards. Silent, stoic and serious as ever. This time it was powerful though, like a force that could make the whole house fall silent if he wished.

Was something wrong? Augusto though. Nothing that a glass of wine could not cure.

He took an empty and clean glass from a drawer and offered it up to him, pointing to the label of the wine so the King could see that this was indeed fine and he should take a chance from it now that he had it opened and was even willing to share. Aldrich seemed to ignore it, he took a seat next to him and settled with watching over to the view in silence. Augusto settled along and stared as the feast soon began to take life.

Guests arrived, servants began bringing in trays of snacks and drinks, music started and couples already joined in dances. Renata had changed into a beautiful dress and had caught the eyes of many, which in turn got her husband to remain by her side throughout it. Augusto had giggled upon the rim of his glass when he noticed.

He caught his youngest grandson and his beloved friend running into the desserts table to take their probably twentieth chocolate coin, running off before anyone noticed they did. Augusto laughed and pointed to the scene, yet Aldrich remained as indifferent.

No matter, no problem with laughing alone.

“Nine years old,” Aldrich finally spoke.

“Mhm, nine years old. We are here, and my boy is still lovely, healthy and with hope to continue on." He raised his glass to Aldrich, and the king, to please him, poured a small amount of wine and raised his own.

“For many more years for them. The Kingdom is in good hands,” and they toasted, Augusto wasting no time in taking his drink all in one gulp.

Aldrich only swiveled it and placed the glass back on the desk. Surely Augusto would take it afterwards.

“He’ll be turning ten next year.”

Dread settled, one so intense that Augusto suddenly found no good taste in his excellent wine, yet he continued taking it as to show that he was unfazed.

“And you know what will happen on his tenth birthday, right?” Aldrich's gaze was intense on him and Augusto was slightly scared to look towards it.

“There’s still a year left,” he tried to defend.

“A year for us to prepare and decide."

“We can decide this later."

“I want to decide now, Augusto," Aldrich commanded, with a harshness and control that Augustus knew he could not go against, could not escape. Now was the time to choose.

“Why not better speak to his father or mother about this?”

“You are still the superior of the family and the one with more knowledge when it comes to this. You worked in the castle and knew what I went through with Louis. You know what would be best for your grandson, as well as for the kingdom. The decision depends on you.”

Yet Augusto did not answer, did not share a glance and lay pensive, surely maddened over the haste the King wanted his answer.

“Tell me, will my grandson marry yours? Will we go through with the engagement?”

No answer was given, for the other old man still though on.

Augusto noticed Ludwig and Feliciano, eating their chocolate coins hidden from everyone else, talking and laughing, surely thinking of ways they could take more without getting in trouble.

“I do not know, Aldrich, things can change in nine years."

“In nine years these two grew a bond that makes them inseparable to this day. Surely it would remain as such for when they take the throne. It would be ideal. For the first time in centuries we have a Queen from the Italian province who already holds a dear relationship with his King. It is surely a sign of what is to come. The Kingdom could be at a prosperous height like it had been when Romulus was at the throne.”

A chance like this was something to be compared to ancient prophecies or legends.

“What if they’re not?”

“They will be, there is no questioning it.”

And yet no clear answer from Augusto, still lost in his choice.

“Don’t act as if you never knew I would come to ask you this one day."

“It’s…” his emotions took the better of him.

He looked to his adoring grandchild, a baby still in his eyes. He could almost hear his childish laughter even with the commotion of the party and the barrier of the glass. “I feel like I’m already sending him away to grow up."

“They won’t marry until they’re eighteen. You still have plenty of time to spend what’s left of his childhood and the coming of his adolescence.”

But it would be different. He knew that accepting this meant taking away something dear from Feliciano.

“Their marriage will make the Kingdom stronger. You know accepting this is the right choice, so stop the hesitation and make your answer clear already," he shushed and didn’t continue. What he said should be enough to convince him.

Still no words, only continuous thinking that Augusto knew he had to slowly take away his feelings out of.

Feliciano would be a good Queen, same for Ludwig when it came to being King, marriage or not. He knew that the union would give an extra strength to their power, a power that would also be given to their land. The richness they would be given would be something that could even reach further than any of the other kingdoms could. It would be the best for both Ludwig and Feliciano, the best for his crops and lands, the best for his people. Aldrich was right, in nine years they surely showcased their friendship, who knows what their mature union could do, and if they fell in love…Augusto let a chuckle escape.

Looking down upon them, there was no doubt that such feelings would reach them in the future.

For once he looked upon Aldrich, a confident smile, away from the concern he had felt, now replaced with the promise of true love to his grandson. A love that he knew would prove faithful, powerful and loyal to his Queen.

Augusto offered his hand. “I approve of their engagement.”

Aldrich grinned himself, taking Augusto’s hand in a shake.

It was decided.

 

They had enough of the chocolate coins, plus their mothers were already suspecting since they ate very few of their dinner. But once they were free, the lands of the house were theirs, where they ran and looked upon whatever scenery the night offered them. Ludwig was currently trying to help Feliciano climb to a thick branch from a tree, to just sit and stare on to the heights of the house, truly feeling like they were already given the thrones to their kingdom.

It was at his turn to come up that he noticed from his stand Augusto and his own grandfather coming out from the house to join in the festivities. They seemed quite happy, Aldrich managing a chuckle here and there as Augusto patted him in the back and lead him across the party. It reminded him of the stories his grandmother or mother would tell him about how close those two always were, some daring it to compare to Ludwig and Feliciano themselves. Yet Ludwig didn’t smile, if anything it only got him to worry more, to bring back the sadness that Feliciano had made him forget.

“Ludwig,” Feliciano had called carefully, noticing easily the expression on his face. He leaned closer to the bark, hoping to reach him from his height. “Is something wrong?” He asked, his eyes meeting with his, a gaze enough to calm him like stable water without a ripple.

Ludwig shook his head and climbed up to join Feliciano on his side, both now steady and looking over to the lights of the feast.

“Oppa, he was saying some…weird things in the carriage on the way here."

“What kind of things?”

Ludwig didn’t know how he could explain it to Feliciano without worrying him in turn and a dreadful silence settled as Ludwig though about what he could tell him. Feliciano didn’t mind it, he had a great view to distract him, the wind, and the swaying of his feet in the air from up high.

“He said something about, you know, growing up, and he said I have to enjoy…what’s left of our time together.”

Feliciano stopped his swaying and switched his entire gaze to him, panic in his big eyes.

“Time left? What did he mean by that?” His question begged, inching closer, maintaining close to Ludwig before someone close dared separate him.

“I don’t know, he didn’t say."

“Ma-maybe he was just saying that."

“I hope so.”

Ludwig leaned over a near branch, the worry ever so present, one that Feliciano understood and easily saw now. He leaned himself, but as he did, he took Ludwig’s hand in a reassuring hold.

“Whatever it is, in a way, he is right. We should enjoy our time together,” he smiled, just enough to return joy to Ludwig’s own expression. “We are going to be growing up soon, and maybe he meant that we should enjoy from our time as we are now.”

Ludwig chuckled, leaning himself close to Feliciano, their thighs pressed together.

“I doubt much is going to change,” he laughed.

“I hope it never does,” Feliciano laughed in turn.

How he wished Ludwig would always laugh like that in the future.

Chapter Text

It was the morning of his tenth birthday, but Feliciano had awakened to it like any other.

Sunshine came through the window, a light that Feliciano always managed to lay under even in his deep sleep. Because of the heat, as he grew older, he began getting used to the idea of sleeping naked, letting the sun tan more of his skin. His mother would beg him to at least wear underwear, for the servants may sometimes barge in unknowingly. That favor he at least granted, but at the moment, it was such a nuisance and he was close to getting it off and throwing it over to a corner. He really should, before they awakened him and got him ready for his- that’s when he remembered.

He suddenly sat up, wide awake, easily shaking off any sleep he held.

It was his birthday. He glowed like the very sun that shone on him from the window.

He picked up a large white shirt that belonged to his grandfather and dealt with it for now. He stood, headed out his room and rushed excitedly to the kitchen. His family would always greet his birthday mornings with a nice breakfast, plus the menu of whatever they were planning to make for the day, which he would always help along with his brother.

He slid into the kitchen for an entrance, raising his hands and waiting for the congratulations and praises. He was met with silence instead. Only two maids were present in the kitchen, preparing drinks and filling them into their more prestige cups that they only used when important people like the King came. They were so immersed with their work they didn’t even notice the young master come in.

Feliciano looked about the counters and chairs and saw no presence of his family or even a small plate with scribbled ‘Buon Cumpleanno’ of hazelnut chocolate over his treat.

Maybe they were somewhere else.

He headed out into the halls, the same servants working on cleaning, fixing everything but not really placing any elaborate decorations like they would in any of his birthday parties. Usually at this hour they were filled with commotion and hurry, even preparing the gardens. He took a quick glance to those very doors that lead to them, they were shut tight and through the windows he saw no presence of anybody outside.

Did they all forget it was his birthday?

He heard footsteps approaching down from the stairs and they were from his mother, still clothed in her sleeping gown. “Ah, there you are. I came to wake you and you weren’t there in your room."

“Mamma, you do know it’s my birthday right?” He instantly asked.

“Of course I do, why would I forget?”

“Then you should get people to prepare for the party. Also I’m hungry, and you didn’t make me something this morning.”

She bit her lips and avoided his stare, leaning down slightly to move messy hair out of his face.

“We’re doing something different this year, mio caro.

“Different? Are we going somewhere?”

“No.” There were no other words she could use to explain for now. “But come on, let’s get you ready for when Ludwig comes." She stood and lead him a hand for him to take, heading towards his room.

Feliciano didn’t object, excited that at least Ludwig would come as he normally did.

 

He didn’t get why he was dressed as nicely as his mother had insisted. Nobody was arriving and it seemed like only Ludwig and his family were coming. When he headed out, the house continued as it normally did when he woke up that morning. His family though, came dressed as if they were heading to a ball…or a funeral. The atmosphere was rather somber, sad expressions shown on every face, even on Lovino’s and he himself didn’t understand what was going on either. They all stood at the base of the stairs, right by the entrance, waiting for Ludwig surely. Feliciano wanted to take from some of the snacks they were preparing in their meeting room, but was held in place by his grandfather.

“What are we waiting for?” He asked.

“For Ludwig,” Augusto easily answered.

“But why like this?” Feliciano was never answered.

They kept waiting in silence, and no movement was given from them until they all heard the approaching carriage. By the sound of it, it didn’t seem like one at all, but plenty. Maybe they were all the guests to his party, Feliciano though excitedly. He wanted to rush forward to the window and see for himself, but his grandfather’s tight grip did not let any such movement. He heard various footsteps, horses calling and the rushing of fabric against the floor, but it was all silent, not a single whisper escaping into his ear.

The doors finally opened, and Feliciano had light up, ready to run forward and give Ludwig his usual welcoming hug. Instead, a line of twelve robed old men came. They passed them without a care, heading forward to the meeting room, the only one the servants had been preparing for the day. Feliciano looked carefully, wanting to greet them somehow, wash the silent stares and expressions they held. He tried smiling towards many of them, but it was left ignored. Despite what Feliciano considered to be rudeness, their robes were extravagantly beautiful, the red of their kingdom incrusted with symbols of hearts in gold, flowing behind them like curtains or the veil of a bride.

After they all settled inside, a lone figure came next, that of the Jack of Hearts. He came dressed in his finest wear, something that Feliciano knew they only wore for the most important occasions. He didn’t mind at all bowing to him as his family had done. He knew the Jack of Hearts was a figure of respect to be compared to the very King and Queen, especially after it was a person that he was only seeing and meeting for the first time.

He bowed in turn to them and then left forward to the same room the other men had come. Then, finally, the King and Queen entered, Aldrich holding the same tightening grasp on Ludwig as Augusto held on Feliciano. They were all dressed in their supreme royal wear, crowns adorning their heads, the richest fabrics in red of course, jewels and gold on them and looking up high like they would to any of the subjects below them. Ludwig, who looked rather uncomfortable with his cape, sashes, tightening clothes and miniature crown on his head, only managed to ignore it when he finally saw Feliciano. They both smiled and were ready now to run for each other, but their families didn’t dare let them move an inch unless they said so.

For the first time ever, they all bowed towards the royal family like they were total strangers. It was something odd to both Ludwig and Feliciano, who had gotten used to hugs, kisses, handshakes even, all throughout their lives. Even if this was supposed to be a formal greeting, to them it felt so out of place and improper. They couldn’t question any longer as they in turn were brought over to the room.

All furniture that was once there was moved to the sides, only but two chairs in the center, in front of it some utensils of blessings and rituals that they usually only saw in churches. What stood out the most was a simple red ribbon, tied by a sort of white sash and only to be broken when it would be ready to be used. The twelve old men and the Jack were all standing in front of an altar they had moved from the chapel in the Valenti home, a good distance away from the chairs that were prepared. Family began accommodating around the room, making sure to not step into the center at all.

“Go on and sit boys,” Renata told them sweetly, giving them quite a relief and confidence after the rather hanging atmosphere that was above them.

Hesitantly, afraid and slow, they moved towards the chairs, so untrustworthy of them that they even patted the base to make sure nothing was wrong with them. Seeing as nothing happened, they both took their seat, a close distance to each other at least. Being next to each other always made them feel more secured about unknown things such as this.

The old men, along with the Jack, Queen and King settled in a conversation between themselves, the rest of their families attending to what they were saying. At Ludwig and Feliciano’s distance, they could not hear at all.

“Do you know what all of this is?” Feliciano finally managed to ask, keeping quiet so no attention was brought to them.

“I have no idea. Nobody wants to tell me anything. What about you?”

“Neither.”

They both looked around them for a clue, but Ludwig used the time to loosen the hold his collar had on his neck. It was then that Feliciano actually noticed what he was wearing, admiring it’s design, the colors, how they suited well on Ludwig’s form. Feliciano couldn’t believe that he was thinking that it was handsome on him. He chuckled, one that had caught Ludwig’s attention.

“What?” He wondered.

“You look really nice, Ludwig.”

With that smile, those admiring eyes, Ludwig had flushed red, nervous that it just got him to pull his collar more.

“I-It’s n-not m-much.”

Feliciano found it extremely adorable at how nervous he suddenly got.

“I usually wear things like this back at the palace. You though...”

What Feliciano wore was much simpler compared to what he adorned. He had a loose red jacket over him in their usual reds, with beautifully encrusted golden flowers and vines, surely a white blouse underneath, simple red pants, a rich belt with Heart symbols, black little boots with gold and reds decorating it and a simple little red roses flower crown on his head, common for awaiting Queens at Feliciano’s age. Once again Ludwig had flushed, for he admitted that even at how simple it was, it fitted Feliciano and made him stand out beautifully. “L-lo-look amazing.”

It was Feliciano’s turn to become as red as their kingdom color, but he still smiled shyly, making sure that his own crown was still on his head as his mother had placed it.

“Th-thanks,” he giggled, and Ludwig upon seeing it, admitted that no smile could ever be as adoring to him.

The rest of the adults suddenly moved, the Jack and the old men taking their place behind the altar, surely whatever they were talking about done.

“We may begin,” the Jack announced.

The twelve men instantly bowed, made hand gestures and a symbol appeared magically before them, one Ludwig recognized as a very ancient Hearts symbol, probably the very first one. After the symbol disappeared, it’s very sparks light up some candles they had placed around them. They waited until the fires turned fully red before they began humming. The sound was enough of a tremble to cause the home to shake, eerie and menacing, a very ritualistic feeling to it, much more than any of their churches had done. It scared the two future monarchs, who wanted nothing than to hold each other as comfort. The Jack glared at them not to.

He waited until the men reached a certain hum before he opened a large book before him and began reciting a Latin scripture. It sounded very old, some words here and there that Feliciano could recognize for he knew slightly the language for it being the root to Italian.

He heard: Gods, Hearts, spirit, soul, union, red, promise, engagement, marriage, ring, gifts, eight years, arising, throne, crowns, king, queen, and heirs. He could make no sense of what it meant though.

It went on for many minutes, to the point of being tiring to the children. Constant gazes from their families was what worked to keep them awake, to maintain them straight in their chairs as the chanting continued.

It began getting louder, the old men slowly giving themselves space, and as they did, the Jack move forward, still chanting in the old language. He brought the book forward with him, easing in a closeness to the children that seemed even predatory. They wanted to move back, they wanted to run, for they felt an invisible force on them. It wasn’t painful or harmful, but it just felt odd and fearful when they didn’t have a clue about what was going on. They looked all around each other to find a source, seeming to come from the chant of the men.

The Jack was upon them, suddenly falling silent, heavy eyes on the future rulers, examining them, just as the men in the back began to silence. Once it had died down, the Jack closed the book, kneeled down and took the red tied ribbon. He mentioned some words under his breath and the white sash that kept it tied burned into disappearance. Instantly it was free, extended long for the Jack to tie as he wished.

“Offer your hands,” he commanded them, and the young boys obeyed, instantly and synchronized, just as the Jack liked it.

He tied one end on Ludwig's wrist, the other on Feliciano’s own. He made sure they were kept tight before he moved back. The old men began to chant once again, the Jack opened the book and joined them in their calling. This time, the force around them was more intent, even shaking the room.

No wonder the servants had emptied it out of everything. They were surprised the older members of their family could stay so still, while they began to panic, tears already brimming on Feliciano’s eyes. Ludwig tried to reach a hand to comfort him.

“Do not dare!” The Jack shouted in between chants, much louder, his eyes shining and his voice changing differently, like someone else had come to take his body. The fear Ludwig felt from it was enough to keep him still for the rest of it, no matter how nervous Feliciano got.

Finally, the red ribbon disappeared completely in a puff, in smoke that covered well the two boys. They shut their eyes, the fear too much to even see what had occurred. All the chanting stopped, the shaking subsided and a sudden calm was brought ever that the two boys confided in. Slowly, along with the disappearing mist, they opened their eyes to whatever change was brought.

Nothing, nothing had changed, there was just something that was added.

It was a faint red mark on their ring finger, circled around in a Hearts mark, a crown symbol of a heart in the very center facing them. Both of them were identical, but the boys began comparing them to see if any slight difference was available.

The Jack closed the book in a loud bang, a proud smile on his face. “The Aces have approved of this union,” he announced.

Everyone, even the old men, smiled greatly and began applauding, some of their family members even jumped in excitement. Ludwig and Feliciano did not know what that meant but they smiled back to them nervously.

“Ludwig Beilschmidt and Feliciano Valenti are to be wedded at the palace eight years from now. They are engaged to one another, blessed by the very Aces and nothing will be able to annul it. An eight year gap must start as soon as possible. May this union truly be the best for our kingdom.”

Everyone applauded and the Jack and the old men began their cleaning, wanting to now join the dinner the household had prepared for them.

With all these movements, Ludwig and Feliciano could not find it in them to move themselves. They were frozen into place, repeating the words the Jack just said.

Wedded? Engaged? They’re going to get married?

They knew about this possibility, they always knew that at some point such decision would be made. But they were distracted in themselves, in their games, in their times and their overall friendship to truly think about that possibility. They though that their families would see that this was not meant for a marriage, that what they had was not really meant for something much more. But it didn’t seem to work. Their families decided on the marriage, and they knew that sooner or later it was to come to them and that would be the type of union they would rule the kingdom in.

They headed to dinner, probably the most uneventful birthday dinner Feliciano had ever had, not even a cake or a candle to sing him happy birthday. It felt like any other boring formal dinner where the adults talked about topics that mattered nothing to them. Not even a conversation with Ludwig would cheer him up, seeing as Ludwig remained just as pensive as he was. No doubt the same though were in their minds.

Now that they were engaged, what was going to happen next? Could they continue as they were knowing that such a fated ceremony was to come to them, surely to change the friendship they had grown together?

They dared finally look upon each other and in that moment, all worry disappeared. They smiled, they laughed and had their dinner as messily as they always did when they were together.

They were still the same. They still wanted to gorge themselves on the gelato, they still wanted to try and run the fields, run the near forests, visit the villages and meet with new creatures they had never seen before. They still wanted to climb trees, they wanted to laugh, they wanted to talk on about anything on their stays, all the way to the dawn of the next morning. Truly, nothing had changed. So what if now they were engaged? Shouldn’t they be as ecstatic as the rest? At least they could remain together, at least they had a future where things could continue as they are. They had each other, and that’s what mattered. No matter what forceful union was made on them, it was still enough to never separate them.

Feliciano couldn’t have the party he wanted, but he at least was permitted to spend it with Ludwig around what was left of the night.T hey settled in one of the study rooms, playing some board games Augusto had for them. It was much better doing this then going downstairs and hearing all the adults talk about wedding decorations already.

“Here they are,” they heard Renata, who opened the door to the study room to reveal them to Ludwig’s grandfather.

“It’s time to go, Ludwig.” Both Renata and Aldrich moved hurriedly downstairs to prepare for their farewells.

“You should ask them to stay over,” Feliciano giggled.

“I should, shouldn’t I?” He laughed as well, helping Feliciano to save their game and place it in its usual shelf.

They ran downstairs arm in arm, skipping and wanting to sing songs, but it being late, they would surely be scolded. When they headed to the entrance, they were surprised to still have the old men, along with the Jack, Queen and King of Hearts and the rest of their families there. They usually never bid farewell like this. It tended to only be Feliciano and Ludwig with just their own parents.

Once the Jack and the old men saw them reach the end of the stairs, the door was opened and they began to head out.

“Come on, ask them!” Feliciano pushed Ludwig.

“I will, I will,” he chuckled, coming close to Aldrich.

He pulled on his cape to get his attention, a bright look on his face, hoping that it would be enough for his grandfather to accept.

“Ludwig, you should be saying good bye to Feliciano."

“Actually, I was meaning to ask if I could stay over for the night.”

And the room went dreadfully silent. Eyes turned away, gleeful faces turned sour and some just left outside to their respective carriage. Ludwig did not understand this sudden reaction, but remained as bright to his grandfather. He still wanted to convince him.

“I’m sorry Ludwig, but it cannot be permitted."

“Why not? It’s Feliciano’s birthday."

“Still, I cannot let you."

“But I’m always staying over. Why is now such a big difference?”

“Ludwig, a gap of eight years needs to begin tonight."

“A gap? What do you mean a gap?”

Both the boys grew fearful, and the rest could only but stay put and see how the boys would react. Aldrich steadied himself, took a breath, stood high, wanting to make it clear to his grandson.

“When an engagement is set, the Aces ask for gap years between the chosen couple. It is for them to grow and mature without the other, so their childhood feelings could separate from those of their adult feelings. As so, Ludwig, you won’t meet with Feliciano again until your year of arising in eight years.”

Both Ludwig and Feliciano were left stunned, Ludwig already on the brink of tears.

“Wha-what?”

Chapter Text

“Now go on, say goodbye.”

Ludwig refused to. He quickly let go of Aldrich and began moving back. Feliciano moved closed to him as well, not daring to give them all the chance to pry them off each other.

“N-no, no!” He challenged, shouting back.

It was disrespectful and Aldrich would not stand for this. “Ludwig…” he started, controlling any urge to scream at him or pull him by the hair out.

“I’m not leaving!” He shouted again.

“Please, carino,” Renata tried to ease somehow.

“No, no, no, no, no,” Feliciano cried, holding on to Ludwig tightly by his arm. “Mamma, please don’t let him leave!”

“Darling, I can’t do any-”

“Please, please, Signora Valenti!” Ludwig begged in turn to her.

Aldrich disapproved greatly at how Renata was dealing with it, glaring at her to do this as forcefully as he intended. She could not dare, she tried to do what she could in calm, hoping it would get them to better understand. But how could she get them to? They weren’t announced or told by orders of the King. They couldn’t just expect them to leave and not see each other again for eight years after they had grown a friendship that was even dependable for them.

“Th-there’s really nothing I can do."

“Convince them."

“Please, mamma." And Feliciano was crying. She hated to see those tears on him.

“Please do something." And Ludwig joined him.

She couldn’t stand this any longer. Even she found that it was completely unfair.

“No words were given to them, they didn’t know, they weren’t expecting this,” she defended, standing in front of them like a shield from whatever wrath the king could bring. “It’s rather cruel to separate them suddenly like this. No amount of farewells tonight would be enough."

“The Aces asked for the gap years as soon as possible. I would not let Ludwig anger the gods over a silly friend."

“A silly friend who is to become Queen and he will marry, a union that we decided on and was accepted by the gods.” She grew angry. She would not have her son demeaned like that, not even from the king.

It was a surprise for the crowd there, who had never seen Renata suddenly grow enraged.

She took deep breaths and settled herself yet again, noticing the stares and not wanting to continue coming out as rude. No matter what she thought, or how selfish Aldrich was being, he was still a king she needed to show respect to.

“Leaving suddenly like this might cause implications to them in the future. It could affect their very relationship for the next time they meet, and we all know how that could affect our kingdom.”

Everyone in the room, from the old men to the very Queen understood what she meant and slowly fell at ease with what she could propose now. Renata remained in silence as she though well, both the boys eagerly looking up to her as a savior to a time that could be left to them.

“I’m asking for more time for them to truly say goodbye."

“How much time would that be?”

Renata though once again, calculating all amount of days in her head. “Nine days,” she suggested.

Aldrich though it despite the great disapproval shown in his face. He was close to denying her, but the Queen moved forward to place a hand on his shoulder, giving him a nod of approval to what Renata suggested. She pointed over to Ludwig, who looked absolutely destroyed. Reddened eyes, holding tight to Feliciano, who held the same tear stained face, a hold on their grandson jut as desperate. It truly shook the King and for once he realized how cruel indeed he was being. His expression eased, more relaxed, less fearful, and willing to offer a chance.

“Seven days,” he agreed on, “no less, no more. Seven days is what I permit.”

It was enough to halt the children’s tears, to loosen their hold on each other with trust now.

“Yes, your majesty," Renata bowed and agreed.

“They’ll be staying at my summer home, where I can watch over them for if they try to do anything suspicious.”

Yes, he was permitting this, but a strong glare remained on his eyes, especially on the children, as a warning that they shouldn’t dare try to go against the chance he was giving them.

“Thank you,” Renata bowed once again.

She turned away from the King and instead faced and leaned over to her son, counseling and trying to clean some of his tears with her dress.

“Come, let’s go pack for now. Ludwig, you can come too." She took Feliciano’s hand as they both nodded, heading up the stairs for those very quick preparations.

 

To Feliciano’s own surprise, he had never visited Ludwig’s summer home in the province. He knew it was where he stayed for his visits to Italy, but it never occurred to ask him himself to go.

A quick carriage ride away and only a walking distance from their nearest village, it was smaller than what he expected would be for the royal family of Hearts. It looked extremely comfortable though, with enough space around to play or simply sit for a snack and enjoy. A good amount of trees covered the old brick walls, two simple floors and nothing of royal extravagancy to showcase. Feliciano couldn’t help but find it sweet, comfortable and already welcoming.

Ludwig helped Feliciano with getting down the trunk they had prepared for him, not only filled with clothes, but toys and games they could make use of for their last days together.

“It’s beautiful,” Feliciano complimented, especially taken by the many red roses that grew all over.

“Wait till you come inside." Ludwig took him by the hand, and while the other still held his trunk, Ludwig pushed them both forward inside, not having the patience to wait for his own family to get down from the carriage.

The servants they had here were few, just a maid who opened the door for the young prince and his friend and a cook. Inside felt just as homey, comfortable furniture and simple red fabrics, curtains and flags of the Hearts Kingdom, simple candles to light up the rooms and simple access halls to get everywhere with ease.

“The kitchen is that way, here’s the dining room, over there is vatti and mutti’s room,” he went on introducing every room to Feliciano, and he looked to every single one in wonderment.

They finally headed upstairs, which only held two rooms: Gilbert’s and Ludwig’s. Ludwig smashed his door open with the trunk, no minding the noise it made or that it could have even broken it.

“And this is my room,” he introduced ecstatically, extending his arms as a welcome to his best friend.

It was small, smaller than even Feliciano’s own room in his home. The bed was abnormally large, taking great space and only leaving room for some small shelves that held very few toys and books. The only real true impressive thing were the large windows that gave out to the surrounding woods and the village in the distance. The moonlight that entered inside was enough to light it up without the help of candles or a flicker of Ludwig’s still developing power. Feliciano lay as impressed as if he was looking at a royal bedroom at the palace in Berlin. He instantly jumped over to the bed, with many blankets and pillows to loose themselves in.

“We can make a fort with all this,” he suggested, already taking it in a pile to prepare.

“Oh! I have some string here.” Ludwig pushed apart old toys, messing the floor as he picked up the string and helped Feliciano to hang some parts from the ceiling.

Once that was done, they took different items to decorate the inside; carpets, plush toys, even other pillows they took from Gilbert’s room. When finished, they began reading and looking at some of the books Ludwig had in his room. They were short, and not at all as impressive as the ones Augusto held, but they were still interesting and kept the boys curious and looking all throughout the night. By the time Monika had come to check on them the next morning, they were fast asleep, cuddled together over their blankets and pillows, the fort still standing strong. She let them sleep a couple of more minutes while breakfast continued to be prepared, they’ll want the energy for the rest of the day.

 

They truly used their last days to their maximum potential. They barely rested and made so much noise and havoc that it had King Aldrich wondering how Augusto and the rest of the Valenti could have possibly dealt with this every day.

For the sake of memory, they stole some pots from the kitchen and tried to attack a chicken and a goat that were among their land. They later got horribly scolded by the owner of those animals and Aldrich had sent them to Ludwig’s room. That didn’t stop them from jumping on the bed and trying to even crawl over the walls. Monika was afraid that they would actually punch a hole or even break down an entire wall.

They were lent horses and with Gilbert’s guidance, were lead around the woods and had taken many visits to the village, where they helped the cook buy ingredients or get new books to learn from in the nights. They would play with other children in the village center or gaze over at the new sweets the village baker was working on. They made wishes in the fountain, desperate for the gods to change their minds about the gap years, but each day they were given a reminder and each day they would make use of their time, even if it meant singing random songs in the middle of the night and have the rest of the Beilschmidts groan loudly and shout at them to shut up and go back to sleep.

By their final day, they were exhausted and didn’t even have enough energy to pick up roses and makes flower crowns with them. But they did try to make a cake in the kitchen, something that Ludwig had always wanted to do himself. The end result proved that he needed more practice, but they ate it with fake smiles and compliments.

“Next time, you should add more sprinkles,” Feliciano suggested.

It was the late night, more tragically, their last night together. They lay comfortable beside each other, close, holding their hands tightly and staring up to the blankets that hung above them from their fort.

“Next time you see me, I’ll be so good at cake baking. I’ll make you a cake better than any of the ones they’ve made for your birthdays,” Ludwig told him, already imagining a ten storage tall one made of red and gold.

“You should make it for our wedding then,” Feliciano giggled as he leaned closer.

Ludwig blushed red, but smiled anyways, not hiding how…happy that actually made him. “I-I will! It-it will be th-the prettiest cake any wedding has seen!” He proclaimed, in such a way that made Feliciano laugh.

“Will we share a room then?”

“I think so, oppa and omma do, I assume we will as well."

“Can I decorate?”

“But I want to help decorate!”

“We’ll decorate together then!” And they both agreed on that. “Have you seen that room?”

“I have. It’s pretty big, bigger than any we’ve had. Since the palace is right at the center of the city, up the perch of a hill, we get an amazing view to all of Berlin.”

Feliciano’s eyes glowed imagining such a scene. What a blessing it would be to see it every day from the comfort of their own room.

“Will they let me paint?”

“I’ll prepare a spot just for you, with all the light you need and the best paints and brushes!” He was already thinking of visiting art shops.

“And you’ll paint with me right?”

Ludwig was already thinking of denying him, but Feliciano pouted.

“But I’m not good at it."

“You are good! And the next time we meet, you’ll be way better at it! And I’ll be really proud of you.”

Ludwig smiled sincerely and true, lovely to Feliciano, who wanted nothing than to paint that smile so he could forever keep.

“We’ll need a lot of inspiration, so you’ll take me around Berlin right?”

“I’ll show you everything! I’ll show you Germany, Japan, Iberia-”

“Are you going to show me all of Hearts?” Feliciano giggled, for it seemed Ludwig was ready to mention all the provinces he no doubt learned about.

“All of it!”

“And the rest of the kingdoms?”

“I promise.”

Feliciano was smiling so much that he had to even hide it, covered in Ludwig’s shoulder as he tried to calm the great happiness he felt.

“And we’ll cook, we’ll sing, we’ll dance-” he wanted to continue on, but a loud yawn made it clear that he was starting to get tired.

Ludwig himself was feeling the same, and their eyes were constantly flickering into sleep. But it was so hard when they still wanted to be awake with each other, still wanted to talk of promises and hope for a friendship that would remain even with eight years of absence.

“I’ll journey and see beyond the lines of our kingdom,
Never a fear to be lost, never a fear to fall,
In pleasure, I will take the mysteries of what I could meet,
If you accept to be mine, my Queen.”

Ludwig started to sing, a whisper only to Feliciano, not the annoying loud songs that they used to keep the entire household awake.

“No heat, no cold, will stop me of my search,
No sun, no rain to go against my strength,
Just promise me your hand,
And love me in our eternity.”

Ludwig hoped to sing it to keep them awake, but it was bringing such a calm that it worked more like a lullaby to force them into their sleep.

“My sun, my moon, my land, my love,
I know it’s a journey you will overcome,
But I don’t need you to go so far,
I want you here to kiss me.”

Feliciano began to sing, in the same whispering tone that Ludwig sang with, scooting even closer, resting his head by his neck, already his eyes in a close.

“Would you want all the gold I will find for you?
Would you like the songs I will bring from afar for you?
Would you accept me as your shield?
And would you want me always by your side?”

“I don’t want any of the riches you will bring,
I don’t care for any of the songs,
I only want you to hold,
I only want your arms around me.”

Feliciano held tighter, and Ludwig brought his hand over to hold him just as the song sang, as both wanted, and only communicated through the melody that was very fitting for their soon goodbye.

“Bring me your love, your kisses, your loyalty,
Your passion, your hope, your defeat,
Your promise, your weakness, your strength,
I will keep it all in my heart.

I’ll journey and see beyond the lines of our kingdom,
Never a fear to be lost, never a fear to fall,
In pleasure, I will take the mysteries of what I could meet,
If you accept to be mine, my King.”

They sang together to its end, by then the music working its effect of shutting them into their sleep. They held to each other as tightly as they were still awake, with the blessing of the song they had danced and sang to many times as the years had passed. They hoped they would still continue to in their adulthood, never forgotten in the eight years that were to pass.

 

Feliciano was packed and ready, dressed as finely by Monika’s insisting. Even with all the time they were given to truly say goodbye, it didn’t really please Ludwig and Feliciano enough. Both held saddened expressions and a gloom that followed them throughout the remainder of the day as they spent it walking about the gardens, talking about all the things they would miss. It spread even to the rest of the Beilschmidts, who kept their gazes incredibly still on the boys, knowing that they wouldn’t see such a union, such friendship and love again, and would miss seeing it. They knew the next time they would meet, things will be different.

A little joy was brought when the Valenti arrived in their own carriage, carrying an array of food trays to dine for the night. It was like a small feast, and it did bring a festive air that Ludwig and Feliciano celebrated to, telling stories, remembering old times, joining in dances, singing, playing games and Augusto even offered to carry Ludwig and Feliciano as he used to. Ludwig and Feliciano were ten years old, had definitely grown and had added weight that was now hard for Augusto to hold. He though he had broken a bone as he tried to throw them into the air.

But soon it was all over, and dread came when Augusto announced that it was time to leave. Ludwig helped Feliciano pack his trunk in their rather empty carriage. Their families still seeming immersed in conversation at their front door and didn’t seem like they would leave anytime soon. They both couldn’t help the chuckle. It seemed like they would miss each other for the next eight years just as Ludwig and Feliciano would.

“I talked to Oppa to see if I could write you letters in our gap years,” Ludwig started, for it seemed they still have some time left to talk, some last words they needed before they truly left.

“Can you?” Feliciano asked, excited for them already.

“N-no,” Ludwig disappointed him, “but, he says they let me send you birthday presents.”

“Birthday presents only?” That would be his only connection to him for eight years?

“Yes, but they let me choose them and my servants are in charge of sending it to you.”

It was enough. It was a little token to always remember Ludwig and to look forward for when their year of arising came, one for every year apart.

“So, what would you like?”

“I though you got to choose them."

“I know, but I would like some ideas. I want them to be something you like and that you can always use,” he admitted, with hands behind him, innocently avoiding his eyes.

Feliciano giggled, but he began thinking, quite hard for him, since he didn’t know what he would exactly want as the years passed. “For my eleventh birthday, I want some pots,” he started.

“Pots?”

“Mhm, I will always use them to cook. I’ll learn and when I see you, I’ll show you all the recipes I learned and those I used with them.”

Fair enough, he nodded and remembered it well.

“For my twelfth, paint, lots of paint, with lots of colors, the brightest and pretties you find!” Ludwig nodded.

“For my thirteenth, brushes, made by horse tails, but please, with no harm coming to the horses.” Ludwig nodded.

“For my fourteenth, I want perfumes, but not just any. I want something that maybe…makes you think of me.” Ludwig nodded even at how hard it would be. Would he be able to recall Feliciano’s scent to choose one?

“For my fifteenth, I want a necklace, a very nice necklace!” Ludwig nodded.

“For my sixteenth, I want um…fabrics.”

“What kind of fabrics and for what?”

“Anything you wish, they’re for…my wedding ceremonial suit," he blushed innocently and it spread to Ludwig. He nodded, his blush even making him shake nervously.

“For my seventeenth, I would like flowers."

“Wouldn’t they wilt?”

“They won’t because you’ll make it!”

“What?”

“With your powers! I’ve seen you do it before!”

“But I never really finish them, making flower crystals is really hard.”

“By that time I’m sure you’ll make the prettiest crystal flower ever, and that’s the one you’ll send to me,” he smiled and it gave Ludwig the confidence to be able to try and succeed. He would have the years to practice and learn.

“And for my eighteenth,” he silenced thinking of it well.

What would be a good last present? On the year of their arising, when they would meet once again to marry and take the throne.

“A ring,” he finally thought of.

“A ring?”

“Our wedding ring of course.” Feliciano was making him blush too much lately, but he gave that final nod.

“I’ll remember it all well," Ludwig  promised, almost willing to bow to truly show that he would get everything he asked.

A glance to their families showed that they were giving each other kisses and shakes, wishing goodbyes and the best of wishes and luck for the years to come. It was their turn. They both took a deep breath and stared to each other, not sure exactly what to do for that real final goodbye.

“We-we a-are getting married right?”

“It’s the reason were even having the gap years,” Feliciano giggled.

“Then…” Ludwig extended his hands and placed them tightly on Feliciano’s shoulder, quite suddenly to the younger boy. “It shouldn’t matter that I…” he leaned close, much closer to Feliciano’s face than he had ever gotten. He could clearly see the surprise in Feliciano’s widened eyes, could take his scent intensely, and saw no movement of Feliciano wanting to stop him. “Kiss you,” he whispered lastly before he closed the distance and settled their lips together.

Their first kiss, unexperienced and new, unaware of what to do or how to react. Should they even deny it? But what a feeling they had both gotten. Like flying, like magic, like the glow of a new sun approaching on them. Both wanted to hold for more, lost in this new feeling awarded by the softness of each other’s lips.

Ludwig departed, for a breath, for a reaction, embarrassment reaching him and making him tremble.

“Um…” he wanted to speak, wanted to apologize, but when he finally met his eyes with Feliciano, Feliciano was in the same state of not being able to speak, of not even moving. He still lay in the feeling that came with it, an explosion of stars in his eyes, a beautiful pink on his cheeks and then, a smile, laughter so enchanting that it got Ludwig to laugh along with him.

“Is it safe to leave now, boys?” Renata came, a gentle hold of her hands on both their shoulders. “Eight years will pass quickly, you’ll be back with each other before you know it,” she smiled, taking Ludwig into an embrace, which the prince accepted, hugging her back just as tightly. She rubbed a hand through his hair and kissed his forehead sweetly. “You be good."

“I will be, Renata.” She confided in his words and stood to join in the carriage with her husband.

Lovino passed by without even a glance, only spearing a wave of his hand before he got in alongside his father. Finally it was Augusto, who even picked up Ludwig and raised him in the air, hugging out all his breath. There was only Feliciano left, who still lay as paralyzed, not even willing to move a single inch, and if it meant staying just here with Ludwig, he wouldn’t mind at all. He came close, their eyes still as connected, wanting to preserve their image to remember.

“Ludwig…I…” tears gained, a pain in his expression that could compare to one of a piercing.

Ludwig couldn’t take it and began to cry as well, opening his arms so Feliciano could crash into them for one last time. They wept together, in a tight embrace, one they thought they could take refuge in forever.

“Feliciano!” Augusto called gently, not wanting to bring more hurt.

Hesitantly, Feliciano began to move back, pressing another kiss, but this one to Ludwig’s cheek.

“I’ll miss you, I’ll miss you so much, and not a day will pass that I won’t be thinking about you.”

“I too. I-It’s only eight years. We’ll meet again and I’ll be yearning for that day for the years to come.” They began to extend apart, ever so slowly to take every sweet second. “I’ll be waiting for you. We’ll be together and nothing truly then will separate us,” were Ludwig’s last words to him, that Feliciano treasured into his heart.

He blew him one last kiss and entered his family’s carriage. Ludwig remained still watching as the driver awoke the horses and began moving away. Feliciano poked his head out from the window and continued to wave, Ludwig raising both his hands to do the same.

“Don’t forget the presents! And don’t forget your promises!” He shouted.

“I won’t! I won’t! I’ll take you everywhere!” Ludwig shouted back, starting to even run behind the carriage.

The rest of the Beilschmidts remained watching, afraid that he would actually run away on foot with the carriage. For Feliciano he was willing to, but he remained loyal and only stayed by the gates of their land, both boys shouting to each other: “Auf Wiedersehen!” and “Arrivederci!”

Their waves continued until they were nothing but dark points in the distance, and silence was once again brought into the house.

“I won’t…I won’t,” Ludwig whispered to himself spotting only but darkness at the end of the road.

Feliciano’s carriage disappeared into the horizon. He was gone.

Feliciano settled back into his seat, the lights of Ludwig’s home only dim from the distance. He raised his hands to rub off the tears from his eyes, and as they fell down his face, they settled on his lips.

He could still feel the lingering. He smiled, for the kiss was indeed endearing, something to cherish and something to add to their prestigious memories. When they met again, despite their wishes to not start anything romantic for their marriage , Feliciano had no problem with receiving, many, many, many more kisses upon his lips by Ludwig.

Renata noticed this new smile, his red cheeks and even pleasant silence. She chuckled and leaned closer to him. “What is all this about?” She teased.

Feliciano laughed nervously and tried to erase whatever expression he just held, trying to calm his red and sitting even straighter in his seat. All the riders laughed and began talking of other things, like the new crops that had grown for the season, anything to keep Feliciano distracted, as well as to make him smile even after having to leave his best friend.

A new part of Feliciano’s life was to begin and he needed the excitement he always made shine.

Eight years, only eight years, he repeated in his mind, unaware of how things could change with such little time.

Chapter Text

Feliciano didn’t have to wait for his year of arising to begin his Queen teachings. Now, did he wish to take them or even attend the small little lessons Augusto tried to start with him? No, not at all. He avoided them, preferring to spend the day outside, strolling the woods, helping the servants pick harvest from their fields, sketch at the village or even at the very teachings. Augusto had trunks filled with the doodles he had confiscated throughout the years.

It was hard to get Feliciano's attention focused on learning about laws, politics, and international affairs when all he could think about was the dinner he would help the cooks and his mother prepare for the night. He only truly showed interest in the history of the kingdoms, or when Augusto tried to show him some quaint little magic tricks. He wouldn’t be able to use them until his year of arising, but it was nice to know them and maybe he could advance in some teachings for when he got to the castle.

At one point, Augusto had simply given up. No matter the force he used, Feliciano was just not interested and could truly not get everything. But luckily, Augusto would catch him from time to time reading one of those age old books specifically written to help a prince or princess take the kingship. Not exactly on his Queen duties, but learning things about the King did help. He would sometimes sneak books about Queen affairs, and sometimes Feliciano did take them, only after reading the King ones.

Augusto knew well why it was that he did this. Ludwig of course.

Feliciano in the beginning had missed him dearly, reading anything he could find about all Hearts Kings to remember him or to get a glimpse of how Ludwig would be when they met again. He would stare longingly at the old pictures of the Kings of Ludwig’s lines, of the Beilschmidts. Many of them held the same blonde hair, blue eyes and strong figures that made them fit perfectly to the power of a King. Feliciano found them incredibly handsome, smiling to know that his own husband would be this beautiful. Oh but please, not with those menacing stares and intimidating statures. Ludwig would surely be gentle, kind and fun as he had been in their childhood. But he was given no chance to know.

Rumors or talk of the capital city barely came to his area of Italy, even of the royal family. If travelers did come, their conversations were mostly about how beautiful they found the Italian province, trade, or planning their next venture. Feliciano knew, he had tried overhearing enough. His only way of knowing or having something from Ludwig were the birthday presents he expected every year.

For his eleventh birthday, a morning that he had awaken excitedly to, ignoring his breakfast or his family’s birthday singing, to instead head outside and welcome in his birthday gift from Ludwig. The large box that came held the many pots Feliciano had first wished, some large enough for him to fit inside and small ones to make a simple hot chocolate. They were so many that the cooks had to open up a special cabinet just for them.

Throughout the years, Feliciano used them to make an array of things that could fill up a large table and feed hundreds of guests. Their bright red colors hazed, they earned scratches and some even held horrible dents. But they worked, and its damage was all proof of the long use he had given them.

A large crate he was given on his twelfth birthday, filled with jars and jars of rainbows of colors. Augusto commented that many of them were the best paint a King could get. They were such beautiful colors, and many from even outside the kingdom, ones that not even the Valenti could find with their dedication to the arts.

Feliciano could easily count the jars he still had left, for many had disappeared during his various uses. He regretted wasting many of those unique and beautiful colors on random papers and canvases that he probably threw away out of embarrassment.

He had indeed improved, masterpieces to compare to the greatest artistic geniuses the Kingdom had known. All with the help of those very colors he was gifted from the future King of Hearts.

Feliciano would prefer painting as his job before being Queen.

On his thirteenth birthday, he had gotten five brushes, horse hair exactly, with beautiful crafted handles, his name even signed on them, surely a sign that they had been commissioned. Feliciano had smiled upon noticing, knowing that Ludwig must have given it a lot of though.

They still worked as if they were new, only a small one that Feliciano lost when it rolled over to a river he was trying to paint.

For his fourteenth birthday, he received a small little box, a beautiful crafted wooden box wrapped in a red ribbon. Feliciano felt bad to open such a delicacy to the eyes, but the bottles inside were worth it.

They were three pink bottles topped with red jewels. Feliciano had never seen such beautiful bottles, picking them up gently to look at and smell the delightful aroma from inside. Feliciano couldn’t exactly place what it was, but it was sweet, not of candy, but a sweet of flowers and fruits. Was this the scent that made Ludwig think of him? It had been four years already. Could he really recall it? Or did he just pick it at random?

He already though of wearing it that day for his birthday party, but Renata had quickly taken the box and placed it to hide in the basement. Feliciano had complained to her about this decision, but Renata insisted that he should use those perfumes for when he left to Berlin.

By his fifteenth birthday, Feliciano wasn’t as excited as he used to be for Ludwig’s birthday presents, but he awaited them still and treasured every single one.

That year, he was given a rather peculiar present. It was a necklace, just as he had asked, but it was unlike anything he had ever seen. It was a white cross pendant, tied to a simple black chain. It was odd because he had never seen this symbol before, in colors that were not of Hearts at all. It was simply white and rather plain. The only good thing about it was that it matched well with the outfit he had chosen for his party that day and had gone out quite proud of it. He received so many stares from it, not because of its peculiarity or beauty, but of what it meant, a meaning that no one bothered to explain to Feliciano. His family seemed rather proud that he wore it though, to the point that they gloated to many about it. For what? He didn’t stick long enough to find out.

That night, when he was taking everything off, including the pendant necklace he was going to save in a little box of accessories, his mother had come.

“Feliciano, that necklace, you have to always wear it when you’re in public, always, no matter the outfit or where you’re going, until…” she seemed embarrassed to finish and before Feliciano could ask any more questions, she left through the door and never mentioned the topic again.

He did promise to wear it often, and he did, the accessory as part of him as his special curl. He learned to really like it because of its singularity and rareness, rarely going through his mind that it was gift from his dear childhood friend.

By his sixteenth birthday, it was getting even harder and harder to recall Ludwig. He was failing his promise of thinking about him every single day, other things in his mind like his paintings and drawings, the harvest he was supposed to pick, spending time with friends in the village, his Queen teachings and the occasional boy or girl that he crushed on. Not that Ludwig ever stopped being someone of great importance to him. He was still to marry him and only two years were left for his year of arising. But when he though to Ludwig, he only saw him as a childhood friend, one which he shared fantasies that would only remain as so. But there were times when he wished he didn’t, and would go hunting around the house or fields for proof of their time together, to recollect and loose himself in the memory of such golden days. He had to constantly head to the gallery hall where they held his portrait to try and remember his face, doubting if he ever looked like that. He would look at the old drawings they made, and stain them with tears. All the weight of time falling on him and making him miss dearly their joy, their peace and simpler times when all they had was each other and the whole world seemed to already belong to them, even if they weren’t King and Queen yet.

How he wanted that back, how he wanted to be back with Ludwig, how he wanted to take the world again and be back in their throne. But the next day, he was back to normal, and he continued with whatever his soul felt like doing for this new shinning sun.

Two years, he would say to himself, only two years left.

His gift that year, another crate with an array of different fabrics with different designs and colors, was thrown in the basement along with the perfumes. It was no point to use them when their wedding day was still years away.

That very same year, the house lost the presence of his older brother, who had married the servant boy, Antonio Fernandez, in a very beautiful feast. It made him remember how much Ludwig and him used to tease them about getting married someday. He had cried along with his mother during the ceremony and especially when they had to say goodbye. Antonio had found a job of wealth to sustain them and Lovino found a place to open up the restaurant he always wanted. Sadly it was all far away in Antonio’s native province of Iberia.

Despite how angry Lovino tended to get, his rather harsh words and strong personality, he was still a brother Feliciano enjoyed spending his time and had shared so much with. Having him leave brought emptiness, and he wallowed in it for quite a while.

His present for his seventeenth birthday changed all that.

It was an early morning, one his family couldn’t be present as they were dealing with getting some things for his birthday in the village. They did leave him a note, his birthday morning treat and a small gift box beside it, the note saying that it was Ludwig’s present.

It was a rather simple box, golden, tied with a red ribbon, probably the same kind they had used for other wrapping of his past birthday presents. As he held it, he tried recalling what it was that he had asked as a child, remembering then the flower. Ah yes, a crystal flower, one that Ludwig should have made himself. In this box, was held the proof of Ludwig’s growing power, of his learning, practice, and if he really did master enough as Feliciano knew he would have by this time.

He unwrapped it, moved the lid aside and had to take a rather loud breath, even dropping the lid to the floor as he stared.

It wasn’t just a single flower, Ludwig had made for him an entire bouquet of flowers. It was as small as the box, but each flower was a different one and when Feliciano took a quick inspection, he could tell that each one was made uniquely. They were rather loose though, and he could easily remove each flower, like…it was an actual flower instead of a crystal. When he moved away a single daisy, it shone red and began to grow in his hand until it turned into the regular size of any daisy, the colors becoming alive and for a moment Feliciano could think it was real if it wasn’t for the hard feel of crystal or the extra shine it had to it. He did the same with a lily, and the same magic happened.

He was astounded, eyes widened with joyful tear at their edges. He didn’t expect such a beautiful present, with such meaning, dedication and even love. Ludwig must be by now a master of his power, nothing like the clumsy magic he couldn’t outshine or would only hurt him. He was already so proud of him and couldn’t wait to see what more he could do.

Only one more year, he told himself, only one more year.

As his next birthday drew closer, preparations began immediately. Not only for his last birthday party in the Valenti villa, but his departure to Berlin. His room was beginning to be emptied, all packed into trunks and bags to send along with him on his move. Augusto had begun his teachings once again, and was more forceful on Feliciano to listen and to take notes. No matter, Feliciano managed to space anyway and never truly learned. Eight years and in some aspects he never changed…but…in others, what a person he had grown out to be.

“I have everything, Signore Renzo,” Feliciano said, all the bread he needed in the little bag he was given by the servants. Some were sticking out too much and were in danger of falling or ripping apart.

“Are you sure? I could give you another bag.”

“Oh no, it’s all right, I’ll make sure nothing happens to these."

“I hope so, try to look at where you’re going this time,” the baker warned with a laugh.

“I’ll try,” Feliciano laughed as well as he made his way through the streets onward home.

It was the early morning and the village was just beginning to wake up, one by one the street filling with presence. By the time Feliciano had reached the center, he saw a group of children playing with the water of the fountain.

“It’s Feliciano!” A little girl called.

“Feli! Feli! Feli!” The rest of the children saw and ran over to him, huddled over for his attention.

“Ciao, ciao, ciao ragazzi,” Feliciano wanted to greet them all, and he did, rubbing their little hairs, a shake here and there, some hugs and some kisses.

Another little girl, probably the youngest in the group, who looked to be around three years old, smiled the most beautifully and was there to give Feliciano some flowers she had surely picked from her garden.

“Ah, Sofia, these are beautiful,” he complimented, kneeling to her and taking them to already decorate his hair.

She began jumping and clapping, loving how they looked on him, reds and yellows to go along with the wave and curls of his bronze hair.

“You look spectacular,” one boy complimented.

“Davvero?” He chuckled, and the rest of the children nodded along with the young boy, agreeing that Feliciano looked like a true Queen.

“I’ll treasure them for as long as they keep themselves there. Grazie, Sofia carina,” he kissed her little hands, and she smiled and blushed in an adorable expression. Feliciano just had to hug her. “Now, would you mind accompanying me to the village outskirts, I wouldn’t mind some company getting home." And the kids couldn’t deny, already leading him forward as if Feliciano was a newcomer to the village.

They talked of their mornings, of their breakfasts and the duties their parents had sent them out that morning to do. As the village kept waking, many opened their windows, taking a peek of the Kingdom’s future Queen. To think that the little boy that many of them had seen run these very streets with the young prince Ludwig was now grown, to turn eighteen in only three days.

He had grown handsomely, a true beauty of the village that many admired, gawked at or even dreamed about. He was still recognizable because he possessed a childish youth that sometimes mended him well with the children he was being accompanied with.

His beauty was not only outward, but he had the kindest soul in the village. He greeted and tried to befriend everyone, played with the children, flirted with the young men, sang and chatted feverishly with the young women, helped the elders with everything he could, and overall was just a friendly person that anyone could approach and speak to.

Everyone had feared with his noble status as a Valenti and his future tittle of Queen of Hearts that he would grow to be a selfish and pretentious stuck up like any other aristocrat in the Kingdom. But they were proven wrong, for Feliciano was a man of his people, who found his time to be with them or head out from the life of posh manor to run in the woods, work in the fields or spend his time with even the lowliest of peasants. If one would see him right now, with a simple blouse white shirt, worn tight pants and long black boots, you would think he was another boy from the village and not a figure chosen by the very goods to rule over all the provinces of the Hearts Kingdom.

“Mamma says you’re leaving in a couple of days, right after your birthday,” one child told Feliciano.

“I am, in four days to be exact."

“To Berlin?”

“Mhm, I start my teachings and preparations to become Queen."

“They call that year, the year of arising, right?” One child asked, for he was just taught about it at his school.

“Indeed, a year only for the practice, and by the end of it, the three future rulers are crowned and the King and Queen are wedded if the families though it fit to.”

All the children began to giggle, for a reason that Feliciano didn’t understand, looking curiously to all of them. “What’s the matter?”

“You’re getting married!” One child teased and cooed, the rest of the children going along with it, which in turn got Feliciano to flush and want to run ahead of them.

“I-I am,” he admitted.

“But he’s not getting married to just anyone! He’s marrying the prince of Hearts, and when he gets crowned, he’ll be the King of Hearts," one child defended for Feliciano.

“I want to marry a prince,” one girl dreamed.

“My sister wanted to marry Feliciano,” one child admitted, which got Feliciano to laugh. Surely she must have been joking, but he knew that the case had happened a lot.

Being close to be of age to wed, plus being as handsome as he was and with a family of riches, many had dared seek his hand in marriage, only to be denied heavily by Augusto. Why would Augusto want to annul an engagement set by the Aces to the Prince of Hearts for some peasant boy or girl from the village? Feliciano though it rude how he denied others, and had talked himself to his grandfather about it. He would move his grandson aside and simply say that it was just as things were decided, and it had made him think about his own engagement to Ludwig.

Yes, Ludwig had been a dear friend, but a dear friend he hadn’t seen in years. The meeting they will have once again in a couple of days sometimes felt like he would be meeting a new person.

What if he really changed to the point of being unrecognizable? What if he had grown rude and selfish? Would he still have to go along with the wedding just because it was decided as so?

No, Ludwig would not be like that.

Ludwig had been kind, he was loyal, he was loving, especially after all their promises and the gifts he had given him the past years. This decision was made good, accepted by the Aces. He had nothing to worry about.

“Well, my papa was in Berlin many months ago, and he told me he managed to see the prince himself,” one boy gloated, and many of the children gasped in amazement, heading close to him to hear more. Even Feliciano’s interest was taken, wanting a hint of how Ludwig was now, the closest he has gotten in eight years.

“How was he?”

“Papa didn’t get to really meet him, just see him from afar. Papa says that he used to see him as a kid here when he visited Feliciano, and when he saw him there, he said he barely recognized him, that he’s changed a lot and looks even more like his grandfather, King Aldrich.”

Many though it cool, many wondered and talked on, but Feliciano remained pensive, with hurt and even more worry.

These were the very things that had been worrying about as the days for his arising began to come closer.

He grew nervous, hugging the bag of bread against his chest as a way of calming, but it didn’t work enough.

“Feliciano, were here.” Finally he looked up and noticed the bridge that divided the village from the roads into the fields, where further ahead would be his home.

“Oh…oh! We are! I have to get going!” He prepared the bag well on his shoulder, making his way over the bridge. “Ciao, Ciao!” He waved to them and they all waved in unison with their own goodbyes, hoping to see him more in the village before he truly left.

As he ran the rest of the way, his thoughts repeated what the boy had said about Ludwig.

“He barely recognized him, that he’s changed a lot and looks even more like his grandfather, King Aldrich.”

Maybe he was just confused, maybe he had seen another person. Ludwig will still be the same, they will be happy to see each other, fulfill their promises of travel and things would be as they were once.

Chapter Text

Both Feliciano’s birthday feast and his departing were only a matter of three and four days away from them, but Renata felt like both were to occur that very night.

The house was a mess with preparations, having to go through and fro as she helped choose the appetizers and cake toppings, as well as moving boxes from room to room and asking Feliciano if he was sure he didn’t want to bring that nice belt to Berlin. She was meaning to ask him again, hoping he had changed his mind and was currently searching for him.

“Nicola!” She called to a servant who was wiping some glass figures near the main stairs. “Any idea where Feliciano is? He’s not in his rooms or around the house."

“I believe he was sent by the cooks to get some bread."

“He went out,” she groaned, “he’s supposed to be here helping.”

Lucky for her, the doors swung open and in Feliciano came, all bread safe in his bag, despite the dirt, sweat and even flowers covering him.

“There you are!” She went forward to him.

“Buon giorno, mamma!”

They kissed as a greet and then Feliciano twirled her around in an energetic embrace. Nicola thought they were ready to dance right before him.

“Buon giorno, carino mio, I’m glad you’re finally here, there’s so much-” she noticed the flowers in his hair and began picking on them. They were beautiful, she admitted. “Why do you-”

“Sofia gave them to me,” was his simple excuse.

“Feliciano! Do you have them?” A cook came forward.

“Right here,” he handed it over proudly.

The cook inspected them and saw that all were appropriate. She smiled and thanked him, turning to leave. Feliciano was tempted to join them to prepare whatever it was that they were planning, but he was held in place as Renata took his shirt to look at the dirty patches.

“I think it’s time to throw away this shirt, Feliciano."

“Oh Mamma, this shirt is not torn and it fits me very well.”

“It’s still rather messy for someone like you to go out in."

“I was just out in the village getting bread."

She turned him and sighed in relief when she saw he wore the white cross pendant proudly over him.

“I’ll wash it and it would be good enough even for Berlin."

“You’re bringing this to Berlin?”

“Why wouldn’t I? I like it.”

“Feliciano, you can’t expect a Queen to parade across the streets of Berlin in dirt and with flowers in their hair."

“I think it’s pretty appropriate for a queen,” he accommodated the flowers.

“I think it’s childish,” Augusto commented, heading down the stairs with books, pads and pencils in his arms. “You listen to your mother and get rid of that shirt immediately. I will not let you embarrass yourself in Berlin."

“I don’t think it’s embarrassing,” he whispered to himself.

His mother and grandfather decided to ignore him, Augusto handing him the pile of items.

“Now, go on and help her with what’s left to pack in the study and then I want you writing notes on chapter seven of ‘Sea and Port Trade’.”

Feliciano groaned, but nodded in approval, already making his way towards the stairs, followed by his mother.

“About that belt-”

“Mamma, no.”

 

“Tanti auguri a te!” They all finished singing and Feliciano blew the single large candle on the top of his cake.

They all applauded and Feliciano thanked them for singing so wonderfully. The cake was cut and he was given the first slice. Wanting to already indulge from it, he picked up two cups of wine from the many the servants kept moving around in trays and made his way back to the table that he was sharing with his brother and his husband.

“Are you sure you don’t want cake?” Feliciano asked him, not being able to hold himself and already eating some sliced fruit the cake included. He kept one glass and gave the other to Lovino, who took and already had a sip from it.

“I’ve had enough for today."

“Maybe those brownies weren’t a good idea."

“Shut your mouth, Antonio. It was definitely worth it. You never deny Signora Melania’s brownies.”

“I had five,” Feliciano easily admitted, which earned a laugh from Antonio.

“Always quite the appetite, Feliciano,” he rubbed his hair just as he used to when he was a kid, and Feliciano smiled, glowed and laugh just like he did.

Antonio was so glad he had barely changed in the last eight years.

“You be careful what you eat in Berlin though,” Lovino warned.

“It’s not like they’re going to poison me."

“It wouldn’t surprise me if they did.”

Antonio glared at him, but Lovino was too distracted with his wine to pay attention to it.

“Ignore him, I’m sure they would be glad to welcome you, and Ludwig will feel ecstatic.”

It made Feliciano smile confidently, who had lately grown extremely nervous about this reunion, about leaving home, beginning his true Queen teachings, getting his power- he had to shake it all off before it impeded him from enjoying the last night he had with his family.

“Speaking of Ludwig, what did he sent as a gift?”

Feliciano sighed disappointedly, and not even the taste of the cake was enough to cheer him up at the mention. “It didn’t arrive today,”

“That’s weird, they usually arrive first thing in the morning,” Lovino commented now that his wine was gone.

“Maybe he wants to give it to you in person,” Antonio suggested to lighten up Feliciano’s mood.

“What was it that he meant to give you?” Lovino asked.

“Um…” Feliciano blushed, “he was supposed to give me…our wedding ring.”

Antonio and Lovino remained silent, looking then to each other with some silent understanding, smirking before then facing Feliciano.

“That’s adorable,” Lovino replied sarcastically.

He never held a liking to Ludwig, one that continued to this day even with their years apart. Feliciano though that maybe his disliking started back when Ludwig used to tease him a lot about Antonio or the many pranks they used to pull on him. But they were just kids and now him and Antonio were actually married. So what could he possibly hate him for? He was about to ask that moment, but instead, Lovino placed a pretty little red box tied with a yellow sash in front of him on the table.

“Never mind his gift, I at least brought you something and surely better than some fancy ring,” Lovino gloated proudly, keeping a watchful eye on Feliciano. Surely he wanted him to open it immediately.

A pleasant smile came back to Feliciano’s lips, one that made Lovino smile himself. He untied the yellow sash slowly and then ripped the red wrapper to reveal a golden box. He opened it and inside was a little golden and red chest. Feliciano gasped, it was beautiful, small and fragile looking despite its excessive arches and designs like an alter. He picked it up, easily fitting on the palm of his hand. Surely it was meant to place small necklaces and bracelets…and earrings, but he wasn’t planning on piercing his ears till later.

“Open it,” Lovino told him, insisting, a wonder in his eyes as well as Antonio to see what kind of reaction Feliciano would have.

Hesitantly he raised the lid open, where a mirror welcomed him. What astounded him were the gears that rose from the space under it and turned, playing a very, very familiar song.

“I’ll journey and see beyond the lines of our kingdom,
Never a fear to be lost, never a fear to fall,
In pleasure, I will take the mysteries of what I could meet,
If you accept to be mine, my Queen.”

Feliciano began to sing with it, a big appreciative smile as he then silenced and let the melody continue on its own. Antonio wished he had continued singing, lost in the sweetness and loyalty of his voice, one surely that reminded him of the promises he held for his future King.

“I love it, I love it so much Lovino." Tears gathered in his eyes and he stood to truly show his emotion by embracing him into a hold that he refused to depart.

“All right, all right, now get off." He patted him on the head, and even at his harsh words, Feliciano didn’t dare move, keeping a tight hold that wouldn’t let Lovino pry him off.

“Feliciano!” He shouted.

Nope, Feliciano was not leaving his side anytime soon. Antonio laughed, much to Lovino’s annoyance.

“Okay, okay, I get it, you like the present and your appreciative about it, but get off before I decide to smash this glass against your head.”

Feliciano giggled as he moved away, not even the threat enough to die down his excitement over the present. When he sat back down, he held it dearly in his hands, not being able to take his eyes off from it.

“Lovino and I had it made,” Antonio told.

“A month’s work from the restaurant for that. You better take care of it! Or else, oh! Oh!” He warned.

“Don’t worry, Lovino. I’ll make sure to take good care of it. I will have it in a special place in the castle when I arrive.”

Lovino smiled proudly, but now, he wanted another glass of wine. Damn, the drink they had chosen for the party was good. Luckily he saw his mother approaching with a tray, enough for all of them. Behind her, his grandfather and father.

“Miei bambini,” she cooed as she took them both into her arms after placing the tray on the table. She kissed both their hair and forehead, hugging them to her chest. Both the boys didn’t mind, they loved their mother dearly and still begged for her embraces no matter their age. She had a warmness to her, a welcoming and a softness that Feliciano was going to miss having often and Lovino already did.

She took her seat between them, Augusto and Vincenzo joining along, as happy to be part of whatever conversation they were having. Feliciano eagerly showed them all Lovino’s present, they enjoyed from the wine and talked together as if they were in any past family dinner instead of a party surrounded by many other guests.

Feliciano was going to miss this, all this family love, of trust, of compassion and secureness to be close and looked after.

“You will visit, right?” Feliciano suddenly interrupted a conversation about some inventions going on in Spades.

They all halted into silence, remembering why it was that they came together to this table, remembering exactly where Feliciano was leaving tomorrow.

“As often as we are left,” Renata made sure.

Feliciano smiled, but it wasn’t enough to let him hide the evident concern in his features.

“Feliciano, are you nervous?” Vincenzo asked.

He didn’t want to make his family worry, but he couldn’t continue to remain silent about this either. He knew they were there to help and he knew they can offer any advice to tame his arrayed emotions.

“Berlin is very far away from here,” he reminded, a distance that will take him days to travel in carriage. “It’s in a whole new province I’ve never been to, completely different from mine, with strange people I’ve never met."

“That’s not true,” Vicenzo interrupted.

“You’ll have Ludwig, and I’m sure the rest of the Beilschmidts will help you in settling in,” Renata consoled, placing a comforting hand on Feliciano’s shoulders.

Feliciano remained weirdly silent. He had never reacted like this to the prospect of his best friend.

“They haven’t seen or heard from me in eight years, what if…their feelings changed? What if they’re not as eager to see me? What if-”

“I though your last birthday gifts had proven to you enough that it is not the case,” Augusto interrupted. "You are the arising Queen of this kingdom, chosen and to be wedded to the heir of the Beilschmidts. They are expectant to have you and have waited for these days as eagerly as you have. They’ll treat you as you deserve, I assure you that.”

Feliciano took a calming breath, relaxing into his chair and trying to convince himself of this sureness just as his grandfather did.

It wasn’t enough.

He was about ready to deny more, the worry taking over his mind, one that they could tell would not dare yet leave. Renata had to tighten her hold, a hand going to caress his hair, moving one long bang behind his hear, so his bright brown eyes could have a clearer look to her. She wanted him to see how she believed in him, how she hoped and knew he would be strong enough to deal with what he was to meet with the palace in a couple of days.

“I’m scared to be Queen, Mamma,” Feliciano whispered to her, admitting the biggest of his fears, the job that seemed the most intimidating and he never though he could be capable of, even with his grandfather’s small teachings.

“And I’m sure all Queens felt just as you did days before their arising."

“But I haven’t learned enough to rule an entire kingdom. I don’t know if I was right for this."

“The Aces chose you, Feliciano,” Renata made clear. "They chose you because they though you capable.”

“How could they know that?”

She smiled at him, taking both his hands reassuringly in hers.

“Because they would know as I about your kindness, your understanding, your energy, what you do to help the people around you, the love that you share for everyone and everything, and a happiness that shines no matter the circumstances. I believe that they’re all something the Kingdom would benefit from having you,” she assured him, tracing a finger over the smile that began to form on his lips. “Ruling is not always war and laws, but mostly what you do for your people and kingdom, and I’m sure you have enough to give them. Besides, you’ll have Ludwig with you. I’m sure he’s just as nervous as you are, as excited to meet you again and willing to do everything with you as it had been once. Depend on that union, Feliciano. Together, you both can make great things.”

And Feliciano smiled true, just the boost of confidence in him that they could depart him off with.

She began sharing the drinks around them, until all held a glass, each raising it up to the air to join in the toast circle.

“This is for our Feliciano. We’ve waiting long enough for this and tomorrow he embarks on that new stage of his life that would bring a new chapter in the history of the Hearts Kingdom. Gentleman, the capital city will never meet a threat like him once again." They all laughed.

“For Glory!” Augusto alled.

“For Honor! For Riches!” Antonio and Lovino shouted.

“For the gods!” Vicenzo and Renata raised.

“For Hearts!” Feliciano shouted and all their glasses met in a loud clank of promise, some wine spilling and hopefully staining them with luck for their arising ruler.

 

Feliciano’s room had been left emptied, everything he was to take in trunks outside waiting for their carriage. Everything else that was not, was brought to the basements or set in other rooms in which they would be put to better use. Renata made sure that his clothes for the day would be as refined as everything else they had gotten new for him, especially the ones he would use for the other days of his trip and first days in the castle. Feliciano admitted that it was a nice red coat, a nice white blouse shirt underneath, his white cross necklace and fitting black boots.

In secrecy, he had packed a case with the clothing he used right here in his home, finding them much more comfortable than the intricate things that only felt suffocating and excessively pompous. He made sure it would be the first pack he mounted before his family inspected it as they had done with the rest of his things.

“Are you sure all this shit is going to fit in the carriage?” Lovino said as he headed outside, looking at the mess of trunks and boxes that filled almost all the front entrance.

“They’re sending a carriage from the palace, I’m sure it would be big enough,” Renata assured her eldest son, bringing with her a small box she had cleaned free off dust before bringing it forward to Feliciano. Feliciano easily recognized it, smiling and taking it in his hands.

“Wear it for when you arrive at the castle.”

Feliciano nodded, tempted to open the box of perfumes and spray himself completely just for the trip. But his mother wanted his scent to be fresh, especially for the castle, surely to impress Ludwig somehow.

The sound of hooves suddenly filled the air, all eyes rising knowingly of the specific carriage that was arriving.

It was as large as Renata expected, a little too much for the single rider and its driver. Red as usual, with large symbols of Hearts in all different shades of red possible, with some bronze and gold thrown into it. It was in itself a work of art, of image and craft to show off the important presence of the one that would be inside.

The Valenti, as well as the servants that had come out to help with the packing were left in awe, not sure how they could deal with such majesty and great reminder of the royalty member they were to offer. Feliciano had never seen such a beautiful carriage, more so than even the ones he had remembered Ludwig and his family brought when they visited. It wasn’t until the driver came down from his seat and bowed down to all of them and open the compartment in the back did they all begin moving, awaken from the fantasy the carriage had brought to all their minds.

Feliciano first packed the one he held close, with many old things like his preferred clothing, art supplies, favorite books and some of Ludwig’s past birthday presents. Once he made sure it was set in the carriage, he stood aside while the servants did their work. He wanted to say goodbye to all of them, but they seemed too busy to do so. Instead he went over to his family, all taking their turn to embrace him and wish him the best of luck. The most hurtful was the one he had to wish to his mother, who held the tightest and caressed his hair and face, just as she had done when he was just a baby. That boy was no baby anymore, but now a young man who stood just as tall as her. She cried, and he joined her as well, all packing done, the compartment closed and yet both mother and son refused to depart from this last embrace.

“Please come to the castle, as often as you can, and I’ll visit myself. I don’t think I can ever truly leave Italy,” he promised and hoped.

“I will, and I will expect you to come find time to see me, along with Ludwig. I want to see if he really grew up to be a nice gentleman.”

The same hopes Feliciano held. He nodded in promise, keeping a tight hold on her hands.

The driver blew a whistle, a sign that it was time to leave. Feliciano began departing, a smile of perseverance for once ready to head off.

“Vi amo tutti! You will always be in my thoughts. Please write!” Reluctantly he had to let go from his mother, dashing off with countless waves as he mounted the carriage and made himself comfortable. It was already rather lonely, despite how decorative it was, with red curtains and comfortable mattresses underneath him. He sat up to the window, wishing many good byes and continuing his waving for as long as he could see his family, all until they were covered well by the trees and hedges that surrounded his home.

It wouldn’t be his home anymore.

As he sat forward and though about taking a nap, he made sure to himself that he was onward to his new home, at the palace in Berlin as the arising Queen and with his husband to be.

Chapter Text

It had taken five days of travel.

Feliciano traveled through much of the northern part of Italy, being able to pass and see cities like Florence, Milan and Turin. He wished many times to convince the driver to stop and see them up close, but every time he refused, saying that he had a tight schedule and the Hearts royals expected him in exactly five days. Any change could cause them to send help and he might even lose his job.

They were as precise as usual and it made Feliciano roll his eyes as he had to depart by Florence without even a chance to buy a little trinket.

He spent his time mostly sketching the many beautiful terrains he saw, enough to fill half an entire book he had gotten new on his last birthday. Hearts was indeed beautiful, and he wished he could have stopped and explored more, to fill this book he had to completion.

He also napped, ate from the food prepared for him or the driver stopped for. The driver rarely spoke to him, and it was mostly Feliciano who had to start the conversation to not let himself be driven mad by the constant silence inside the carriage. In the process, he found out that the driver actually resided in the castle and was the main driver for the royal family, along with two others that were mostly for errands and small events in the very city. He had a wife and two young children who also lived in the castle, in one of the lower rooms he made clear, which meant that neither he nor his family saw the royals as often. He never did mention Ludwig, and Feliciano had to ask himself to get something. The driver admitted that there really wasn’t much he could say, he was only his driver and the Prince never really spoke to him unless it was with commands for new directions.

Feliciano would just have to give up and see for himself once he got there.

They arrived in territory of a new Province, of the Germanic province more precisely, and in here indeed did Feliciano laid wondered. He did not find any time to nap, impressed by everything new, like the mountains that reached so high that snow covered their tops and the new specimens of flowers he had never seen in person before. He wanted to stop, take more of this fresh new air, pick flowers and keep some for the memory of the trip, but they kept on going by the driver’s insistence.

He saw villages, towns and far off cities of new style, decorating many scenes beautifully and bringing them alight, overhearing mostly German now which even intimidated him slightly.

By his final night, he had made his goal of filling his entire sketchbook, now lying open as he slept upon that last drawing he was making of a large pass between two darkly tall mountains.

Ever since they came into the Germanic province, Feliciano had been very awake, even in the nights where he talked frivolously about everything that was just usual for the driver. He insisted many times that Feliciano should rest, but he only took his word on this last night of travel, the tiredness from the past nights taking a toll on him. The driver admitted that it was all rather endearing. Feliciano was a very sweet and joyful boy, the first to ever speak to him and actually let him talk about himself and his family. He was quite excited to serve him.

The next morning, that of his arrival, Feliciano still lay in the same position he had gone to sleep in, but only changed when he tried to take sunlight from the new rays that were coming from the small window.

“Feliciano! Feliciano!” The driver called.

By the movement, Feliciano could tell that they were still moving onward, the rocking motion not helping at all to wake up. If anything it only made him want to continue resting.

“Just a little more, mamma,” he groaned, cuddling more into the seat.

“Feliciano! We’ve arrived to Berlin!” The driver called slightly louder this time.

Feliciano realized that didn’t sound at all like his mother, he recognized it as the driver, then realized he was still in the carriage, overhearing a lot of voices, other carriages, as well as a mixture of noises he had never heard before, all happening at once to create a new sort of melody.

Berlin…Berlin…Berlin…he sat right up. He was finally in Berlin!

He threw himself to the window as if to fall right off, wanting to take his first glimpse of the city.

He did not expect what he saw at all.

Yes, Ludwig had told him as children that Berlin was large and extensive, far beyond Feliciano could understand since he came from Italy, a province that didn’t see cities as big as this magnitude.

It covered well the entirety of a large valley, it’s ends so far that it was hard for Feliciano to spot. From the heights they were currently in as they made their way down a hill, Feliciano had a great chance to see the many different types of buildings and structures that stood together- high, small, as big to cover great spaces or even elder areas that maintained a much simpler village look. Many of the larger buildings, surely universities, schools, specialized departments, churches, and libraries were a Romanesque and Gothic styles that he knew was very singular to the Germanic province. Much of the smaller buildings, surely of apartments, cafes and homes shared some of those very traits to them that made it all connect together as a picture. As expected, red was the color that stood out the most, along with bronze and much littler colors that only Feliciano’s painter eyes could truly see.

Two rivers cut and moved around the city, large enough to even hold boats, with bridges to make it easier for carriages or other modes of transportation to pass. Between the modern structures, streets, lamplights and squares filled with crowded people admiring a statue or display, Feliciano also spotted beautiful parks and gardens. As he came closer and closer, he noticed the amount of people that strode, that commuted on their daily routine and spoke to their many neighbors or enjoyed conversation with friends. He had never seen so many people in one place, and although many Hearts, from countless of different provinces, he also found through the crowds people from even different kingdoms. He came across inventions he had never seen in Italy, like carriages driven by themselves without the help of horses as his was and large trains that moved through the city for better transportation, and from what Feliciano could tell, powered by magic from the driver. And there was just so much, all too much to grasp into detail, more so than he could imagine or sketch simply in just one page of his book.

And then there was the building that stood the highest above everything else, the true jewel and beauty of the city- and oh Aces! He was actually going to live there.

The castle stood right at the very center of the entire city, a structure so tall and large that it could be evident no matter in what spot of the city you stood in. The only hills and mountains in the city was its perch, where it surrounded and made that entire area its home. With its largeness, Feliciano doubted that he would find his room or even make his way through it normally. Ludwig had told him once that he still had a hard time just finding his brother’s room, and this was coming from somebody who was even born and raised there. Feliciano though that maybe with the passing years he would be more precise and would actually serve of great help getting the new arising Queen around.

Feliciano couldn’t just sit back in his chair as he watched on. He had his entire upper body hanging from the window as he watched everything. He was too distracted by the new beauty that he didn’t notice himself the many eyes that were glued on him. Two particular children, who were riding the carriage that was moving alongside his, were the heavy ones he felt that actually made him look to them. Feliciano, as friendly as ever, waved to them with a charming smile, which in turn got the kids to scream.

“Mutti! Mutti! Die Königin winkte uns! Die Königin winkte uns!” They shouted to their mother, who looked up and met with the very Queen, with the same awe in the children’s eyes.

This time Feliciano waved sheepishly and slowly sat back into his hidden position in the carriage. But it had already been too late, it had caught the attention of many, who recognized the carriage and began pointing to it ecstatically. Many stood, and not just people, but all kinds of carriages alike. Whispers went on with the presence of the new arising Queen, riding down the streets of the city in the royal carriage. As it advanced, people followed behind it, either walking or even other carriages joining it on its journey. It was just too many to wave at once, not at all like the crowds he had met in Rome or in his very village. The driver knew well to ignore all this commotion around him and only continued the route as he was told, the castle coming closer and closer, giving Feliciano the chances to witness more details he hadn’t appreciated from his far away distance.

The roads changed to those of clean stone, surrounded mostly by gardens that decorated the entrance to the castle well. He was so close, the grand gates now before him, where an enormous crowd was already awaiting him. It only intensified the beating of his heart, his nervousness, causing him to even shake. He kept a tight hold of his own hands, trying to calm himself, trying to remember to even breathe. He was alone now, and didn’t have his mother, brother or grandfather to calm him down and ease him with believing words.

The chants became louder, the screams filled with welcome, praises and eagerness to catch a glimpse of their new coming Queen. The gates were opened and at least a pathway was set for the carriage to pass. People still stood and celebrated too close to the carriage, which made Feliciano wonder how he was going to pass this large and extended crowd. They filled the clear surrounding entrance of the castle, which was usually empty and only filled with pasture and flowers. It was good ground for just any who lived in the castle to walk on and enjoy from the day…just if that day wasn’t the one the arising Queen was arriving for the first time.

The carriage spun and rode all until it stopped at the very entrance, a large open area that extended in marble, filled with pillars, banks, beautifully sculpted statues and flowers to decorate its entrance, guarded heavily by many guards so people wouldn’t enter and Feliciano’s entrance would be much more comfortable. Far behind were the gates of the inner castle and around it were surely many entrances for guards or servants to take. Only one figure stood to greet him, while behind him was a large line of servants, dressed in the same uniform, bowing precise and instantly in welcome to the new Queen.

“Kiku?”

It took Feliciano slightly to recognize, but when he did, without thinking of the proper way to head down from the carriage and make his first standing in castle and Berlin ground, he slammed the door open and rushed towards him, ignoring the louder shouts of the crowd surrounding them. He instantly took Kiku into a tight hug, laughing and twirling him around in the area, much to the surprise of the servants and even many of the people in the crowd who saw.

“Mio Dio! Mio Dio! Kiku, it’s you! It’s you!” Feliciano shouted with the outmost glee, to the point of almost breaking down to cry.

Kiku was stunned, with widened eyes trying to maintain as still as possible, like many others, not expecting the Queen to take him into such a tight and loving embrace after only having one single meeting eleven years ago.

“Yes, it is me, your highness.”

“Oh please, don’t start with that, Kiku!” Feliciano already scolded, with that still adoring smile that Kiku still remembered clearly.

The servants quickly headed to the carriage and began taking the bagagge, the driver helping along as well.

“It’s been so long, and our first meeting wasn’t exactly…the best one.” Kiku to this day felt a big fault because of it. “I’m rather surprised you would…greet me like this.” He felt like it wasn’t deserving of him, and it hurt Feliciano to see that doubt in his eyes. He went forward for another embrace, no matter how Kiku reacted to it.

“You are going to be my Jack. You’ll be as important to me as Ludwig. I want to show and give you a friendship deserving as such.”

And for the first time in a while, Kiku felt welcomed and relaxed in a hug, smiling and having to still hold himself from cuddling or even wrapping his arms around him to tighten their hold. It felt rather hurtful to have to let go, but there were other matters to attend to immediately now that Feliciano was here.

“Now, come, many others want to see you and are waiting inside the castle."

“Shouldn’t I help get everything down?”

“The servants will be dealing with it and they’ll be leaving everything in what’s to be your room.”

Without any more distractions, Kiku let Feliciano forward into the castle, a large door opening for them that lead through a richly decorated entrance, all kinds of banners hanging from the ceiling and paintings upon paintings of other past monarchs. Feliciano felt rather meek under all of this, but still impressed, having to turn and stop many times to look at everything even as Kiku continued forward. He must have been longer in the castle to easily ignore all this fabulous wealth and even art.

“It really is so nice to see you again and I’m excited for the time were going to spend together, but-”

“You were expecting to meet with Ludwig.” Kiku knew, it was actually rather traditional for the arising King to be the first to meet with his arising Queen.

“Well…” he hated to be so rash with this, but it had been eight years and he was indeed eager to meet with Ludwig again. It was one his biggest worries and excitements. “Where is he?” he asked.

“Right now, he’s with his father in the outer woods dealing with some of his training. They’ll be joining us at dinner tonight as a celebration.”

“Shouldn’t there be a ball?” Feliciano had read enough to know that usually a very important ball was held, in the very one in which the three monarchs’ power was activated and were given the official approval of the King to start the arising.

“You’ve done your reading,” Kiku told him proudly. "Yes, there should be, but seeing as we had already met beforehand and Ludwig’s earlier power activation, things are going to work differently this time. The dinner will be private, just the Beilschmidts, myself and you of course, where the King would give his official commence. Our power activation is set to begin tomorrow morning in training grounds, so we can begin training ourselves immediately.”

Feliciano nodded to this. He had only been here a couple of minutes, met with his Jack, and already was given duties and things to look forward to. They wanted to quickly accommodate him to their rhythm. The sooner the better.

“Feliciano? Feliciano is that you?” The voice had grown of course, nothing compared to the still voice cracking of his teenage years.

“Gilbert?” Feliciano guessed, then noticing the two figures that were coming close.

“Götter im Himmel! It really is you!” Gilbert instantly rushed forward and Feliciano matched his pace, ecstatic and grateful to at least be given a chance to meet early with at least one of the Beilschmidts.

“Oh my." Gilbert had to stop, to truly take him to his eyes, wondered at his changes. “Look at you, look at you,” he smirked, reaching to hug him and Feliciano just couldn’t deny, both a tightening grasp on each other as they swayed and laughed.

It was just like it had been.

Gilbert had grown taller, more define facial features, a more broad body to go along compared to the lanky figure he had back when he was a teenager. But he still held his same headstrong charisma, prideful, with that same teasing smirk and those same mischievous red eyes.

“Let me take a better look.” He pulled himself away to look at him from head to toe, even taking his hand to give him a twirl to not leave any part of him unseen from his curious eyes. “Fuck the Aces’ decision. Can I marry you instead?”

“Gilbert!” The figure beside him scolded.

“I was only kidding,” he laughed.

He still had to take him into another embrace and Feliciano did not mind this at all. It was just so nice to see someone that could give him stability and a familiar welcome into the castle.

“Wait till my brother takes a look at you.”

“He’ll be falling head over heels in no time.”

Feliciano ignored that comment, finally recognizing the other voice as Monika, glowing at her and taking his next tightening embrace to her.

Of course she had aged, but it didn’t do anything to hide her beauty, her comfort, kindness and overall welcome. It was still the same scent, the same embrace and arms.

He wished so much it would be the same for Ludwig.

“Oh look at you,” she took his face in her hands, caressing adoringly, “you grew so beautifully, and I hope just as kind as you had been."

“I assure you Monika,” he bowed in promise.

“You have plenty of time to truly show me,” she chuckled.

The three of them gave Feliciano a quick tour of the castle, taking him to many spacious rooms to work as studies or just to relax, two libraries, one of the two ballrooms, the breakfast room, halls and views to see the gardens or even the extend of the city. Feliciano marbled at everything, showing his truest interest and bewilderment in loud words and long compliments. They spent much of the reminder of the day laughing, talking of old times and stories of their time apart. Through it, the three realized that Feliciano had truly not changed from that kind, talkative and excitable boy who showed every true emotion even to his fingers and legs. They wanted more time with him, more time to stroll the castle and see much more of what it had to offer, but the tolling of a loud bell signified that they should be preparing to head down to Feliciano’s welcome dinner and officiating from the King.

Those bells tolling sounded along with the rapid increase of Feliciano’s heart, not only signifying the dinner for his arising officiating, but his long awaited meeting with Ludwig.

Monika, Gilbert and Kiku, noticing his distress, placed gentle hands on him and each gave him encouraging words, calming him to an extend to be able to come down from the routes they had traversed up the castle.

To think that there was still so much to see. But there would be plenty of time for that, now it was time that Feliciano met with an old best friend. His King and future husband.

Chapter Text

The very same crowd that had welcomed Feliciano still lay in waiting, although now much more still, talking, sitting, or sharing from the food they had with themselves or the servants brought outside from the castle.

“Are they waiting for something?” Feliciano had asked Kiku, just finishing in changing into the clothes the servants back in Italy had made for his officiating. The servants here had brought it for him and he had changed in a near room to the main dining hall. Kiku made sure Feliciano’s vest, jacket and belt were tightened and all seals well presented on his chest, and Feliciano made sure that all of Kiku’s sashes were well tied and that his hakama and hitatare lay soothed enough without a single fold or crisp. They both admired how richly decorated both their clothing were, so much gold and red jewels in beautiful patterns, each made from hard working families that truly wanted them to look the best they could for their first meeting with King Aldrich and officiate them well into the first steps of royalty.

“They’re waiting for the King to announce that we have been officiated to begin the year of arising,” Kiku told him, joining Feliciano as they watched through a curtained window outside to the multitudes.

“At least the servants are attending to them, but they still shouldn’t wait outside this long."

“It’s a way to show their respects to the arising rulers. They also hope we can offer them some sort of blessing and prosperity once presented.”

“Will we?”

“Ludwig might. Our own power has not been activated yet.” Kiku turned, like it had all been forgotten, behind him as he headed toward the door, yet Feliciano looked on, sincerely worried over them. He looked up to the sky hoping it wouldn’t rain and that the air wasn’t so chilly for them. Could he send some servants to give them scarfs and blankets just in case?

“Feliciano!” Kiku called.

But he had to go, he had to let the curtain fall and join Kiku to their entrance.

The dining room was only down the hall, a couple of steps only, the large doors separating them from what they were to be presented. On command by Kiku, the guards opened the doors and the room seemed to alight just for them. It was just as richly decorated as the rest of the castle, walls painted in incredible scenes of surely stories about their gods and moments of their history. A beautiful chandelier hung, which gave the room a gold lighting even with all the red that surrounded them. A large table was adorned just as richly as the room, with a buffet of food already presented. Even to Feliciano, who was from Italy, a province that had a stereotype of grandmothers who fueled their children with large amounts of food was impressed with the vastness that he was sure half was going to be left to waste.

At their entrance, some figures that had been sitting stood and began applauding their arrival. Feliciano bowed following Kiku’s lead, quite nervous to even depart from him as they made their way down and took the seats reserved for them.

The ones that were present were surely priests and then the Jack that sat right across Kiku. Feliciano remembered him well and gave him a friendly wave. The Jack, although confused, still waved to him, managing a smile. Feliciano looked for anyone else in the table, the seats surely meant for the King, Queen and the prince clearly empty. The only Beilschmidts present were Reinhardt, Ludwig’s father, who bowed and waved in welcome, Monika and Gilbert.

Another bell tolled from a distance, and with that sound the doors opened once again and in came the couple of the King and Queen, both holding hands and bowing together to all. All, even the other Beilschmidts, Kiku and Feliciano, stood and bowed in return, taking their seats once they made their way down the sides of the table to the only two at the end. They were prepared as thrones, standing taller than the rest of the seats. Upon sitting, finally Feliciano could take a look to the elder rulers and they could meet properly.

“Feliciano,” the King greeted, a welcoming smile on his face that gave Feliciano that very confidence to smile back to him, seeing nothing but the same King who he had spent time with as a child.

He seemed genuinely happy to see him, just as the Queen, who hadn’t stopped smiling and seemed to be holding herself from going up and hugging him instead.

Their true age was starting to show on them. Both their hairs had grayed more than the last time Feliciano had seen them, new wrinkles and the stress of their decades ruling now clearly marked. Yet, what a graceful and beautiful couple they still made, with strength and power that never ceased from their movements and even gazes as they looked on proudly to Feliciano. It was a power that was now to dwindle as they passed it on to them and they could finally retire in peace.

“Healthy, poised, truly adequate and may I say that you grew as handsomely as everyone expected you to.”

Feliciano bowed his head, not being able to hide such a large smile.

“Your grandfather wrote to us occasionally about your growth. He mentioned you were hard working, with undying kindness and good qualifications on the small tests he usually gave you.”

“Were expecting the best from you, but this was all biased from your grandfather, you truly have to show us yourself that you possess all these qualities.”

“I will try my best,” Feliciano assured them, bowing once again.

“You don’t have to bow so often."

“Leave him, he’s very nervous,” the Queen easily noticed.

“About what? There’s nothing to-” a glare from his Queen reminded him. “Ah yes, Ludwig." A pleasant smile crossed his face, instantly remembering all the times the two used to spend time together as children, always an assurance of happiness to them, that made them know that Ludwig was well trusted, had a good friend in which he could confide and that would grow to be the Queen they hoped.

“Nothing to worry about, Feliciano. You’ll see soon enough that Ludwig grew to be a grandson I’m very well proud of.”

“He will be an honor for you to have as a husband,” the Queen made sure, a trust in her smile that made Feliciano confident in her words.

Maybe he really shouldn’t be this nervous. Just calm breaths, sit straight, proud, a positive mentality and he could- the doors opened and it had all disappeared like passing wind.

The prince opened them himself, and with the strength he possessed, it came very easy and without the effort it took the very guards to try. Feliciano couldn’t look, he maintained his gaze frozen in the empty plate before him, the nervousness crashing on him like never before.

“I assume Feliciano is already here.”

His voice, nothing at like the childish one he knew, but deep, strong and already so commanding, the mentioning of his name sending shivers and making him wish to hide underneath the table just so the Prince wouldn’t see him squirm. Everyone applauded his welcome, but Feliciano couldn’t even bring himself to move his hands.

Ludwig began to move forward into the room, Feliciano’s senses heightened to the point that he could even feel Ludwig’s steps. They were as powerful as his very voice and the presence he felt behind him was towering, surely belonging to a man that was tall and robust. He turned at the end, greeting his parents, his grandparents, his brother, Kiku and finally, taking the seat right before Feliciano across the table. He already felt his eyes on him, heavy and only adding the weight of the great anxiousness he surely made everyone in the table see clearly. Feliciano took a deep breath, tried to cease his shaking and when he knew he was stable enough, he looked up to him to let their eyes connect once again.

Ludwig admired how handsome indeed Feliciano had grown, just as they had written. There was a delicateness to his features that made him younger than his age, his eyes still shone in bronze beautifully, his hair the same curls and waves, a picture come alive of those old Italian paintings of demi-gods and protagonists of love stories and tragedies.

But Ludwig, he…he…was this even Ludwig? Yes, there was no doubt, it was him. Feliciano knew those eyes well and the blonde shade of his hair was very much the same, only slightly darker, now slicked back and not loose as he always had it when they were kids. But that expression was just so different, hardened and intense, like he was trying to stab him with mere looks.

It had been eight years, Feliciano knew he was going to have great changes, but not to this extent in which he shone like the true height of masculinity, with the same defined and strong features that his brother and grandfather possessed. Even with his capes and suits, he could tell the growth of his body underneath, much broad and muscular. It all made him looked much older than their mere eighteen.

He was not the small and weak boy he once was, but a grown and mature man that held in just his physique the new power that this kingdom needed for an arising ruler. He got from him the same vibes King Aldrich gave when he stood tall and would intimidate with mere presence and gaze, ones that used to make Feliciano cry as a child.

Ludwig had definitely changed, and like the village boy had said, to the point of being unrecognizable, only but his eyes to give away to who he had been to Feliciano. He had never felt so inferior, so small, like he was just a shadow that he could easily blow away with a sway of his hand. Sure, everyone told him he had grown, comments on how handsome and beautiful, but never about strength, never about maturity, hell people still confused him for a girl. He still couldn’t even speak, only stare on with intense silence, one that Ludwig only helped on, that the rest of those who were present helped as well. They stared expecting…something. Shouts, screams, hugs, kisses, maybe even for Feliciano to run across the table and give all the embraces they hadn’t shared in eight years. But nothing, nothing but serious and continuing gazes, to both of them as if they were the only ones in the table, using this first meeting to examine each other, take in these changes, admit that their best friend was before them, there finally after all the time they had waited.

Everyone was indeed tiring from these continuous looks of nothing but eyes, of mouths trembling in hopes to say something but nothing arising. King Aldrich gave out a fake cough, just the sound needed to grab both the men’s attention, react and return movement to themselves once again.

“Yes Ludwig, Feliciano is here,” he simply said to get some sort of words out.

Ludwig nodded, returning his gaze to the arising Queen and everyone though that it would take more minutes of staring to answer again.

“Oh, then,” he cleared his throat, sat even straighter in his chair, returning that fearsome stature that made Feliciano once again forget who he was. “Welcome to Germany, welcome to Berlin, and welcome to the castle, Feliciano." Even the way he addressed him had changed, like they were strangers meeting for the first time.

“Thank you…” Feliciano simply said, but everyone looked on, especially Ludwig…for what? It took Feliciano slightly to understand, and when he did, it only helped this new growing pain, this stab, this kind of betrayal. “…your highness.”

A clap from the King interrupted any other hurtful though. “We may eat.”

And everyone in the table instantly went for their picking, taking into their plates, servants coming in to serve them their drinks or any other things the attendants asked. Feliciano, with his constant big appetite, didn’t find the appease in the food anymore, only taking small servings that he didn’t even eat completely. His eyes dared venture to Ludwig often, trying to find any familiarity in his movements, in his speaking with Gilbert, but it was all strange, it was all careful, refine, as if he was trying to show respect to even the utensils and every single bite before it was taken in his mouth. It was all nothing like he remembered him being, in fact, he was acting like the very adults they used to make fun of and they talked about never wanting to be. Many times their eyes caught each other, but they would quickly move away, as if trying to erase their presence from around them.

When dessert came in, King Aldrich began his speech of welcome. He talked about the challenges they were to face in the year ahead, about the glory of the Hearts kingdom they needed to persevere, his proudness on being able to see that the three future rulers already showed enough their part, but they needed to act it. They needed to show not only to the current royals, but to the entire kingdom, and that was the point of the year of the arising. With that, he snapped his fingers and new banners rolled out from the ceiling. All servants stopped what they were doing and placed quickly on their attire a small red pin heart. Ludwig and Feliciano saw as the mark the Aces had made on their fingers as children when they decided that they were to be engaged become much clearer, a deep red that now served as a reminder of the pact they were to fulfill and the new stage they were traversing.

“You have officially begun your year of arising.”

The room went into loud applause, they all stood, everyone giving congratulations to the three future royals. Aldrich then led them forward out of the dining room and into the halls, until they reached one of the frontal balconies. He presented himself to his people, giving out the announcement that the three future rulers were officiated, and thus the three were presented to the very large crowd that shouted in clamor, loud to the point that Feliciano though they were trying to make the entire city shake. Ludwig and Kiku bowed and waved, and thus Feliciano followed their lead, although much messier and excited compared to the other two. But their people did not mind, enough was seeing them, enough was simply being acknowledged and enough was watching them start before them all, a new hope for shinning prosperity in the future.

 

“Feliciano, is everything all right?” Kiku had asked him as he led him toward what would be his room.

Feliciano couldn’t lie, his emotions were seen clear, and denying would only get Kiku more concerned. He rubbed his arms, took calming breaths and hope that the hurt wouldn’t be noticeable in his voice.

“Ludwig…changed a lot.” It had failed, it still remained as obvious.

“It has been eight years, Feliciano.”

“I know, but I didn’t expect him to change this much, and to…just greet me like that, as if I was just a peasant who sneaked into the officiating banquet." He rubbed his face in embarrassment.

“Maybe he was just nervous."

“I doubt it. He doesn’t seem like the kind of person to even get nervous anymore."

“There were all those people around, perhaps he was following a protocol. I’m sure if you two manage some time alone together, he’ll be able to act properly and talk as you used to. You’ll have plenty of time since you’re both sharing a room.”

Feliciano froze halfway through the hall. He had completely forgotten about that.

“Something the matter?”

“I-I’ll manage." He didn’t say anything else on the subject and changed their topic of conversation about the food and the decorations that showcased that the castle was currently giving its arising. The conversation was as long as they had taken them to reach the room for the arising King and Queen, at one of the top towers, already a tiring walk for Feliciano, who didn’t know how he could possibly walk this much every day from now on just to get to his room. 

“I’ll be only a couple of floors down if you need me. Good luck with Ludwig,”

“Grazie, Kiku. Have a good night.”

Kiku bowed to him and left, just as Feliciano was to comment on how he really shouldn’t be doing that so often to him. They were friends after all. He gave out a sigh and opened the tall yet simplistic light red doors to his room, quiet a relief to find it empty with no one, only for himself to admire its beauty. It was large indeed as Ludwig had once told him, rounded, clean, the floors and walls practically shinning from its outmost care. There were no paintings as the ones around the castle, simple red walls, brown cabinets and tables, a glass door that lead to a large balcony, currently covered by one of the many red curtains that hanged, some flags and banners hanged from the wall, and every piece of furniture held some sort of Hearts symbol. The room was surely surrounded by tall glass windows, Feliciano could tell by the dim moonlight that still managed to escape through the deep red curtains that covered them. A magnificent light would surely enter once they were opened in the morning. An extra door stood to the left side of the room, one Feliciano assumed would be the single bathroom. A little carpeted area held some sofas and a bookshelf was available, Feliciano tempted to take its rest, but he would have much preferred to take it in his own bed.

There were two, not exactly a large space to separate them, but enough to distinguish, both sharing a single table in the center that already held some written papers, pens and a decorating rose flower. They were both large, with rich red sheets already placed, many fluffed pillows that Feliciano wanted to embrace in his sleep. The rear was a beautifully carved one with flowers and their main Hearts symbol, from it a canopy curtain arising, which they could keep back or move over them if they wished.

All his luggage was already there, piled to the right side of the room, some cabinets and wardrobes opened readily for him to hang and put his things. He would find another time to work on that, right now, there was only one single item he wanted to remove. He went forward to one of his trunks and only took out the little music box Lovino had gifted him. He placed it in the little table right between the beds. It was its perfect spot, a reminder for every morning he woke up, and a little place to go to whenever he felt stressed or worried. That little box held a great reminder of Italy, of his family and home, and he could almost feel their assurance through it, one he needed rather desperately at the moment. He took the left bed as his seat and carefully opened it, watching the gears turn and rise and play the familiar song he adored. He didn’t sing it, but hum it, distracted in the movement, in letting his fingers trace invisibly the notes on the bed, bringing forward to him the relief. He wished he could have had it for the entire night, helping to lull him to sleep as the song itself had done in the past, but the Prince’s entrance made him shut it instantly, the same fears growing, the same stillness and the refusal to look forward to the direction Ludwig was in as he shut the door closed, surely feeling displeased at the mess of trunks on the side of the room.

His steps inched closer and closer to Feliciano, and still he didn’t turn, the little trunk protected in his hands as if Ludwig was to steal it. Ludwig stopped right before him, as tall and commanding as he had been in the table, with a prestigious stand that did not even fall in the privacy and secureness of his room…and the presence of his childhood best friend. Even without looking, Feliciano could feel a scolding glare, one that he had no other choice than to look up to and face.

“That’s my bed,” Ludwig simply said.

“Oh, oh sorry." He instantly stood and took his seat in the other one, seeming to glue himself there and not offer any other sort of movement.

Ludwig stared to him, for once a worried glance over his great stillness. He knew that Feliciano had never been one to remain frozen for so long, but he didn’t bother to do something about it, in fact, they continued their stares, judging and part of it admiring as it had been in the dinner. No words, no sort of communication, only Feliciano’s breathing and Ludwig riding parts of his clothing, while always his eyes remained on him, never breaking the hardened concentration in it.

Did he want something? Was Ludwig expecting Feliciano to fold his clothing or even get out of the room? It was intimidating, it was fearsome, and Feliciano wanted nothing more than to hide from it.

“The castle expects us to wake up early each morning, I usually do so at the soonest sunrise and take my bath quickly afterwards, after so you are free to use it whenever you want. This does not apply to your schedules, especially for tomorrow. There’s a lot do about your power once it’s activated and I rather that we get over the first blows quickly. Also, I do not want you late for the rest of your teachings with my grandmother. I do not care if these are your first days in the castle, you will adjust to it and I hope not to hear any complaints from anyone. Understand?” He spoke, breaking the stares and speaking as militant as a general than an actual arising King.

Feliciano gulped and simply nodded, enough of an approval for Ludwig.

“I arrive back to the room around ten each night, sometimes I take a bath, sometimes I don’t, be attentive to my mood to see if you’re going to bathe yourself during that time, but I much preferred you did so beforehand or after. Keep your things on your side on the room as well as yourself. If you see me working, don’t interrupt me, don’t speak to me, act as if I’m not even there. Are we clear?”

“…Yes,” Feliciano managed to answer and yet Ludwig insistently starred on, maddening and insulted. “…your highness.”

“Always address me as such,” was his last command, ridding of everything until he was solely in a loose white shirt and his long undergarments. It gave Feliciano more of a chance to look at the muscles he had grown, but he held no interest, it didn’t mean anything anymore.

Ludwig instantly fell to sleep as soon as his body hit the bed and he was well covered for the night, facing the direction away from Feliciano’s bed. Feliciano gave out a sigh as he began to rid of his own clothing, only leaving himself in his white blouse and short underpants, settling on the bed just as Ludwig had done, facing away, the little chest still tight in his hold.

Despite the incredible comfort of the bed, it wasn’t enough to console his emotions, broken and tearful, wishing that Ludwig was too deep in sleep to be able to hear his small whimpers that were in the end what pulled him into his slumber.

He couldn’t bring himself to play the song, it reminded him too much of a hope for Ludwig that was now nothing.

Chapter Text

“Your highness! Your highness!” Someone called, a feminine voice.

“Mamma?” Feliciano wondered, tossing and turning until finally the fort he had managed upon himself of pillows fell off, and he was met with a new morning light on him. It was not as much as he would usually want, but enough to wake him, to open his eyes to not his mother, but a uniformed maid. “Oh,” he sat up, rubbed his eyes and stretched. “Buon giorno, Signorina,” he greeted pleasantly to her.

“Good morning, your highness,” she bowed.

“Please, you don’t have to do that, Feliciano or Feli is enough."

“Yes, your- I mean, Feliciano. It’s already pretty late and you’re supposed to be at the training grounds for your power activation,” she said as calmly as she could, not meaning to anger or rush him.

That truly woke him, eyes widened, only thinking about Ludwig’s words last night about arriving on time. He groaned slightly, crawling over the bed and trying to move away from the comfort of the blankets, but he was still too tired to truly stand. He looked over to his right and saw that Ludwig’s bed was empty, fixed and prepare as just as he saw it when he arrived last night. He was probably already waiting in the training grounds.

“Thank you, Signorina, I’ll change and be on my way." He finally stood and headed to one of his trunks, picking his wear for the day.

He changed quickly in the bath room while the maid went on with her room cleaning.

 

The trainings grounds were at the very bottom of the castle, at what Feliciano though was the ugliest and most dreaded part. It was dark, grey, elder walls slowly falling apart from the constant hits they were given throughout the ages. It was a surprise it was still standing, for even the arches that held the ceiling were broken and some simply had a hole in which sunlight and air came through. It needed much more ventilation than that, for the heat was intense and Feliciano was starting to regret bringing a tight fitting jacket.

Men were already off fighting with swords and other weapons resounding all across the area, magic being thrown into the air and only adding to this very chaotic scene in multitudes to make Feliciano think that their entire army was there.

How was he going to find the officials here for his activation?

“The arising Queen has arrived,” a man had called, loudly and clear for the entire area to freeze and look up to the stairs that Feliciano was currently making his way down from. He tensed, standing half way through the steps as all the men and women bowed in his welcome. Feliciano bowed back, giving them all the smile that was just like the glow of the sun they needed. He continued down, watching as all filed up into a large line, emptying the entire arena for surely the space both Feliciano and Kiku needed to release the first of their power. It was then that he finally noticed, in the back hidden well by the crumbling pillars that had blocked Feliciano’s view, King Aldrich, along with his Jack, Kiku and Ludwig, who was the first to spot him, his glare surely scolding for coming late even after his warning last night. Feliciano decided to keep his stare away from him, not wanting to feel more of this weight and this pain first thing in the morning. He joined them hoping to remain by Kiku’s side, but he was pulled by the Jack to stand beside Ludwig and it only made him more hesitant.

Ludwig and Kiku stood readily, without any worry and confident about what they were to show, chests high and eyes already pinpointing where their first power was going to be thrown at. Feliciano had no idea what to do, and simply stood on his heels and swayed as he waited to be commanded. The King, along with his Jack, stood before the line, turning towards the three future rulers, examining well how they could properly start.

“I believe a single Feuerpfeil would be enough,” the Jack suggested and King Aldrich agreed. “Ludwig, as I told you.”

Ludwig bowed and stood first before Kiku, precise and composed, staring at only his forehead.

“We’ll start with our arising Jack,” King Aldrich announced to all. “Kiku, Feliciano, listen well to my words. Ludwig can tell you from experiencing this at a very young age that you will feel pain, one strong enough to be felt across your whole body. You’re all adults now, and won’t go through what Ludwig did, so I want you to try and ignore the pain as best as you can. When your power is activated, I want you to concentrate, create a bow in your head, elaborate it, make it as big and detailed as possible. Feliciano, this will surely come easy to you. Once you have it, create it, as soon as you feel the first pumps from your blood. It will come easy if you have it clear in your mind. A single movement from your hand will be enough to have it. Instantly aim it, wait until it’s fully made, and when you feel the height of the pain and power, shoot whatever comes out into the arena, this is why we left the space.” He presented it, indeed an extensive area to let their blows be as big as they wanted. “What comes out is fire since it’s our kingdom element and our bodies will react more freely to it. If you come out with anything else, then you’ll leave us all very impressed.” He moved away out of target, the Jack following behind, the space now truly open for Kiku to take his first turn.

“Ready?” Ludwig asked him, placing a thumb on his forehead, the rest of his fingers over his head. Kiku nodded, closing his eyes and readying himself for the new spur of energy that will start after the chanting of the priests.

Ludwig took a deep breath, focused and the priest began the words of Latin, until a yellow dot began to appear on Kiku’s forehead, from the spot Ludwig had his thumb over. The Latin chanting stopped and Ludwig removed his finger.

“The activation is complete,” he announced, moving apart, leaving the space clear for Kiku to start.

The yellow dot disappeared, and the boiling of his blood started, power arising through every corner of his body. He took a deep breath, calmed down, ignored the growing pain and moved forward, forming the space he needed for the bow he had concocted in his mind. With one last breath, he made the stance he usually made for his own shooting practice, using his hands to prepare himself as he had one and it was there that he created, forming a stringed red one that seemed rather simple. The only thing that stood out beautifully was the red shield he created at the top, crafted flowers on it that even came to life, flowing behind him like he was the tree. The very petals helped to create the arrow, a metal one that seemed potent enough. He aimed, fire appeared and its tip and it was swung, aimed precisely at some blankets the soldiers had hanged as targets. Kiku had stopped to admire his work, his perfect aim, a smile of proudness, one that Feliciano clapped on excitedly to. But the force on Kiku’s body continued, a pain that was starting to grow in its strength.

“Remember, keep shooting until your body has released all the first blows,” Aldrich told.

Kiku nodded, prepared his bow and continued shooting arrow after arrow, until the first sheet they had placed had burned out completely, leaving the sheet behind it free for Feliciano to take as his target. Kiku was starting to tire, his breathing heavy, but he felt better to know that the pain was diminishing, shown in the fact that his fire weakened and the petals that flew off had completely stopped.

“I believe that is enough,” Ludwig said, enough of a sign for Kiku to stop, to let his body return to its normal rhythm, now at peace with the joining of magic. His hands fell and the bow disappeared in shimmering dust, exhaustion taking over him, already a wish to rest or at least have a calming drink. He settled back with the rest, now leaving the space for the arising Queen to take.

“Feliciano,” Aldrich easily commanded with his name to come forward, and he did, hurriedly and with clear nervousness. He stood straight, took deep breaths and prepared himself for the activation. Ludwig was quite suddenly before him, taking his breath and making him loose whatever composure he held. He tried to look away, but couldn’t settle his eyes anywhere but on his own. At least those remained the same, no matter the intensity and what seemed to be anger in them. There was carefulness in the way Ludwig placed his thumb and hand on his head, the heavy stare disappearing and for once looking relaxed.

“Ready?” He asked in a sweet tone, one that instantly reminded him of that child that used to care so much for him.

The pain he would feel from the power would be nothing compared to the emotional turmoil this very man caused him.

“Mhm,” he nodded, sadness evident in his voice, but Ludwig understood it as just being afraid for his activation.

The chants started once again, this time more potent, long lasting, taking more concentration and the hold becoming harder. The chanting stopped, a sign for Ludwig to release himself, knowing that the activation was granted. Feliciano wished he had more of his touch, even if this hardened and simple hold from his hand, which had him trying to reach his head for more. But he moved aside, and Feliciano knew he had a power to release and commands to fulfill. That simple touch was still nothing like the caring hugs and kisses they had shared once. He thought that he should have nothing to miss from Ludwig’s current touch when he had magic to use.

The tingling arose, and instantly Feliciano tried to make the earlier stance Kiku had taken. He had never really taken archery and what he knew was from what he had seen Lovino do, since he had taken it for a short time. His stance could be wrong, but it didn’t matter to the rest, what they wanted to see was the release of his power.

The moment Aldrich had told them to create a bow in their mind, Feliciano already had it set, so it began appearing as Kiku had done easily.

This one was much larger, large to the point that the soldiers though Feliciano was creating a harp instead of a simple bow. It was as large as a harp, in a beautiful gold, with red rose rubies encrusted in it, several strings to shoot, but also to begin a melody if Feliciano so wished. It got bigger, to the point that it was becoming a hassle just for the arising Queen to hold.

“Just put it on the floor,” Ludwig suggested, so he did.

It was indeed much better, it could still be used and he was in a more comfortable position. Once it was set, Feliciano pulled the strings and settled his aim in the same direction Kiku had started. A similar metal arrow had appeared, with its bottom wings as golden as the bow. Feliciano then awaited to let the fire come to its tip, but it remained still, nothing appearing and it made him panic, for the pain in his body was strengthening too much. He though that he would burn himself, letting the fire ravage inside him and escape through his very skin. Concentrate on the tip of the arrow, concentrate, concentrate, he chanted to himself.

He felt the power release and reach to the very tip, for once a relief, for suddenly the pain left him like a simple cough out of his mouth. It was odd. Surely he was supposed to continue to feel pain, but it was gone, and instead he saw before him as the fire began to grow, and grow, and grow. He panicked, everyone in the room panicked, more so when they realized that sparks of lightning joined.

“Release it, Feliciano! Release it!” Aldrich shouted.

Hoping to get it as far away from him as possible, Feliciano simply shot it, not caring where it hit just as long as it was far away from them. But as soon as he did, the shot he blew was gigantic, enough of a light to blind everyone and look away, a heat so intense that some even felt slight patches of their clothes burning. It hit the target of the blankets, burning it entirely as well as the other three blankets that were tied behind it, reaching the very wall that luckily were strong enough to only burn, slightly shaking and letting some debris fall on the ground.

When it had all stopped, the soldiers dared look first, giving a clear that everyone was safe to leave from whatever hide they had taken. Feliciano couldn’t bring himself to look, covering his eyes with his arms, close to running over to the stairs and heading to the secureness of the castle.

After the dust cleared, the only sound that dared pierce the sudden silence after the explosion was the King’s. “Should have expected this from a Valenti Queen,” Aldrich sighed.

Since the words were not that of a scold, hesitantly Feliciano let go of his own hold, finally looking up, standing with some sort of pride as if trying to ignore what had just happened.

“It seems the gods granted you more power than usual,” Aldrich noticed.

“It’s our first Italian queen in centuries, plus he is of Romulus line,” a male soldier had commented.

“Does this change something?” A female one asked.

They did have certain specific teachings set for him long before he even turned eighteen, but they weren’t expecting his first release to be so powerful.

“Does it still hurt?” Aldrich suddenly asked.

Feliciano focused on any weight or hurt in his body, but nothing, purely gone, with no exhaustion or even a burn on himself.

“We had originally planned to give you two magic lessons each week, but is it possible to make it three times a week?” He asked one of the main organizers, who quickly went to his book of scheduling to check. He nodded an assurance to the king, and it was instantly set. “Then it’s done. Feliciano, three times a week, at this very hour. I’ll have the servants make you a schedule and place it in your room.”

Without any other information he turned away, a sign for the soldiers to take back their training ground and continue to fight as they had done before the visit of the royals. Some headed to try and clean of the soot that stuck to the walls or the ground, making it easier for them to continue without worries of what could suddenly fall on them. It wasn’t anything new, the place was already crumbling down long before Feliciano gave that large surprising blast.

The Jack took Kiku by his shoulder and led him off to leave, Aldrich gave a simple nod to Ludwig and he followed behind him. Feliciano lay still wondering what it was that he was supposed to do next, waiting awkwardly for a sort of command.

“Feliciano, my Queen awaits you in her main study room. Run along now, you must immediately begin your lessons,” Aldrich told him lastly before disappearing out, Ludwig giving Feliciano one last commanding glare for him to head out as soon as possible, not wanting him to waste any time.

Well he would have loved to go if someone offered him directions, but everyone was distracted in their own things, as if the arising Queen was not even there.

He sighed, it seemed like he would have to go find it himself.

 

After useless strolling around the castle, he had given up and had asked for a near maid to help, who gladly lead him all the way.

The Queen’s study room was at another tower, at another of the hills that surrounded the castle, letting Feliciano traverse new areas, new paintings, new banners, which many were of the arising. He saw new decorated floors, the passing of a bridge that held a wonderful view of the city and the wondrous hill this tower had its perch in. The maid had to constantly look back, fearing that the arising Queen would lose himself with his constant staring and admiration stops.

“Your highness,” she called, pointing to the very large doors that rested at the end, the most beautiful Feliciano had admired, coming to take closer look at the details of the flowers and symbols on it.

“She’s right behind these doors,” she bowed and headed off, leaving the arising Queen to his duties.

He gave a quick thanks and settled his eyes back on the door, a little nervous to open them, hesitating as he gave a rather simple knock. The doors instantly opened and instead of meeting a simple office room like his own grandfather’s had been, it felt like he was coming into a library, the vastness surely taking the whole tower, for the spiral stairs that lead upwards and downwards. Not a space was left without a bookshelf, an opened book, a portrait, or some item of value or even a charm. Documents also framed the walls or were presented in glass pedestals, surely important ones that had written upon them important proclamations signed and sealed by past Queens. In the center was a rather simplistic round desk, where the Queen sat, working on some papers and reading, glasses on her face showing how dedicated she was being with her work. She looked so stern as she did, but when she looked up to meet with her student, she smiled gleefully, easily setting aside her work, standing, taking off her glasses and going over to meet him as welcoming as she could.

“You are here,” she took his arms in a shake, and Feliciano couldn’t hold the cheek kisses he gave her. She was such a lovely woman.

“Come, come, sit,” she ushered, offering a cushioned seat in front of her desk, taking back her seat and readying herself for the talk she was to give him.

From what she could see, he was perfectly fine, a proud smile and expecting eyes. Yes, that’s exactly how an arising Queen should start, and she hoped he continued like this.

“Excited you must be, eager to begin."

“I want to learn the best I can for my position, I confide very well in what you are to teach me,” he told her.

What a charming boy, Louis thought. “It will be a lot, heavy and will probably give you sleepless nights, but that is all to be expected of such a position and I hope your grandfather prepared you enough in that aspect.” He nodded, remembering all the times Augusto had purposely given him loads of tests, which ended with him sleeping on top of his desk at late hours of the night, just to test how he could deal with sudden heavy workloads and in how much time he could deal with it.

“As you know, a Queen is in charge to the dealings of their people and doing what is best for all. It requires you to know a lot about our culture, language, economics, but also courtesy and manners,” as she said so she pointed over to an entire bookshelf that surely held all the books Feliciano could read about those subjects in if he wasn’t being taught by the Queen. “Seeing as you have just arrived, I’ll give you this day free to read.”

She stood and picked a small and simplistic book for Feliciano, surely one that he could read in one sitting in any room he wished.

It was a book listing all the important holidays, festivals, balls and others feasts that were important to the Hearts Kingdom, which were also widely celebrated across the city and in the very castle.

“Tomorrow, we will start with a rather simple assignment. It’s usually the very first task given to an arising Queen.” Feliciano gazed up curiously from the small book. “Along with my help and of course the maids and servants, you will prepare your own welcoming ball. No matter what you think, a ball gives the Queen great examples on starting their own connections with their people, being in tune with how exactly the castle works, the culture of the city, or simply leisure time for you and your King. Stressful rulers are bound to have some negative effects on the kingdom and it helps to soothe them with a feast like this,” she smiled expecting of it.

A ball? That was his first assignment? It seemed rather simple…or so he had thought.

Chapter Text

The castle welcomed the early morning with the rushing of footsteps across the halls. All the maids ran up and down, wearing the best of their serving dresses, all surely to impress the arising Queen, ready to serve in his first commands for the preparations of his own welcoming ball. They were quite excited, smiles, giggles and ecstatic conversations eager to already see the arising Queen.

“Let’s not get carried away, girls,” Louis called to them as she made her way forward, head held high, dressed as pristinely as ever, a fair scene that had all the maids bowing in her welcome.

Louis had smiled, she would be lying if she said she didn’t like this attention and gazes full of praise. It would surely be one of the things she would miss once she would have to step down from her throne.

The throne was to be given to the very man she was going to see, surely still locked in his mess of pillows and blankets, resting away the morning lost in his heavenly sleep and dreams. Her grandson was already out and about, surely with her husband dealing with his usual teachings. She had seen him that early morning in breakfast, wondering if she should have awaken Feliciano at the same hour as her grandson.

No, that would have been too cruel. This was still Feliciano’s very first week in the castle and she knew he was not accustomed to those hours. He would be exhausted. Surely with time things would change, but for now she had no problem with arriving to his very door, coming in without even a knock, surely the lights of the hall enough to lighten the room to disturb the sleeping Queen. To her surprise there was no stirring, so she settled off to open many of the curtains in the room, letting light drown walls, floors and especially the bed.

“It is time to rise, Feliciano!” She called, but the stillness of the bed continued, not a single raise of a hand, leg, groans, or a body raising with messy bed hair. “Come Feliciano, we mustn’t waste any time,” and she pulled the covers from the bed, only to reveal but an empty spot. “Feliciano?” She called, turning and hoping to find him already standing in another area in the room, but no presence was acknowledge with her searching eyes. “Feliciano?” She called again, hoping he would come out from the bathroom or closet, but all she received was the echo of her voice.

 

“And I think the basil would give it an excellent touch."

“Are you sure we can do this?”

“We were given strict orders to follow the recipe as it has always been.”

“What if the arising Queen dislikes it?”

“He would like it much better with these changes, I assure you,” Feliciano told them as he pressed the dough against the counter, not minding it all as it continued to stain his simple long pink blouse shirt and tight black pants. “Do you think this is enough?”

“Perfect,” one servant saw.

“Then it’s ready for the-”

“Has anyone seen the arising Queen?” The Queen suddenly burst into the kitchen, obviously fretting over the wellbeing of the coming ruler, worried to the point that she herself came into the kitchen trying to find him.

It was a rare occurrence to have a royal in such areas. Many of the cooks have never even been in the presence of a royal before. They quickly bowed and shook with nervousness, embarrassed over how they were presented and surely the mess the kitchen was in. The only one that stood out was Feliciano, who still stood straight with his hands ready to put the dough in the near oven. He smiled in welcome to the Queen, but it went unnoticed as she searched the area desperately for any clue of the arising Queen.

“Um, I’m right here Louis,” he waved, with his ever present smile and calm like she was just another visitor in the kitchen.

The cooks looked incredulous to Feliciano, not believing and thinking him to be crazy to make these impersonations. He could give them great trouble. But their eyes widened to even more shock when great relief shone on the Queen and she rushed over to Feliciano to make sure he was all right, hands running all over him. The servants moved away slowly, nervous to be around such a powerful woman and now apparently man.

“Heavens, Feliciano, why in the world are you doing here and…” she looked down to what he was wearing, even feeling disgusted, “wearing this.”

“I was going to be in the castle all day I assumed, so I decided to wear something comfortable,” he easily told her, no minding at all how he looked or even her reactions.

“But you look so poor and…dirty."

“Oh, I was just helping the cooks make herbs bread, wasn’t I?” He looked to them, but they remained yet as frozen, not sure what words to say or what movements to make.

Only one of the young women dared speak: “You-you’re the arising Queen?”

“Of course.”

And instantly they bowed, spewing apologies about behavior and how they had presented themselves to him.

“There’s no need! I wanted to come down here and be with you all."

“Feliciano, the cooks can cook the food without your help. Your duty is to simply eat what they prepare in the dining room."

“The bread was tasteless and I don’t eat sausages for breakfast. I came here to help them.” He joined their side again, picking the dough and still hoping to let it cook. At least one of the women had opened an oven for him and Feliciano quickly used the chance to put it in and let it begin.

Louis was ready to scold him for his actions, a strong glare and ready to point fingers, but then she had noticed something.

“When did you wake up?” She settled on asking.

“Ludwig woke me up." The moment he woke up himself. He was insisting, calling and even kicking the bed to get Feliciano to wake. He didn’t stop or leave the room until Feliciano had stood up from the bed.

Louis should have told her grandson something before he did that, but it was done, and at least he had Feliciano awake earlier than expected.

“Well, if you’re done, we can immediately start."

“Sure, I had a cup of coffee at least, if anything I’ll have the herbs bread later."

“So it seems. Come this way now, Feliciano.” And she ushered him out of the room to follow.

Feliciano wished goodbye to the cooks, telling them that he hoped he had time to join them in their lunch or dinner making, and they were all actually looking forward to it.

 

“First thing is first." She dropped many scrolls against her desk, some maps of the castle, others color schemes, fabrics, and collection of different items to decorate. Feliciano looked through most of them quickly, as if Louis was to test him immediately about them. “Location and theme."

“Obviously the ball room."

“You see Feliciano..." she took the very scroll Feliciano was currently holding, rolling up much more to reveal mapped details of the entire castle. “There are four ballrooms in our castle.”

With the largeness, he should have expected it.

Louis brought her hand forward and began pointing them out. “This is our biggest one, in the very ground floor of the castle. I highly recommend you choose this one for movement in this room is much easier between the servants and for the very guests who might later want to take a stroll through the gardens.” She then moved her finger towards one of the many towers, a room taking a spacious three floors with balconies and spaces connected by spiral stairs. Overall it was small, but enough for dancing and for food to be presented. “This one is rather peculiar, but we mostly use it for more private ones and we usually decorate with much simpler things. This one over here is like a terrace to the gardens, open and fresh, perfect for the summers and for children to run around without a problem.” There was a nostalgic smile on her lips as she mentioned it and Feliciano wondered if any of her three children and other grandchildren had played and shouted in that very ballroom. For some reason he imagined himself with Ludwig as a child playing in that very place he was never given the chance to visit in his infancy. Not that they didn’t attend their very own balls back in Italy. Just to relive some of it, Feliciano wondered if he could choose it- that was until Louis pointed to the last one.

It was under a crystal clear dome, at the very center of the castle, high and surely in the night enough to feel like you would be dancing with the stars. It was the finest decorated, the truest showcasing of their power and wealth with spectacular art on the walls, plentiful chandeliers, the most rich of their flags and banners, no corner left without a detail of intrigue that was bound to leave all the guests wondered and struck. It was not as large as the first one but its space was grandiose enough for the same activity the first one could bring. Louis spoke on about it, but Feliciano was taken too much by the mere picture, he couldn’t imagine the actual room.

“This one," he immediately decided.

“Feliciano, let me repeat myself, this ballroom is for very, very special occasions.”

“What kind?”

She didn’t seem to want to answer.

“Although your welcoming here is indeed special, the type of ball we wish to make will not be appropriate for such a room. The time will come for you to prepare one, but for now, I really recommend-”

“Then I chose the one by the gardens.”

“It will be too messy for your first ball. Please, let’s just go with the one in the ground floor."

“But-”

“It will be the easiest for you to manage.” Any other words would just earn another disapproval.

With a defeated sigh, Feliciano reluctantly pointed to the very ball room the Queen wished. Although it was indeed beautiful, it was still rather simplistic, just another squared room without any specific detail that made it stand out from the rest.

“Excellent choice.” She rolled the scroll quickly before Feliciano could see or even utter anything else. “Now, time to choose a theme and decorations.”

 

Despite how it was supposed to be a ball created by himself, Feliciano really didn’t make any choices of his own.

Louis ended up choosing the theme, the colors, the decorational items, the banners that were to be presented, the dress code of the guests, and of course the food. Nothing of the ball would have his own touch, just the usual the castle had expected from the current ruling Queen. Even so, Feliciano was expected to call out the orders and makes sure that Louis’s plans were fulfilled. He was handed a schedule Louis had prepared at that very moment, large and full, already stress weighting on Feliciano as the words continued with tedious jobs that he was already detesting. Louis had even written a special order that Feliciano should dress more appropriately, and would be even willing to turn him back to his room if he didn’t wear any of the finer things the castle had for him or the very ones his family had made for him back in Italy.

‘Your choice of wear for today is not for someone of your stature. You need to learn to show you are a Queen,' she had written more specifically.

Of course he scowled, he felt like he was being scolded like a child. Well, it wasn’t an order he was immediately going to obey to, not when he had other plans.

He rolled his sleeves and made the way he had learned towards the kitchen. Louis had given him the rest of the day for him to do as he pleased, expecting him to at least have a chance to change, but he refused to. When he entered the kitchen, of course the cooks were startled, going on with the usual bowing and proper addressing. He told them to fall at ease, that he simply wanted to join them in their cooking and make a few changes or even introduce entirely new plates for the dinner that night. After having his herb bread, which they couldn’t resist taking from as the scent that drowned the kitchen was too exquisite to hold themselves any longer, they placed utter trust and let him do as he pleased, giving him the full reign of everything he could use from the kitchen. Some worked on their usual plates, while others took to simply watching what Feliciano did and enjoying pleasant conversation with him.

“As soon as I saw that ballroom, I thought of a spectacular stellar theme. Stars, blues, purples yellows and silvers, shimmers and glitter to make it seem like we would be part of that very starry sky,” he had been telling them, cutting some vegetables for a soup he was preparing.

“That sounds amazing,” a young girl had sigh dreamily, already imagining herself dancing to such a feast with a beloved.

“Even if you couldn’t choose the crystal dome ball room, you could still create that same theme for the ground one,” one cook suggested.

“The Queen was not going to let me. She ignored all my suggestions and decided everything on her own. I was just there to take notes.” He added the vegetables, the creams, the spices and everything else the soup needed, then mixing it, which added more the deliciousness in the air.

“That’s a bit wrong.”

“She said herself it's supposed to be a ball made by you.”

Although a small hurt in his features, he pretended it didn’t matter, moving over to the pile of potatoes and choosing the best ones, a new pot, and some other ingredients. “Yes, but after all, I’m just the arising Queen, I really don’t hold much power yet, and I don’t think Louis wants to give it up either.” He began peeling potatoes, two other maids deciding on helping him.

“She should learn to.”

“Perhaps she just…” how it pained him, how it halted his movements and made any smiles or feelings of contentment disappear, “doesn’t believe I’m capable of it.”

The kitchen went silent, for nobody knew any counseling words that could help the arising Queen. Although he was exceptionally kind to have no problem with cooking and talking to them, truth was that they had just met him that very morning and not even a week had passed since his arrival. They really didn’t know him, they really didn’t know what they could tell him, but if there was one thing that they could…

A young girl who had been preparing some sauces, changing their ingredients by Feliciano’s suggestion, came forward, joining the group that were dealing with the potato peeling. “I don’t know much about kingdom ruling, but if there’s one thing you’re surely capable of is making the best herbs bread I’ve ever had.”

A maid took a taste from the soup, eyes growing and sparkling at the taste, “an amazing soup.”

Another maid took a small little dip from the sauce, “a rich sauce.”

“And I don’t know what you’re going to do with these potatoes, but I’m sure it would be a wonderful dinner.”

And with each of their words, the glow came back into Feliciano’s eyes and his smile arose once again, more determined to peel the potatoes the best he could, worthy of royalty.

He was flying across the kitchen working on different plates, helping different cooks with great amount of energy, like no hurt had befallen on him that day. The cooks didn’t mind at all, it was all different and new from what they were accustomed to and the plates were coming out splendidly. Feliciano couldn’t show his skill in leadership through a ball, but he could show it through the kitchen, with great order, power, but still a spark of dancing and singing, kindness and understanding that seated well between all the maids, servants and cooks. It was almost like their own little feast that continued even to the coming night, and even to the time when the plates where to be presented to the royal family that was already seated waiting to dine.

 

Ludwig was the last to come in, having taken a short time to look at the training dogs that were usually used for scavenging and helping in battle grounds. Sure, they were in no threat of war, but Ludwig much preferred to be prepared.

“How were they?” Aldrich asked, still reading some documents that he even brought to the table.

“Perfect, might wait three weeks this time for my next checking.” He took his time greeting all, taking his own chair once again, surprised then to meet with a still empty chair in front of him. “Where’s Feliciano?”

“Hopefully he went off to finally change,” Louis said dealing with her own documents.

“I assume he’s in our room then.”

“Perhaps,” Aldrich shrugged, and the room settled into silence yet again, even Gilbert sitting still as he awaited the food.

The appetizers were brought in, a servant for each attendant. Bowls were presented, a rich aroma arising to the air unlike anything they had ever had from their cooks. The soup itself looked appetizing, decorated as if it was another piece to hang in their walls.

“Excuse my timing,” Feliciano said as he served Ludwig’s own plate, crossing behind the King and Queen to sit in his own chair, where a servant had already placed his own soup.

They were all stunned, not only for his surprising entrance by the servant doors, handing a plate to his own arising King, but because he looked like a total mess, sprayed with flour and other substances, the same attire the Queen had complained about that morning. He didn’t care about their stares and already had the first sip from his soup, glowing proudly at how amazing it had come out. Not being able to resist the scent any longer, each began taking their own, a proud grin on Feliciano’s face as their eyes shoot up with surprise, casted under the spell of great taste the simple soup had brought them.

“Who made this?” Louis asked. None of their cooks had ever created something like this.

“Feliciano, your majesty,” one servant said as he had brought baskets of bread for all of them.

“Feliciano?” Both the King and Queen looked sternly to him, but none was stronger than Ludwig’s own.

“This is probably the best soup I’ve ever had,” Gilbert commented, taking the entire bowl in one gulp.

“He made the entire dinner,” another servant added, which didn’t help Feliciano’s predicament.

He didn’t say anything, he didn’t even look at them, he simply continued on with his food like he normally did, and the rest began to do the same, but they could not hold the moans of delight that escaped them as they kept on.

This was just the soup, Feliciano couldn’t imagine them once they had the two main plates.

No soup bowl was left empty, and as the other plates began coming, their minds exploded with new taste. Silence reigned because all were too busy savoring every bite they took, and every single plate was taken back to the kitchen empty.

“I haven’t dined like this in a while,” Kiku said, content, even rubbing his belly proudly.

“As expected from an Italian,” the Jack laughed, one that was contagious to Feliciano, who had to hide it by cleaning some of the tomato sauce that had managed on his lips from the pasta.

“I wouldn’t mind having you cook again.” In fact, Gilbert was kind of hoping to have seconds.

“As wonderful as this dinner was, please, don’t let it be something that can commonly happen Feliciano,” Louis simply said, quite calmed from her previous anger.

“I agree, but we thank you for it,” and the King even bowed to him.

“What did you think, Ludwig?” Monika asked her son, who still laid with an unbelievable expression, his eyes lost, like they were submerged in an old memory and it was all he could see at the moment. Feliciano had a small idea of what, hands holding to his arm, nervous as to what he was to say now.

At his mother’s words, he broke from his vision, met with the same Feliciano of his mind, but now different, now in his present before him. He coughed, he seemed to be working the words in his mind, sitting straight as he uttered them like he had trained them in his mind several times. “Everything was…delicious. I could easily taste your touch in it, which made it the more exquisite.”

And for once Ludwig said something that actually made his heart soar, that made him smile, a beautiful smile that even made the arising King blush, quickly hiding his face from his future Queen, now embarrassed.

“Thank you, your highness. Thank you all.”

 

Feliciano had gone up to his room gleeful, for once feeling comfortable in his room, now after taking a nice wash and all his trunks empty into their cabinets and wardrobes, giving more space to the room (surely work of the servants while he was away). He was preparing his bed, the melody of his little trunk aiding him in a hum. He quickly turned it off at the entrance of the arising King. Feliciano stared up to him, not knowing if to give him a smile, say a word, confidence in him after the compliment he had given him for his dinner.

He wasn’t quick enough. Ludwig turned, began undressing and the preparation in his own bed, with the same scowl and indifference, like Feliciano was just another wall decoration in the room.

He should have expected it and he shouldn’t have held such high hopes. He sighed and sat in his bed, hiding his little trunk in a box under the bed, sitting back up, nervous, fidgeting, listening intently to the rustling Ludwig made as he prepared himself for his sleep.

He didn’t know what brought him to say this, but his child side just continued to feel the hurt and it needed to voice it. “You were with me when mama taught me all those recipes,” he pierced the silence with yet a whispering voice, but enough for Ludwig to hear, who instantly stilled his movements. “We made them together, and we kept on perfecting until I could make it myself for you…” he didn’t say no more, his fingers intertwining themselves as he tried to relax, taking breaths to continue speaking, surprisingly still holding Ludwig’s attention. “I promised you this, I promised I would continue to improve and make you dinner, and…you promised the same.”

He awaited an answer, any words, disagreement or approval from Ludwig, but he only remained still, holding to his blanket, clearly unsure, as if hoping his very silence could speak to Feliciano.

He opened his mouth, breathing loud, and no matter how long it took him, Feliciano was willing to hear, turning and their eyes meeting for his answer.

“I did,” he only said, turning away, immediately taking his bed, making himself comfortable, and turning over to the other side as he had accustomed to doing ever since Feliciano came back.

And that was all the arising Queen was going to see, that was all he was going to hear and it was a sign that he should just go to sleep, hurt as he was and try to rest. And so he did, with the same heartfelt hurt of the first nights of the castle.

Chapter Text

After the very small words they shared the night before, Ludwig hadn’t been insisting on waking him up that morning. He did his routine in silence and left like his trace had never been in the room. It meant more for Feliciano to sleep, as well as a chance to wake up energized, giddy, ready to take on the day head on with wondrous smiles, twirls and have his arms and legs expand in every direction. Like he was part of a trained ballet, he skipped off the bed and began with the rhythm of routine he had gotten in the last mornings and the picking of his clothes. Once he was pristine and clean as his new set of clothes for the day, he marched proudly to the door with chest held high, opening them with the very force he had saved and earned from the night. The moment he was met with the halls, and the angry judging gaze of the queen, it had all fallen into pieces and whatever song he had playing in his mind just stopped all completely.

He didn’t understand why she was already so angry this morning, but one look to what he wore and he instantly understood.

He wore simplistic attire just like the one he had worn the day before, the very same one he momentarily forgot the queen detested and she would rather not have him in if he was to stand next to her for much of the day. With a groan, Feliciano had no choice than to return back inside and go with something completely new.

He chose one that the castle had to offer. It was made with knowledge of his measurements and thus it fit perfectly, but it was still too tight, too ornamental, a magenta that he detested and not a space for air to enter, and thus only bringing him but heat for these summer days. Still, it was what the Queen wanted, what made her smile and earned him a great nod of approval, despite the clear irritation in his face.

At last, finally they could head off, and the sooner they finished the sooner- “Where’s your schedule and notebook?”

Feliciano rolled his eyes as he returned to his room to get them.

 

Every hall in the castle was busier than Feliciano would have expected. More servants and maids than usual only to offer the needed decorations, menus and arrangements that were for days further than their own.

Back home, Feliciano’s family didn’t get worried for their coming feasts until the day before. He found it rather unnecessary to start things so early. A lot could change in the meantime. What if the items weren’t available? What if they saw something else they preferred in the coming weeks? But the Queen didn’t listen to Feliciano’s stuttering every time he tried to interrupt her, shushing him with a hold of her hand and going on with making her usual choices (Even if she was insisting with telling the servants that it was by Feliciano’s wishes).

“Dark red wine curtains,” she told a group of servants, who were off quick to find the specific color for both the Queens to see.

“Curtains?” Feliciano asked as he wrote it down on the ever growing list of his notebook.

“For the windows of the ball of course."

“You actually put on curtains?”

“For elegancy.”

It seemed so odd when they could depend on the lunar light to bring life to the coming party. Putting curtains seemed like Louis wanted to drown the ball room into darkness, not giving a chance for the party to witness the beautiful skies and outer gardens of the castle. Then again, his mind still though on about the stellar theme.

“Your majesties, for the forks that will be used,” a maid interrupted to present two sets of forks, an expensive silver and to Feliciano…both looking exactly the same.

“Uh…” it was hard for him to decide.

“The Donelli will make an excellent touch,” the Queen easily made her choice and the maid left quickly.

Feliciano made a note to learn the differences between forks and their names.

They continued down the halls, new ones with paintings Feliciano had not acknowledged before. If it wasn’t for the quick pace the Queen had and her insisting of having him always by her side, Feliciano would have stopped to admire them. Those colors, those forms, mending well with the fine structures of pillars and semi-circles. How could they just move pass them without any acknowledgement? Servants and maids still kept coming with the same indifference to their surroundings, holding distinct items for them to choose their preferred color, practically the same to Feliciano. He had no idea how Louis could tell the difference. It stalled much of their walking, but after several minutes, they had reached their goal.

Louis opened the large doors with the ease her very grandson possessed, quite excited to show the ball room to Feliciano. She gave space to let him enter first, and he took the chance.

It was indeed large, larger than he had expected, with a ceiling so high he knew he wouldn’t reach even with flight spells at his command. He spun, walked further, hoping to reach an end that seemed impossible the further his eyes went. It was magnificent, properly decorated with several paintings of their history, recognizing one of his ancestor, Romulus. It was the he biggest of all, in his armor and horse, leading the army that was to vanquish Khaos. Others showed different scenes and different rulers, some extending and reaching to the sides, stories separated by pristine white pillars. Sadly some were covered with expensive vases, flowers, or other items the royals saw fit to decorate the room even in the absence of a feast. Indeed, it was spectacular, and already Feliciano could imagine himself twirling in different dances for the countless of balls he would surely attend. He couldn’t help himself and tried out some of the steps and spins he knew, imagining a song in his head.

“Leave the dancing for your lessons, Feliciano,” Louis scolded as she moved to reach him, servants and maids catching up and moving behind her.

“Lessons?” He wondered.

“That is of no importance right now. What do you think of the ballroom?” She was as proud as if she had designed it all.

“È bellissimo!” He honestly told her, the wonderment shown in his eyes.

“Thought it would be appropriate to show you so you could understand why it was best.”

To be honest, Feliciano still wished for the crystal dome ball room, but this one looked much wonderful than the drawing he had seen in the maps. He wouldn’t mind having the ball here at all.

“Was that really all?”

“No." That’s when the maids behind her showed different shades of the same brown to the both of them. "We have to choose the tablecloth and where we’re going to place the tables.”

Feliciano couldn’t contain the groan that escaped.

 

Feliciano joined Queen Louis in her lunch, sitting well by a balcony from a middle floor that gave an excellent view to the gardens of the castle. They had made him an excellent Linguini with garlic oil and pancetta. Surely the cooks followed one of the recipes he had made for them the night before. They learned, and it tasted delicious. It was an excellent addition of taste to the beauty his eyes beheld as he gazed on finding new fountains, statues and hidden groves in different corners of the garden. He really wanted to have the chance to loose himself when he could.

Louis looked perfectly content with her bratkartoffeln, although many times she stole gazes to Feliciano’s own plate, salivating for a taste, but her pride didn’t let her ask for a bite.

Her plate was soon empty, which meant it was time to go back to work. She took a proper sitting position, elbows on the table, hands taking hold of her chin, the sign for the maids to come, pick up the plates and leave a stack of menus. This quickly took Feliciano’s attention from the garden. He picked the first one up, offering a list of small snacks and appetizers.

“What is this?”

“Did you think we’d forgot about the food?”

Ah yes, it was for the ball, how intriguing.

When it came to food he knew just what to do and for once he hoped, Louis knowing Feliciano was from Italy and the dinner he had made the night before, she’ll put utter trust in him to make this decision. He looked gleefully through the pages, but none took his interest, none seemed appetizing, or even good. If any of this would be offered in any party he would plainly ignore them, even if it meant he’d had to go hungry. He checked two other booklets, and still the same disinterest. He gave up on checking the rest, an idea forming in his head, slightly afraid of what Louis would tell him if he asked.

“I wouldn’t mind making something myself for the ball,” he suggested, which instantly earned a glare from the Queen, stressful eyes marking it clear on her face.

“The arising queen, spending his own welcoming ball in rags working in the kitchen? I rather lead our kingdom to war with Clubs than have our people witness something like that."

“I’ll make new recipes and leave them in the kitchen for the cooks to make."

“No, it would be too much work and fretting. Besides our people have been used to them and only know these recipes, such changes would not be fitting. It’s better to leave things as they’ve always had, it won’t leave room for surprises or unexpected mishaps,” she was sure and she took a drink from the tea a maid had brought her, an anger still imminent in her that Feliciano knew he shouldn’t mess by saying more to try and convince her. Louis simply took the menus and made the decision for herself, as always, giving her list to a maid who set off to officiate the papers so the cooks could be prepared weeks in advance.

Feliciano didn’t understand this. Back in his home, his mother would serve desserts she would make up only an hour before the feast, Augusto would sometimes change sauces in the middle of cooking simply because he changed his mind, and Lovino usually added new spices to the food just as they were served. It was a custom he adopted himself as he helped his family with the usual cooking for feasts or for their own. Having such order felt like the cooks’ creativity was being lessened and only adding to the dullness of repeating taste that would lessen the experience of the ball. But as always, he remained shut, hiding any anger and disappointment, and following her throughout the rest of the day, making small preparations and decisions that he only served in the background.

 

The next morning had been much like the last one. Feliciano had awakened to see the bed next to him empty, Ludwig already off dealing with some prisoners from Spades as he had mentioned at dinner last night. He was changing to something worthy of queen Louis’s eyes when he received a knock to the door.

“Your highness, I was given instructions to report that the queen will be awaiting for you at the carriage. You will both be visiting the city today.”

How wonderful that sounded, what a chance, what relief to freedom he felt to leave the castle and meet the surrounding area he still had not the chance to meet.

“I’ll be down immediately,” he told her, joy evident in his voice that made the maid herself smile.

Dressed gorgeously in a white jacket, vest, and pants, with red sewn designs in them, Louis admired him as she waited in the shadow of the carriage. The horses and the coachmen were ready, and even the gates of the castle began to open knowing their soon departure. Not wanting them to wait any longer, Feliciano rushed over and took his seat in front of the Queen, greeting with his usual bowing.

Quickly the carriage moved, making its turn around the front rotunda and heading out down the main road of the city. Louis could tell Feliciano was ecstatic about this, for he couldn’t keep his eyes off the window, taking in everything from small statues in forgotten corners, to the colors and largeness of the buildings that continued going higher to compete with the height of the castle. Through populated and lively streets they drove until reached a more residential area, filled with houses that seemed to spill riches as well as ones that seemed more humble and simple. It was a lovely area, one surrounded by the greens and reds of their nature, magnificent art of sculptures, mosaics on the floor, as well as a group of children painting over one of the sidewalks. He was curious as to what they were painting, and as their coach came to a stop, the first thing he wanted to do when he headed out was get closer and see indeed what it could be.

“Come, Feliciano,” Louis commanded, coming down and making her way inside to one of the large houses.

Guards bowed at their welcome and Feliciano waved and smiled to them, which got the guards to flush. No one had acknowledged them in such a way. Servants and maids pointed along to the halls they were to take, all until they reached a terrace where an elder lady sat having some tea and snacks. She stood and bowed to their presence and for the first time Feliciano actually questioned what they were doing here and what had been the purpose of their trip. He noticed a stack of envelopes in the queen’s hand, decorated and probably made in the richest paper, tied by a beautiful pink string that topped its importance.

The lady pointed to the empty chairs and both had taken them, Feliciano rather shyly for he was in the presence of a respectful woman he had never met, in her house even, while the Queen was rather confident, smiling at the woman as any would to a dear friend. They began to speak, worthless conversation that paid no mind to Feliciano, and so he focused his attention to the surrounding flowers that decorated the terrace, all beautiful with colors that made him know that they were all well taken care of daily. A wall separated the garden to the outside, where Feliciano swore he could hear the laughter and conversations from the children who were painting. He felt like he would climb over without noticing and join them, forgetting his unknown duty and finally let his hands touch a brush and let them create whatever majesty his mind felt like constructing.

“-this must be Feliciano Valenti,” the woman acknowledged, with a kind smile and surely grateful to be in his presence.

Out of kindness, Feliciano smiled back to her, watching as then Queen Louis handed her one of the many envelopes in her hand.

“A ball I suppose,” she instantly knew.

“Yes, for Feliciano’s welcome into the city, all arranged by himself and we would kindly require your presence.”

Those were invitations then…did they really have to go around handing the invitations themselves? It seemed like an awful lot of work and Feliciano did not like the idea of wasting a day in the city to just hand in invitations to aristocrats.

The elder woman seemed to have noticed his downward gaze, the disappointment and begging for something to do. She knew this was still Feliciano’s first days in the city, and if the queen didn’t mind: “I’m honored to be invited, thank you so much, and may I ask your majesty, have you given the young arising queen the chance to visit the city.”

Quite embarrassingly she had to admit that the chance had not appeared with their busy schedule inside the castle. His only real chances to see the city were in his very arrival and that morning they headed out meaning to hand in invitations to the guests Louis had already decided on.

“Please give him a chance, it’s always grand to have a queen be with his or her people, it let’s them get to know the real problems and truly what their citizens need,” she said kindly, not wanting to make the Queen feel bad but give a wonderful opportunity to Feliciano, and he really appreciated it.

“When it’s available,” she told her lastly before she stood.

They wished their farewells and headed back out to the carriage that was awaiting them along with the joyful shouts of the children as they continued with their ground painting. Louis could see the wanting in Feliciano’s eyes to join them, his hands begin for a touch of wet paint, any type of canvas to trace and let it come alive from its original blank state. Having Feliciano continuing to hand in invitations in prestige and stuffy mansions like they had just visited really felt like she was caging a beautiful bird.

“Why don’t you stay here while I hand in the rest of the invitations, but only here,” she pointed directly to the small square, where other than the children, people passed to admire the beautiful mansions, the trees and blooming flowers. “I’ll come back for you once I’m done, all right?”

Feliciano bounced, and he could have hugged her if she hadn’t rushed already to the house next door, leaving him with a wonderful chance of freedom that was too much for the moment.

Should he really waste it watching children paint? He could run along the square and street, talk to anyone, ignore his proper conduct as an arising queen and be who he wanted. But painting, colors, the giggling of children dragged him forward like a casted spell.

He wasn’t so forward, slow, step by step, as he did not want to interrupt the children’s concentration and spilling of imagination.

They were around seven, all working together on a single piece of a sort of feast where all their characters danced. All kinds of couples were presented, from those of children, adult and old, same or different sexes, and from all parts of the world. It was coming out lovely, with wonderful shades of purples, magentas, reds and added yellow sparkles to truly give it a glow. He was so intrigued, he didn’t notice as he came close enough as to cover one of the boy’s drawings with his shadow.

The boy looked up and stopped all completely in his shyness, covering the chalk as if trying to hide proof of what he had made. The rest did the same, hiding their own, thinking Feliciano was there to scold them.

“What kind of music do you think they’re playing?” Feliciano asked in German, as kindly as he could without meaning to scare them.

It worked, for he noticed the children fall at ease, revealing their different colored chalks as they looked among themselves trying to decide on a song.

“A song to the heights,” one kid decided.

“By Caterina Hellewege,” another added to show that they knew about music, fearing an insult as they were accustomed by so many adults.

“Perfect,” Feliciano said, kneeling down to take in the details more precisely. “I’ve never seen a more happier crowd. It is absolutely stunning,” he told them, which got them all to smile proudly, giggling once again and making them love their work much more.

“I want to dive and join them in a dance,” he admitted, loving the details they gave to many of the dresses and suits, a hand even tracing two male King and Queen they had drawn. The Hearts arising King and Queen he could tell. One looked a lot like Ludwig, while the other was simply the kids trying to draw himself from what they had heard. They had painted his hair much curlier than it was, in deep red that looked like the national color instead of his actual brunette. It was enough proof for Feliciano to realize that they didn’t know who he was and he had no problem with forgetting it and making himself a child once more, pushing aside the idea that already children were looking up to Ludwig and him as a power couple of the kingdom like those of generations passed.

“May I?” He raised his hand, hoping that they would offer any piece of chalk.

Having liked his compliments and wanting to see what he could do himself, they gave him three pieces of chalk, all in different colors. Perfect.

They went back to what they were doing and Feliciano joined by adding his own uniquely styled figures. He didn’t want to make something too glamorous as to not make the children’s own drawings look poor, but something to add to the beauty they had already created. He met them, he learned from them, they laughed, they even sang old nursery rhymes and played some simple chalk games that had caught the attention of the passerbies who stopped to watch, join, and make wondrous comments about how the drawing was coming along. Feliciano was having a wonderful time, making friends and speaking freely to his people, who were all kind and eager for any interesting topic of conversation Feliciano held out. He wouldn’t mind spending the rest of the day like this, returning to the castle as he wished just as he had done back in his home village. But it couldn’t, his position and reality would come back to him, just as Queen Louis did.

When everybody noticed her, silence befall as easily as rain or snow would, held positions and expressions as they all bowed in unison and some of the children even went off to join their parent’s side.

“Feliciano,” she called, making her way clear towards him.

“Feliciano?” Many began to question, suddenly then understanding who he was and who they had just spoken to. They quivered just as they did for the queen, standing away to give them both space, never stopping their bowing.

“Come, I had given most of the invitations. The messengers can send the rest to those who live further from the castle and outside the city." $he pointed to the coach, the coachman holding the door open, waiting patiently for them.

Feliciano was hesitant, in his mind finding a well enough excuse to stay, but he knew none of that could work, so he opted with requesting something else. “Do you still have some extra invitations?”

She perked curiously, “They’re all accounted for, I have already given a list.”

“But can you please add more. There are some people I would love to see.”

Those around him seemed to light up with the prospect, standing from their bowing and whispering among themselves joyfully.

“Who are these exactly?” She asked, crossing arms, an angry look in her face that made Feliciano rather hesitant to continue.

“These children I befriended and their families. I would love to spend more time with them and I figured the ball would be an excellent chance.”

Silence settled as she gazed to these children, and their families which held them, smiling and waving to the queen rather shyly. Queen Louis could easily tell their standing by merely watching, belittling them with her stare, which made them all bow once again, all trace of excitement erased.

“I cannot allow that Feliciano. These citizens are merely commoners. Such presence should not be allowed in the castle.”

Feliciano felt insulted for them. “But they’re citizens of the city and kingdom like any other,” he defended.

“Yes, but their social standing does not make them worthy enough of the riches they cannot afford of the castle. They’ll have nothing to wear and surely won’t act with the proper conduct."

“That shouldn’t matter, what matters is they enjoy themselves and spend time with the royals. You said yourself that a ball is a chance to meet with our people, no matter who they are.”

But the queen was not having it. Her voice became hardened, raising her hand as if to stop him from saying anything else or blocking the very words he uttered from continuing to convince her. “When I said that, I meant people of power that we can use for their connections in trade, military help and wealth. We shouldn’t be wasting our time with those that could not offer anything. Now come along, we still have other plans in the castle.” She turned and left before he could say anything else, not a look to the crowd, and headed over to her coach ready to leave without a care of the hurt she created.

Feliciano was still, as hurt as his people, not sure what he could do to alleviate or what he could say. He turned to them, clearly as desolated, for once wishing he was more commanding as he should be being the arising queen of Hearts. He bowed, muttered a heartfelt apology and left back to the coach. As he did, one of the little girls he had been drawing with tried to run for him, but her mother held a tight grip on her wrist. She still reached out, hoping to get him back, tears and whimpers aiding along in her want.

It hurt that Feliciano couldn’t do anything about it, that he couldn’t even look at her and pretend as it was nothing because the queen maintained a watchful and angry stare on him. He sat straight on his seat, his eyes grounded on the floor of the coach, trying to ignore how this all maddened him, how the queen was being unfair and thinking about how he was really starting to dislike this ball.

Chapter Text

It only turned more hectic.

Over the week that passed, Feliciano was not given any calm and not just in matters of the ball. Queen Louis was insisting that Feliciano should also have a vast and exact knowledge of the history of the kingdom, and thus kept questioning him, extensively, even in dinner or breaks where they sat while Feliciano helped her with some documents. His etiquette in dinner and with others began to be tested, scolded harshly for a word, spoon, or movement out of place. He still kept on (or more precisely, queen Louis) making choices for the ball, seeming never ending and in a way Feliciano was starting to understand why it was that they started their preparations so early. Then again, they expected the Queens to make every decision, down to even what kind of toilet paper and soaps should the bathrooms have.

In the days that had passed in his stay, Feliciano realized that the castle had an aim for utter perfection that he found too obsessive, constraining and chocking.

How could the inhabitants of the castle live like that? It was becoming too hard and harsh for Feliciano, and this one specific day his patience had finally blown up and drowned him in an incredible sorrow that made him wish he could take a carriage back to his home, forget about being arising queen and pray to the gods that they chose somebody else.

Queen Louis had insisted that he took dance classes. Not that Feliciano didn’t dance, but Louis had watched him grow and knew well that Feliciano’s style was clearly from the Italian province. It was festive, it was moving, hands clapping, smiles, shouts and quickened enough to spread the liveliness well throughout the crowds. But he was in Germany now and that wouldn’t do anymore. The dances common in their balls was the waltz and it was important that Feliciano knew it well for then, as also hoping to calm him enough to not break into flourish twirls and jumps as he had already done as the practices began.

He had been in the ballroom, testing a simple walk, with a maid who was chosen to be his partner. While one hand held hers as he did the proper movements and twirls, his other hand held an open book which he tried to read at the very same time.

“Calm in your shoulders, your highness,” his instructor called.

Feliciano had to look away from his book as he brought that calm and focused on making the right foot movements.

“Feliciano, where did King Lorena tame the dragon Drialgen?” The Queen asked from a corner, scratching down some things in a list she held.

“Uh…” that was just the part he was getting into in the book. “The cave of Hudy,” he answered, loud enough to hear, quickened as a maid came close offering a list with chairs to place in the halls.

“Batter or Dandelions?” She showed two themes that looked too identical to Feliciano.

“Um…dandelions.”

“No! Batter!” Of course.

“Attention to your feet!” His instructor called.

Feliciano looked down to notice he had missed several of the steps, even tangling himself with his partner to the point that they almost fell. Luckily she took a good hold on him, right to the direction of a servant with a list, who was hoping Feliciano could address a situation with a wrong sitting.

“Uh…uh…uh…” he tried deciding as he moved along with his partner, the servant joining like he was part of their routine.

“Feliciano, read on about King Lorena and Queen Bailey, I’ll be asking you about their immigration treaties.”

Feliciano despised how calmed she looked having her drinks and snacks.

He tried, swaying along with the book, always losing the line he was in and having to start certain paragraphs all over again. He chose the new sitting on a whim, randomly picking as he maintained his eyes on the book.

“A twirl, your highness,” the instructor called.

As he did, a servant showed him two panels of glasses, overhearing the queen say: “This seating is too wrong. Go over to Feliciano and tell him to do it all over again.” That servant quickly came back, just as another maid was coming asking for the exact order the music was to be played.

“Feliciano, which of King Lorena and Queen Bailey’s three children was chosen to be the next Queen?”

“Uh…I don’t know!” He shouted, for he was nowhere near that part in the book.

“Your majesty, you have to decide what colors we will use for the fountain lighting!”

“I don’t know!”

“Your majesty, we don’t think we can bring an organ!”

“Then…then…” he was starting to shake, sweat began for the heat was starting to reach him and he was breathless as he tried to pick one thing he could decide for now. But everyone was on him, many new were coming with different questions, different remarks, adding and adding until Feliciano swore he was swarmed all around.

He began moving away, losing sight of his partner, of the ceiling, even the floor. A single miss of a step and he fell down, crashing along with a table and a decorative vase. It was what was needed to finally bring the room into settled silence, as they all cringed at the breaking and let it continue until it was done.

Feliciano’s vision relaxed and he could finally notice what had happened.

He realized he looked like an utter fool surrounded by countless broken pieces of the items that were on the table, as well as those from the vase. The tablecloth lay over him, different pieces stuck to his jacket which even managed a tear. He had several wet patches from the water the vase held and he lay in an awkward position that had him too open and unrefined for a person who was dressed as he was. The servants and maids hesitantly came closer, not sure whether to offer help or continue on with their pestering questions.

The queen instead came forward, between the mass of people that stared on to the arising queen. She stood before him, arms crossed with a chastising glare, belittling him for doing such a small thing as to simply trip accidentally and ruining the continuous order of the items they were fulfilling.

“You look like a mess,” she said. "Clean up and get back to business.”

She began to turn, not even offering help, the instructor, servants and maids, just about ready to jump on him now that the Queen gave them space. No one bothered still to even help him up or acknowledge the mess.

“No,” Feliciano said simply, which was enough to hold them all up before they continued.

It held the queen completely from walking on, as if the single statement was a new word she had never heard.

“What?” She asked.

Feliciano displayed a glare to impact with the very queen’s, as fearful to the servants, who began to move away as Feliciano stood on his own, since no one was offering their help. He brushed himself off, with a serenity in his face like he had just woken up from a nice nap.

“Your majesty…” one servant was about to begin, but Feliciano simply raised his hand. He was not going to put up with this.

“I’ll be off.”

He moved past all of them, ignoring their stares and even striding past the queen out the ballroom, closing the large doors with a loud crash that it seemed to have made the entire ballroom shake.

All stood motionless, their eyes still on the door examining what had just happened.

The queen didn’t do anything but scoff, “how weak.”

 

The only solace he could find was in his room, which luckily held no presence of the arising king. He had heard something about him visiting some sick to study certain diseases. Good, he could breath, shutting himself well, even closing the curtains from the bright sun that didn’t help to clean the tears that began to befall on his face.

He didn’t want it to affect him like this, he wanted to be strong, he just wanted to take a nice siesta, have a nice drink and go back to the same turmoil.

Truth was he didn’t want to.

He embarrassed himself, he showed he couldn’t deal with the force, the command and even went against the Queen by simply leaving. It worsened the coming of tears, gripping hard on the curtains as he tried to hold himself, but the failing was clear and it repeated all throughout his mind, a reminder that he couldn’t do it, that he wasn’t supposed to be here, he didn’t deserve this power, he didn’t deserve this position, the gods were wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong. He couldn’t hold the weeping, the continuous stream of tears, falling down to his bed defeated, his sobbing on his blankets and pillows, drowning in his own sea of emotions and feelings of wrongness.

Minutes and hours passed, yet he remained in the same, continuing to bawl even in his rest, for his dream only repeated the scenes of what had happened.

He had awakened much later with a knock at the door. He groaned, praying to the Aces it wouldn’t be a servant, or worst, Ludwig. He did not feel like showing himself as he was. A mess, his face reddened with dry and continuing tears.

“Wha-what is it?” He called.

“Feliciano…” he realized it was Kiku, trying to find the gentlest tone. “…I heard what happened. May I come in?”

He tried to fix himself somehow, but it was useless. “Yes,” he answered and Kiku made his entrance, as light as he always was, his presence quite relaxing to Feliciano.

He took a gentle seat on his bed beside him, so faint that Feliciano didn’t even feel him. He only offered silence, gazing to him, signifying that he was there to listen to him.

“Why did you come?” Felicianio asked, not meaning to sound mean or maddened still.

“To be honest, our power instructor was asking about you. You haven’t been coming to training,” he started.

Feliciano groaned loudly, bringing his hands to his face, feeling a new course of tears wanting to come.

“Also, some servants had been telling me about your planning for the ball with the queen, and I really…wanted to see if you were okay.”

Feliciano couldn’t contain himself, biting his lips, sobbing, raising his hands to slam them hard against the bed, startling the other. “It’s done nothing but show me that the queen that I used to look up to and admire has been cruel, oppressive, strict and ignorant,” he began, his voice agitated, a maddening tone that Kiku never though Feliciano could possess. “She has ordered me around to be her exact copy, leaving me not a chance to do a thing of my own, yet still as insisting I do the job as it is. It’s done nothing but drive me insane. If she’s being like this for a single ball, I cannot imagine for when we go to my other teachings.” He stood, pacing the room with angry steps against the marble.

He suddenly stopped, grabbing and pulling on his hair, thinking back to the times when he was afraid to come here, the very reasons happening before him.

“It’s shown me more than ever that I was not fit for this." He headed over to his wardrobe.

“Feliciano, it was made clear that the gods chose you. You had the mark of rebirth.”

“Not anymore."

“It’s normal for it to disappear after your first year.”

But it didn’t make a difference, for Feliciano took out one of his trunks, deciding on the items of most importance he could take with him.

“Feliciano, what are you doing?” Kiku peeked to figure out.

“I’m going to run away,” he said with outmost ease.

“You can’t do that!” Kiku stood and closed the wardrobe, standing before him so he wouldn’t dare continue. “It is a natural selected decision. Any change can cause ultimate unbalance,” Kiku tried to convince him.

“They were wrong in their choice! They probably just chose me because of my Romulus lineage. How could they expect some countryside boy from who knows where in Italy to govern an entire Kingdom with heavy set German laws and customs? Something just went wrong, they’ll realize their mistake and choose anew someone who the arising King will better stand looking at than myself." It hurt to admit it, another tear falling down, still trying to get Kiku to move out of the way. “I don’t belong here, I can’t be and won’t be like any of the past queens and everyone is just wasting their time,” he still tried to convince him.

They moved in front of the wardrobe, practically fighting as they tried to settle their dominance over the cabinets. In the process they had somehow tripped, and Kiku cornered him down, not giving him a chance to move. He then moved to take his hand, stilling him as he held the specific finger that held the ring mark he was given by the gods when it was decided he would be engaged to Ludwig.

“Of course you can’t be like the past queens. Each one is their own!” He said loudly enough for Feliciano to still for now, quite fearful of the sudden command Kiku took. “You’ll be your own queen, Feliciano.”

Kiku finally gave him movement, making them sit together, facing to the other, Feliciano giving the full attention Kiku needed him in, still holding his finger with the mark.

"The Aces are always, always absolute in their choices. The only time they were wrong was with Khaos’ creation, but other than that, no other king, queen or jack has proven to be a failure. Yes, we might praise some more than others, but they all fulfilled their duty as they should by the Aces’ call. They never make mistakes with their choices. Even if it has to do with your Romulus line, then why didn’t they choose your grandfather, your mother, or even your brother? Whatever the reason, you were chosen Feliciano, and it would be very cowardly of you to run away from their decision when you’re just starting and still haven’t showed your potential. An Italian queen for the first time in centuries, Feliciano, you must be destined for something grand.”

Kiku slowly, very slowly, began to let go, giving the chance for Feliciano to accept the coming words into his mind. “With all respect to her majesty the queen, she has to learn that her reign is to be done and she should let a completely new queen take his own control. You can’t let yourself easily succumb to her. Yes, respect her, learn from her, but don’t let her decide and direct what you wish to do. You have to take command as the new coming queen and show her indeed that you are capable of it, much more than anyone in the castle thinks. You belong to be in the throne as the Aces decided, but you have to step up and really show it.”

He began to stand, leaving Feliciano sitting on the floor, who was too stunned from the words to really move.

Kiku made his way to leave, as prestige like he hadn’t just brawled on the floor.

“One last thing,” he turned as he left the door open about to head off. “Ludwig has to learn to stand as equal as you, and you have to see him the same way. As the Aces chose you both to be King and Queen, they also had a reason for your union. You both have to learn to depend on the other, just as the Kingdom does.” And he shut the door, leaving Feliciano again in the solitude and darkness.

Even in the shadows, Feliciano felt brightness, for the words caused a sense of renewal that awakened him. He realized then what a fool he had been, not because of what he had done in the ballroom, but because of the haste decision to just give it all up.

What a coward, what disrespect to the Aces, who he knew now well confided in him and was the reason they placed so much power on him. Power…yes, power. He clenched his fist and looked to them hopefully, finally realizing.

He recalled the words of his mother and grandfather, very similar to those of Kiku’s. He though to Lovino and Antonio’s own, his father’s, his servants and maids, the people of his village all back in Italy. He thought of all those who believed in him, even to the King and Queen (no matter her sudden harshness with him), and perhaps even Ludwig. He was sure it was there, the arising king just needed to remind him. It didn’t have to stop on those he knew, he though to the entire kingdom, who looked up to him expecting the very greatness of Romulus. How could he just throw it away like that and fail them. There was still so many chances he could give, changes he could create, and this was all just the beginning.

He finally stood, heading to the chest under his bed where he kept his musical box. He opened it and let the music begin, calming him as it always did, making him smile yet again, even grow confident, stand up strong and finally move the curtains accepting the beautiful setting sun over the city.

Tomorrow would be a new day, for a change that was constant as how the very sun and moon rose. He had that very power to change it all, and starting tomorrow, he was ready indeed to show that a new queen was in the castle.

Chapter Text

Hundreds of pairs danced in the meet of long thin metal, clashing all about like they were creating a melody, aided by their steps, their shouts, their groans or a cry of victory that interrupted the order from time to time. Their swords would sometimes glow with power, different elements or spells helping them in their attacks as they tried to fight off their foe. Their trainers were impressed with this magnificent feast of dueling, properly despite the savage calls and attacks.

One particular pair though, kept their attention on heights.

One of them had started their fencing training in the castle only days ago, yet he was confident on trying it out for he had practiced it back in his home. His past experience aided him well, and they admitted that he moved with the most finest out of all of them. He was smaller than his opponent, but his thin body gave him much more flexibility, legs well-toned, assisting in the force to thrust hard, even showing in the power he had learned to transport through his sword. Pink tin rays followed the metal seeming to tint the air beautifully, but all knew that they burned as intensely as any fire that could be uttered with magic.

The instructors gazed on them, tension building for the battle heated like any in a battlefield, not expecting the ravaging from the man that lay under the mask.

They made sure that he used all three of the basic spells they had trained him in and were currently testing. First, the protected shield that defended, which he drew to buy himself time while he thought of his next move. Second, he extended, creating an attack that appeared as a glowing sphere from the very point of his sword. It could be anything the wielder wanted, but this one chose fire for the ease he could deal with the element. Third, and lastly, a slash of fire, which he used to burn the large string his opponent was holding, assuring his win and the end of their match.

The three instructors clapped, ecstatic about the results and what they had molded well this person to be in his skill. The Arising queen took off his mask, to show his gratitude for their well judgment in his smile.

“Spectacular, your highness,” one complimented, coming close. “You have well shown us your dominance with the basic steps. We must immediately start with the second part!” He proclaimed, ready to begin that instant.

“I would love to, Signore Egilhard, but I have other plans for today.” He began to remove and hand in his gears to one of the servants, who were to take them to storage. “We’ll start officially for my next day of training.”

“As you wish, your highness,” he bowed and decided to head off and help another one of his many students.

“Thank you for being my partner, Mauro, you did excellently.”

“Not nearly as much as you,” he flattered him. It earned a chuckle and even blush from the arising queen, whose attention was then taken by a woman who tapped on his shoulder.

“Your highness, I really wanted to thank you for inviting me to the ball, as well as offering a chance for my younger sister to come. She’s always wanted to go and I’ve never been given the chance."

“You’ve served as a soldier well enough for the past six years. you should have been granted an opportunity long ago. I’ll be glad to see you as well as your sister. If you have any problems with getting something to wear, let me know, I’ll make you something myself if I have to.”

It earned a chuckle from her. “There’s no need! But thank you, thank you!” And she bowed before she headed off across the grounds, and it was time he headed off as well.

He went back to his room to change, a simple long white bloused shirt, a deep red vest with an insignia of the hearts symbol made into roses, rather simple red pants, simple black boots, just the way he liked it.

When he headed out the room, two maids awaited for him, holding two long lists and feathered pens in their hands. They bowed in greeting and Feliciano gave them a pleasant smile.

“Have you listed the Hubers?”

“Yes, all five of them,” one appointed to the list, both the maids following the arising queen as he made his way down the halls.

“The Martini?”

“Done!” The maid had rightfully checked.

“The Moggachs?”

“We’ll add them right now,” one maid went and wrote on the parchment, making it official.

They reached together the main entrance of the castle, where Feliciano left the maids to their usual work, promising to come back and work better on the list. There were still some people missing. With only a couple of invitations in the pockets of his suit, he waved to the guards at the gate, and they gave him outing, opening the gates only slightly to let his small figure head out, at his own feet across the city.

As he went on, taking the streets, the trains or even horse carriages as any other citizen would, he would greet everyone with ease, conversing or sometimes even joining them on strolls across marketplaces or parks. This particular day he made his way his was through one of the old streets, where in his visits the last few days he realized they served the best bread in the city, better than even the ones in the castle. It was a lovely place, with the humblest of people that tried to give the old buildings and cobblestone roads life with the countless of red and pink flowers they grew. There was a beautiful fountains right at the very center of this little area, where he liked to sit down and have a nice lunch or snack, gladly speaking to those who came close to him wanting some sort of company. But today, despite how much he was tempted, he came on specific duties, rushing down the street to the bakery he had become a loyal customer to.

The baker had just placed a new set of chocolate covered pretzels and Feliciano was distracted, licking his lips wishing for an instant bite.

“Ah, Feliciano! Guten Morgen!” The baker greeted to him, still a small bowing movement out of respect, despite how many times Feliciano insisted he didn’t.

“Guten Morgen, Herr Jamich,” he greeted himself, keeping his eyes away from the sweets.

“Here for a chocolate croissant?” He asked, already preparing a plate to give.

“Surprisingly no, I’m actually here to grant you a special invitation." And he presented the prestige envelope, which in itself shone like a rare diamond to the baker, who never expected to have such a chance for the highest festivities in the city, perhaps even the entire kingdom.

“My, my…um…it’s quite an honor, your highness,” he bowed in his gratitude, accepting the envelope, smiling grandly towards it, wanting to jump all around the bakery in his delight.

“Aside from that, would you mind serving…perhaps…” he tried to find them in their display, spotting them then at the very center like the true masterpiece of the bakery. “Your fudge bars!”

“An honor! How many would you need?”

“As much as you think would be enough for the ball!”

“I’ll get to work on it immediately.” And he was glad to head over to the kitchen, where surely he had others workers to tell of the great news.

After that was done, Feliciano went ahead to invite a seamstress just down the street, some garden workers, who he insisted brought over some of their flowers for the castle, and any others who he had befriended the last few days or people he had forgotten in the days he dedicated to his power training.

He returned just in time for dinner, happily eating, ignoring the comments he got about his simple wear for today, but he had learned not to care.

 

The next day, he had called the head maid who was in charge of much of the decorating up to one of the many study rooms, where Feliciano found some books he really wanted to show her.

“You want me to cancel all of the original decorating plans?” She asked with large concern. The ball was only three days from then.

“Yep, were making something completely new,” he decided, opening a book of only chandeliers, all of the ones under the castle’s possession. “I want to make a stellar theme for the party.”

“None of the things the Queen decided will fit."

“Which is why we’re starting all over again." He didn’t want to think about the job they’ll have to make, but look for the page where he specifically saw the chandelier he wanted. He immediately pointed to it when he did.

The maid gasped at the beauty. It was a rain of sparkles shinning like true stars, large enough to fill the entire ground ballroom. It was so simple that she knew the queen would never think about it, but it gave such a unique touch and she knew that it fitted perfectly with what Feliciano had in mind.

“Do you know where this is stored?” He asked, handing the book to her.

“I’ll have to look for it, I don’t think it’s been used even for centuries, but I’m sure I’ll find it and have it on time.” Feliciano had confidence in her and he settled her off immediately to it, while he spoke with other servants about the new set of items to place.

He then spent what was left of the morning and throughout much of the early afternoon in telling the cooks what they should be making for the ball. It was an extraordinary list that they confided well in and instantly went for the practice, getting the ingredients from the recipes and hoping Feliciano could make them two more dishes just in case. Feliciano had promised them so, heading to the halls with a large amount of books in his hand.

By the queen’s insisting, Feliciano had been learning about pirates and how to deal with them, studying between helping the maids with the ball and now having to make two new recipes for the cooks. He had his ways of dealing and he was confident. But what should he make as the two extra recipes? With the added piles of the book and his mind in tomatoes, pasta and mushrooms, he did not notice the things around, and because of that he crashed right into a large figure, this figure just large enough to continue to stand tall, the encounter more like a pinch to him.

“Oh, please excuse me!” Feliciano started, a red of embarrassment as he tried to sit and begin picking the papers and books. It wasn’t until the figure kneeled down to help that he noticed that it was Ludwig, his movements turning into a shake, terrified to look into those surely judging eyes.

“There is a sudden commotion in the castle,” Ludwig commented, reaching for the book that went the furthest.

“Uh, ye-yeah, just, um, fixing some things about the ball."

“Fixing? Oma told me everything was already decided.”

“Well…um…” of all the moments to want a conversation.

What could he tell him indeed? He would surely scold him for messing everything and he didn’t wish to deal with that guilt when he had been managing just well with the sudden changes to the entire ball, more so than Queen Louis's constrains.

“Adding and changing…some things,” he said, which held some partial truth (In reality he was changing everything).

Ludwig still looked unconvinced, but he didn’t seem as interested enough to keep asking and be given a true answer. Instead, as they stood and Ludwig handed him the things he picked up, his gaze was solidified on the cross necklace Feliciano always wore faithfully. He hadn’t noticed it before because of the heavy wear and colors the arising queen had been forced to wear in his first days. Now he saw it stand out perfectly over a simple white blouse. Feliciano was too preoccupied with organizing his books and avoiding his stare to notice it.

“You’re wearing the necklace I gave you,” he broke the sudden silence, with something Feliciano though he would never acknowledge, or he had simply forgotten about.

Feliciano took it in his hands, remembering that it was there, admiring the simplistic design. He was so used to the routine to put it on that he sometimes forgot he was wearing it.

“I-I, I am.” It was like he had confessed to a crime.

“Why?” Ludwig asked like he was commanding, demanding an immediate answer. It only drove Feliciano to become more fearful to give him a response.

“Isn’t it obvious?” He managed to start after he took his breaths that made him grow in the bravery to answer him. “Because you gave it to me,” was the simple answer.

Feliciano held it harder in his hand, as if it was the only thing keeping him in his confidence to continue to speak to Ludwig without becoming a mess. Ludwig kept this new intense gaze on him, in which no emotion could be read but only hardness like a rock. The longer he remained as he was, the more hurt was brought to Feliciano, who didn’t know how he could stare into those eyes with calm. Those eyes that used to hold such endearment for him, now cold and unforgiving, moving him aside, ready to go with his usual work for today, to forget the encounter or even the importance Feliciano held for him by just wearing that necklace.

Before leaving, he suddenly stood, his thoughts revolving about something, Feliciano didn’t know what, but did he just…smirk? Feliciano noticed it faintly, just in time before Ludwig continued down the hall, with a proud stride unlike any he had ever seen in him. Why was that? It all seemed pretty odd, but he had a feeling it had to do with the necklace which he still held in his hand.

There had always been this sort of reaction to it that Feliciano never knew how to place. Both his parents were embarrassed to talk about it. When his brother found out he began to wear it, he scoffed and was maddened, while Antonio could only smirk. His grandfather, as well as the rest around him, were proud of…whatever decision Feliciano had made when he decided to adorn it. It was truly the first time he actually stopped to think about what this necklace really meant and he promised to find out just before the ball.

 

There was only one day left and because so, the castle had been rather hectic with the sudden preparations that Feliciano had changed anew. Unlike past queens, Feliciano was running along them in the halls, making some last decisions as well as helping with whatever they needed. He had been in the dining hall, placing bowls, plates and silverware along with a single maid. He had taken the right side while she took the left, going along by one seat to the other.

They had conversed earlier, Feliciano learning that she had been married in the past to a trader from the Diamond kingdom. They had separated long ago, but she had bared him a daughter who was at the moment continuing her father’s trade business. She was elder, surely by her forties or early fifties, and knew well of both the Diamond and Hearts Kingdom, so Feliciano confided in her to know.

“Signora Scali, do necklaces have specific meanings in the German province?” He suddenly asked, for silence had settled as they worked on.

“That depends on the kind and who gave it to you. Why do you wish to know?” She answered, not really looking at him, she was still busy ordering things.

While Feliciano though on to how exactly he was going to ask her, Signora Scali raised her eyes to the specific necklace he was wearing to better understand. She instantly knew and it was something that Feliciano should as well. It slightly frightened her that he was asking.

“The cross of promise,” she uttered its name, but Feliciano’s eyes didn’t illuminate with understanding, he was just as lost, probably not knowing that she was talking about the very one wrapped around his neck. She pointed to it and finally he held it in understanding.

“The cross of promise?” He finally had a name. “What does it mean?”

She was stunned and she trembled not knowing how she could tell him. How could he just wear it without knowing? Without asking. Why didn’t anybody tell him? And should she? She was a mere maid. Such news should not be in her duty to tell him. But his eyes begged for an answer and Signora Scali could not leave him in that doubt much longer.

“Your highness, the cross of promise, as its name, shows a promise of chastity to the person who gave it to you,” she answered, hoping it would be just enough, but Feliciano still showed great confusion.

She needed to be clearer and she internally groaned.

“By wearing that necklace, you’re promising the arising king, Prince Ludwig, that you will give up your virginity to him and only him on the night of your wedding, which is when the cross will change color and you may finally stop wearing it if you wish.”

It was clear enough, for Feliciano stood stunned, with a hard red blush that seemed to even reach the widening of his eyes, close from dropping the plates he held in his hands. She had to come close to him just in case. She took the ones left in his hands and placed them on while Feliciano though about it, but Signora Scali couldn’t understand if it was in either fear or anger. She was done and Feliciano still remained as paralyzed, now holding the necklace, the maid afraid that he would tug it down harshly enough to break.

“Your highness, I don’t know much about engagements and consummations to the royals, but if I understand correctly, you have been intended for Ludwig by the Aces since you were ten years old. I thought you already knew that your only pair for intercourse would be the prince, otherwise it would be rather dishonorable.”

She was right, it just came as a shock that Ludwig would already bound him in such a way, and without even leaving a note of what it meant.

Part of him knew that it would happen. In his sexual awakening, when he first learned to pleasure himself, he would imagine a grown and loving Ludwig ready to ravage him in the most passionate of ways. He didn’t mind it, he smiled when it happened, confident that it would come much easier with their establish friendship and hopefully growing romance. But now, all he could think about is how cold it would be, how surely Ludwig would just do it because it was plain simply a job and surely the kingdom would expect an heir. He imagined himself being pushed away that night, with no loving heat, embraces, kisses and everything that was beautiful about making love.

Surely Ludwig gifted him the necklace to already own him as property, a doll that he could indulge in whatever desire he might feel without a care if it would be to Feliciano’s liking or not.

His first time would be intended for harshness and that necklace sealed it and if he dared go against it, he would quickly be labeled a whore or anything else of disrespect.

He hated it, hated, hated, hated it and wanted nothing more than to break it that instant and throw it at Ludwig’s face even. But he was stuck with it, if he didn’t want the angry glares of the people around him. He would remain wearing it as he had always done. He needed to calm, he needed to keep his mind back on the ball. It was tomorrow and he couldn’t let this damage whatever mental strength he needed to make it come out as he wished.

He let himself be led by the maid elsewhere, proving that it wasn’t going to bother him for now.

Chapter Text

The night had arrived and Feliciano was currently preparing himself in his room. Ludwig had decided to change in his old room, which gave Feliciano much space to move about and look at himself in the mirror proudly. He chose something loose, comfortable, simplistic, but just enough to make him stand out beautifully. It had something seductive about it, for his shoulders were free, his white blouse beginning to fall from the edge, large and long puffs as his sleeves, mended well with another red fabric and golden details that even reached to his red long vest. He made sure to adorn his center more with golden necklaces, as well a golden tight one just around his neck. His pants were tight, in red, white, and golden designs sewn into them, just like the ones his red boots held, a slight heal to them that created a nice tapping against the marble floor of his room. He turned and danced in front of the mirror, indeed admitting his own beauty. For a quick moment the image of how Ludwig would react to his wear passed through his mind. He needed to blow it away, but it didn’t help when he decided on wearing the very perfumes he had gifted him long ago. They did create a powerful yet sweet smell that would have many craving for the closeness of his neck and free shoulders to them.

He though himself done, heading to his windows and pulling a curtain aside, watching as several carriages and coaches arrived with the guests. They were surely keeping the guards busy, yet all his people, from the richest to the poorest looked excited and joyful, all of them talking enthusiastically with each other.

He took a glimpse then to his little musical chest on his table, which he then opened to hear the relaxing melody. He would need it, for he didn’t know how the queen, the king, the nobles, the rest of his citizens, and Ludwig would react to the changes he made. He had to be ready to face them.

With a last breath, and the closing of his chest, he stood and made his way down.

 

He was welcomed down with horns and even a crowd who apparently had been awaiting him.

“His highness, the arising queen of Hearts,” one man called out loudly enough for all to hear, and applauses erupted, cheerful, with people bouncing and waving.

It was quite nice and it had Feliciano smiling, waving to them just as ecstatically, continuing to make his way down, for people to take better notice of what he was wearing. Whistles escaped and eyes grew, and it helped in his stride to come down to the crowd and welcome as many as he could.

“Feliciano, you’ve been to the ball room right?” He recognized the woman soldier, who came for her own greetings, holding a cup of wine, along with her sister beside her. They both looked wonderfully.

“I was helping the servants prepare this morning.”

“Have you seen it alight though?”

“I just came downstairs,” he chuckled.

“Then you must come your highness,” the younger sister pulled them both along in her giddiness, through the crowds that smiled or bowed to them along the halls, all making their way to the ballroom at the end.

The glow of the chandelier and of the other decorations they placed at the last minutes, of lights and white curtains pulled pack, felt like they were making their way into the night sky. Festive music reached their ears, Feliciano could spot the dancing that was just as alive, people laughing and twirling all around as one should in a real feast.

People parted for him and the ball was finally before him, a show of stars glowing. The night sky didn’t hold a single cloud, which almost felt like the ceiling was just another part of the starry sky. The chandelier, which they had luckily found and only had to clean slightly, made an excellent touch and was the true star of the ball. He knew instantly that people loved it, for some only stood pointing to them, dancing under them or sharing of the snacks the servants were already serving. Delightful they looked and Feliciano had to hold himself from taking a small seafood cup from a tray a servant held as he passed right by them. He heard continuous awes about everything, shared between nobles and commoners who spent their time together enjoying in conversation and ignoring their status.

It had been one of the things worrying Feliciano, and it brought a big smile to see aristocrats dancing with common workers, children of all kind running about, playing and running together, going through the dancing couples if they had to. The adults didn’t mind, for they were happy to know that their kids were enjoying themselves just as much as they were.

The dancing had been so active that a single area for it could not be possible. The music was just too good, upbeat and keeping all the guests animated. Feliciano was glad he had changed the music sheets from the boring ones Queen Louis had in her earlier plans. At least he kept some for when the waltzing started, mostly for the romantics who wanted something more calm.

For now, everything was wonderful, more beautiful than he could have expected, and he stared on proudly. He made this, truly made this to the image of his decision and everyone was having fun, uniting for they were all in the end from the same kingdom.

He felt like crying joyful tears.

They didn’t shed for he felt a sudden tap on his hip that took him away from his gazing, staring back to an all familiar little girl. It was the very girl from the chalk painting, the one who had cried when he had left with the Queen. It was such a wonder to see her now smile, holding to him a single red rose, surely as a sort of gift for the chance to be invited to this wonderful feast.

“Paula, thank you so much, it’s beautiful!” He took it, placing a gentle kiss on her tiny little cheek, which had her giggling and blushing.

He placed the rose on his hair, and once it was secured, he quickly took the little girl as his first dance partner, swaying around the ballroom as the rest. They both laughed as they glided around to wherever the music seemed to lead them to, for a whole song that they made their own.

It was done and everyone went into an applause that he of course joined with the girl. Her parents came to fetch her and that’s when he noticed a pair of stairs on him, intense and almost like they were trying to pull him somewhere. He tried to pinpoint it and was met with the King and Queen, with piercing angry stares, yet it wasn’t that fearsome when they held the wine drinks Feliciano had chosen for the ball. He knew well they were enjoying it, they just didn’t let their pride show enough.

Louis ushered him to come closer with a single finger and Feliciano obeyed, knowing what was to come but ready to face it.

“Your majesties,” he bowed to them.

“You completely changed the ball,” Louis went straight to the scolding, anger held in her bite for she needed to keep composure.

“Ye-yes, yes I did." There was no need to hide it, it was obvious, and he still wanted to try and show that he was proud, unafraid of whatever punishment they could give him.

“Everything had been done, perfectly and in the order that this castle has always seen it in." She looked ready to smash a foot upon the ground to destroy everything.

“You caused unnecessary turmoil around the castle, changing it to, to, to-” she couldn’t defend herself on the fact that the new decorations Feliciano had chosen were beautiful, much more than the single fabrics and seals she had thought of and had been used constantly for several centuries.

“You invited commoners!” She tried to defend, pointing to them, which didn’t work either, for they were having fun, acting properly and the nobles didn’t mind at all. They enjoyed their presence and were talking, laughing and dancing with them.

“Feliciano, you completely disobeyed your queen,” Aldrich joined, trying to defend his wife. Queen Louis once again stood high, proud that her husband would take her side. He was just as maddened.

“The ball was meant to be something that I would plan for myself. I only did what I wanted,” Feliciano defended, standing just as proudly as the very king and queen.

“But you shouldn’t have cast aside all my decisions! Ones that had been constant throughout the castle for generations!” She was deeply insulted, an expression that the baker had spotted as he passed by, offering one his fudge brownies hoping to ail her.

“People tire of those consistencies. We need something new and different. Balls were made to be enjoyed and to spend time with all our people, not a pretentious display only to the offering of the royals.”

Louis picked a brownie, before turning back to the arising queen intimidatingly. “It is the way of tradition, and by doing this you are-” she took a bite off the treat harshly, “disrespecting our ways and…and…” it was like a spell had befallen on her, of calm and perhaps even a little joy.

All words left her mind, all the troubles along with it, replaced with the incredible taste of the chocolate and the softness the texture brought to her tongue. “This is…this is…”

Feliciano could easily tell the wonder, taking then the rest of the brownie into her mouth, her eyes even rolling in its pleasure.

“You like it, huh? My friend, Signore Jamich-” he pulled him forward, with fudge brownies to spare on his tray, which he offered yet again to the Queen. “Made them himself. He has a wonderful bakery in the city and I just had to have these in the ball."

“Everyone loves them, your highness." The baker was proud for the attention and knew that soon enough he would have many more customers coming over, of all kinds.

“They’re…they’re…” it was hard for her to admit, but she just couldn’t contain herself from taking another, another bite, a bigger smile that seemed to have revert her back to a child. “Amazing! I have never tasted a better chocolate in Germany.”

The baker was just about ready to cry from the joy.

To have the queen of hearts compliment his treats! He would never forget this day!

“Dear! You must have some!” She told the king.

He could not deny and took one himself, a single bite enough to turn his stern expression into surprise. “These are incredible,” he complimented, eating the rest and having to hold himself from taking another.

Begging for such treats would make him look like an infant.

“This can’t be the last time I have these, I require for you to bring some to the castle at least once a week. They’ll be excellent to add to my afternoon snacks,” she had decreed, and the baker had bowed in promise.

“His bread is just as good. I hope it’s all right that I decided that he sends messengers to bring us every morning. The cooks already agreed,” Feliciano told them, and to his surprise, both didn’t mind at all.

“We’ll look forward to tomorrow’s breakfast then,” the queen told the baker, and he erupted with a great big smile, moving away then to keep on handing the brownies to different people who had already eyed them from afar.

It brought the very king and queen to smile, watching as several of their people went forward, glowing with the same expressions they held when they took their own bites. Feliciano couldn’t hold the smirk, holding his hand to his mouth to hide the giggling from the king and queen. They turned back to him, trying to find in them their earlier anger, but it was still held, like the brownies had made them forget how to even command. Queen Louis had raised her hand ready to say something else, when she was interrupted by the laughter of one of her noble guest, who came with another commoner begging to speak. She let them do so.

“Your majesty, I have not spoken to a finer contractor than this man,” the nobleman pointed to his companion, who bowed.

“And I have not met a better financer, and with the brightest ideas,” the other complimented in turn.

“This ball has granted us a meeting, and in it we discovered the possibility for a bridge between the alpine middle point.”

The royals raised their eyes impressed.

The alpine middle point had been a topic of debate for many years. The area is a great cross rode for trade between all the provinces and even to the Diamond kingdom. The possibility of a bridge between the harsh terrains for better passage could be incredibly fruitful for the kingdom. Of course they came forward, already hoping to have the King and Queen’s approval and funding behind it.

They weren’t the only ones. Different groups came, all offering a union of some sort between a commoner and a nobleman for something grand, something that could give them either better access, better structure, new improvements, as well as completely new things. The King and Queen were rather overwhelmed with all of it, and there was no better chance for a dance, in Feliciano’s opinion.

A song suddenly played, a familiar one to the King and Queen, one they had danced in countless of balls, even in Feliciano’s own mansion in Italy, which is why he chose it to play that very instant. The king and queen haven’t heard it in years, and now, with this beautiful atmosphere of felicity and union, they couldn’t fight against it.

They easily pushed aside anyone in their way, to each other, a want in their eyes that reminded them of their once young love, now a chance to revive it and let it show to the rest of the ball. They went into their arms, with dear smiles, once again alive as they made their way to dance, along with the many couples that joined. It was enjoyment enough for Feliciano to stand aside and watch them, swaying by himself to the enchanting music as they took the floors as the King and Queen they were. They were as beautiful as the decorations, stars in their steps, their eyes brightening with it, in so much adoration and love that Feliciano felt slightly jealous.

How he wish to have a love like theirs, to dance just as they were and imagine the starlight sky to be their stage. He would paint this to memory he swore, probably offer the picture as a gift for their next anniversary. They seemed engrossed enough in their dance to last the whole night and Feliciano wished it so, for they were incredibly happy, unwind and finally enjoying from the celebration. Even after their dance tire, they joyfully took from the offered wine and spoke on with different people, getting to know a new side of their kingdom that they never let themselves have the chance.

Feliciano wished he could dance once again, that little girl a sufficient enough partner, but she was off playing with some of her friends. He thought of Kiku, but he was busy talking himself to other guests seated on one of the many tables. Gilbert was out, on one of his several drinks of beer, hollering loudly and laughing with both nobles and commoners who shared with his love of drinking. Ludwig would certainly not be a good idea, who he hadn’t even spotted. With a tired sigh, he settled to the dining room where they were offering larger plates that many guests were enjoying from.

The entire room was filled with wondrous clamor over the recipes he had created and he joined in, easily settling with a group in conversation, occasionally being halted to receive a heartfelt compliment. Sure, he wasn’t out dancing in the ballroom as he wished, but spending time with his people, surrounded by exquisite food and magnificent decorations was just enough.

Servants interrupted whatever anyone was doing with the chiming of small bells. All rooms the people of the ball had taken fell into silence, having an understanding that their own arising queen did not. Whatever it was, he decided to follow the lead of many of the guests who began to make their way back to the ballroom. All the guests, from wherever in the castle they were, arrived, filling up the entire room, practically not leaving space for even Feliciano, who had to squeeze himself to be able to get there and see what was occurring.

At the very center of the ball, against the wall, two thrones were prepared, with rich red and golden canopies and glittering star lights to match with the rest of Feliciano’s decorations. Trumpets were blown to welcome the king and Queen who came to their awaited seats. They turned to the very large crowd and bowed, and the multitude did the same.

King Aldrich took his seat, making himself comfortable and awaiting for his queen to do the same, yet she remained standing, watching to the crowd with a flush that held evident guilt no matter how erect she stood. She cleared her throat, and prepared her voice to let it echo enough even across the walls. Everyone in the ballroom was supposed to listen, and thus they all remained in the silence their queen needed.

“I had long ago forgotten how magical these kinds of feasts were supposed to be. I was too preoccupied with wanting them to be just as they had always been, just as the books I read and I was taught about by our past deceased queen. I now see that it was all rather ancient and should only remain in old books for history. I was preoccupied with harsh order, limiting who could enjoy and in turn limiting great chances for the kingdom. I was prejudiced, not only for our people, but to our own arising queen and these new choices that I though could only bring forward disaster.” By then she had turned to look at Feliciano, knowing well where in the crowd he was standing. She looked and spoke truthfully to him, as if they were the only ones and there were no judging eyes on both of them. “I forgot that this was supposed to be a chance of freedom for the queen, to let his or her creativity show the beauty of their skill, their tune with the work of the castle, and as I see today, unite us all no matter who we are. Feliciano, you brought a much needed change for the castle and I now apologize, in front of the eyes of all who are here, my children, my grandchildren and my husband, the king, for doubting and hindering your chances, what you could be capable of and showing the true spirit of a queen. I’ve insulted the Aces in their choice and I realize I made a grave mistake. I hope you come to forgive my harsh behavior and that we can work together openly from now on with the true guidance you need so you’ll be ready to take this throne.” She turned towards it and began to move closer. She didn’t sit yet, she gazed once again to her apprentice, hoping to hear any acceptance of her public words.

He could not resist his smile, radiating him like another one of the decorating shining stars. He bowed truthfully, hoping it was a sign enough for Queen Louis to know that he accepted her apology.

“You still have so much to teach me, and I’ll be looking forward to it,” he told her, and she smiled herself, now taking her seat with great relief.

“If you could do this for just one ball, I cannot imagine what you would do in your reign. The entire kingdom has a lot to look up to.”

The entire room erupted in applauses, for the queen’s word and also to show Feliciano that she said truth.

They were indeed expecting great things from him.

The applauses became louder, shouts became enthusiastic and it all made Feliciano blush shyly. He had never received such immense attention that was truly shown, like he could actually see their very hopes arising into the air. He wanted to hug them all and show his thanks with millions of kisses, but he though blowing them would be enough, which only got the crowd to turn wilder and even whistle.

The Queen had raised a hand and slowly they became silent again, the last of their festive shouts dying down until she knew she could be heard again without a single interruption. “We can let the feast begin once again, but of course, we would all love to see a particular couple take their first ball dance in the castle. The arising King, Prince Ludwig Beilschmidt, and the arising Queen, Feliciano Valenti.”

They all applauded and shouted as boisterous as before, but Feliciano stilled with coming dread.

Instantly a space was beginning to be formed for the couple that they were sure to take. Ludwig was released from the group that had been covering him from the eyes of Feliciano for the entire ball. Feliciano didn’t know them, or what they even meant to Ludwig, but he seemed bored, a cup of wine in his finger that he had only taken but a couple of sips from. When he was showed, he was not embarrassed, but sitting as orderly and composed as ever. The news didn’t create any sort of reaction. He drank his glass until it was empty, handing it over to one of the men uncaringly, standing, spreading his hand over any fold his clothing took and making his way forward to his arising queen through the space his people left him. Feliciano admitted that he looked rather handsome, in a suit of red lined in gold, accompanied with a cloack of the same colors, only more intense, white pants lined in red and black boots.

He came forward until he reached the very spot Feliciano still stood in, questioning if he should run off that instant for no one to find him.

Ludwig, surprisingly, bowed before him, offering a hand as gracefully as a king would. It still wasn’t enough to hide his distaste. Feliciano always knew he didn’t like dancing…unless it was with himself in their childhood.

Memories of when they danced, no matter where or how horrible it could be, spread across his mind as he stared on to the awaiting prince.

They used to love this so much, they used to take anything as their stage and invent the most ridiculous of moves. Finest and duty didn’t matter, but each other’s laughter, their enjoyment, and the chance to hold each other closely. There wouldn’t be any of that now and Ludwig came over as if this was just another business he was to deal with. His posture and offering were practiced, with no meaning but to make the crowds content and honor an old tradition. The anger was shown, if even slightly, in both their faces, the idea of just denying this dance becoming more and more favorable. But as Feliciano looked around, to everyone’s enthusiastic glances, ready to witness something that they considered rather historical, he didn’t know how he could disappoint them. Like they looked up to him, they looked up to Ludwig and their union. He could never do anything to take out the romantic context everyone expected of them that instant, no matter Ludwig’s coldness.

He tried to hide a groan and he maintained his eyes closed to not roll them. Reluctantly, he let his hand fall upon his slowly, and Ludwig wasted no time in taking it harshly, already pulling him forward to the spot left for them.

The sooner they ended this, the better.

Chapter Text

The song the orchestra had chosen for their dance was one of the old ones from Louis’s collection. Indeed it was romantic, sweet, perfect for the first dance of a couple who were new to love. But to Ludwig and Feliciano, who had danced to many more beautiful and meaningful songs, this was dull and it only made their wish to dance fainter.

They both took their practiced positions, basic from the lessons they had taken. Ludwig had his hands on his waist, Feliciano’s on his shoulder, and one free hand in a tightness that was reminiscent of the ones they took when they were children. For a moment that comfortableness returned, that trust, confidence to make this dance show their unified souls, but a look into their maddened eyes made it disappear.

With the adding of violins in the orchestra, Ludwig started their dance rather gently, a simple swaying that didn’t require more than slowly moving steps, moving hands, a twirl here and there, and trying to reach every area of the dance circle so all could witness. It worked well enough for all to fall in wonder, a clap here and there escaping, and many glowing eyes wishing that they could either take the arising King’s, Queen’s or both positions for all that attention and decorative beauty for them. Yet Ludwig and Feliciano were rather bored, knowing well that this wasn’t the full of their potential and that it had no other meaning but to please.

With approval of the King and Queen, other couples began to join, circling as if trapping both the arising monarchs for the dance to last the whole night. It was relieving at least, for now they could move less and much more relaxed since many in the crowd lost their eyes to themselves, other couples or continued with other things the ball had to offer.

“Why do you have that?” Ludwig suddenly asked, seeing that now he at least had the chance to speak even as they continued with their mediocre dance.

“Have what?”

“That rose in your hair.”

Feliciano went to touch it, still secured like he had placed it earlier. “A little girl gave it to me, and I thought it would look nice."

“It looks ridiculous,” he admitted, watching their steps as he took them to another spot.

Feliciano’s expression soured. It was a rude comment and he wanted to purposely step his foot on his harshly. He didn’t for he knew he would grab attention and who knew what Ludwig would continue to say.

“I think it’s rather lovely. All types of queens have worn flowers like this in their hair."

“It’s still unbecoming."

“You used to like it.”

Silence settled, Ludwig didn’t know how he could go against that. True, he had liked it as a child and maybe a part of him still did, but he surely wasn’t going to tell that to Feliciano.

“It was a gift, and I like to keep them to heart,” Feliciano said, proud still no matter what Ludwig thought.

“I can see,” his eyes were clear on the promise cross, and as they neared avoiding being crushed by two other pairs, he took a good scent of his perfume. He knew it well, he remembered long ago being stuck three whole days deciding on the perfect aroma. He had to admit it suited him very well and it made him clear that it had been the ideal choice. “And I can smell too.” He had gotten too close suddenly, which had Feliciano reddening and wishing once again to step on his foot.

A twirl, a far extend, and back to being close to him, much closer than before and then most couples. They continued spinning across the ballroom, although in unique steps from the rest. The dance didn’t matter to them anymore but the escalating of their words.

“I-I hadn’t know what it meant,” Feliciano admitted with a strong dust of red, avoiding his eyes and forcing Ludwig to give him another twirl and be facing away from him. It didn’t stop Ludwig from still holding him as they moved on in that very position. It was even better for him since he had the fragrance of his neck, close and explicit.

“I’m rather honored that you decided on wearing it without a second though only because it was from me,” he whispered directly to his ear, which almost got Feliciano to shiver.

“Once again, I did not know. If I had then maybe…” to be honest, he probably would have if he though on that Ludwig would be as sweet as he had been.

The hesitation was a clear message to Ludwig, who turned him then to face him, their gliding faster this time as they crossed several pairs in a mess. “You’re going to be my queen and groom, it’s only obvious.” Ludwig didn’t say more to the matter, keeping his eyes strict somewhere else, while Feliciano watched their feet wouldn’t trip, seeing as they now went astray in the proper movements.

Silence settled between them and Feliciano found it awkward after what they had just revealed. “What do you think of the ball?” He decided on asking. It caught Ludwig, who didn’t think Feliciano would keep talking to him.

He looked around, to the decorations, the kind of people that were there, the food, the drinks, and all he had to say was: “It’s all right.”

That was it? Feliciano went against the very order of the castle to make a ball to stand out for centuries, and all his future king had to say was that it was all right.

“Is that all?” He questioned, looking purely insulted for Ludwig to see.

Ludwig didn’t care, he looked back to him with the same stern expression, as if challenging to get him to say the more that he simply wasn’t going to. “Despite what you did, I still think you disobeyed greatly and even disrespected my grandmother,” he said like a scolding adult to his child.

Feliciano turned away and wanted nothing more than for this dance to end. “I didn’t mean to, I was only trying to prove myself,” he defended. “I can’t always blindly follow whatever your grandmother says. The next coming years would be my ruling not hers."

“A ruling that you would do well to follow as it had always been. This is not something that you can easily mess around with.”

“I won’t! Stop insinuating!”

“I have every right to when it’s also my kingdom and I am to be your king.”

“It’s a duel effort, Luddy.”

Ludwig never thought he’d hear that nickname again. It was not fitting and to Ludwig it felt like Feliciano was calling him a child.

It had gotten rather heated, the anger menacing to have them take a bite off each other. Their hold was tightening as if ready to strangle and the aura that arose got very dangerous.

Finally the song ended and they stopped along with it in its last echoes. The next song continued as quickly, deserving of a waltz but much more upbeat and to match the earlier festiveness. The couples continued dancing around them unaware and so they wouldn’t notice when Feliciano let go from Ludwig’s hold, finding a way to exit between them all. He found it and took it quickly.

“I don’t have to blindly follow you either,” Feliciano told him lastly, turning before he was asked for another dance.

Ludwig stood where he was, gazing rather strongly to Feliciano, somehow trying to get him back with his mere stare.

“You said it yourself, it’s supposed to be a duel effort,” Ludwig defended, ignoring the continuous dance around him. They were all hazes when they compared to Feliciano, who still continued to move away.

Despite his simple wear, he shone much more beautiful than any other and it was hard to get his eyes away.

Feliciano stopped and turned to him, at a safe distance with a competing glare, close from making it back to the crowds. They’re eyes met, the room seemed to have frozen only for them, a moment like in a dream or a fantasy of their mind.

“You’re not letting it be,” Feliciano burned that dream with the match of his words, showing his back and disappearing with his people, leaving Ludwig in a still, silently wishing for another dance, if even one full of venom as it had just been.

Didn’t it used to be sweet and innocent? It had been one of those hits of realizations that they had indeed grown up.

Feliciano continued through the party, trying to find ailment in the food and wine, but it wasn’t enough. The conversations just gave him more headaches and the decoration didn’t seem to hold its same enhance anymore. He said his goodbyes to a couple of the guests and slipped unnoticed upstairs to his room. All he wanted now was a good night sleep and see if he could forget that dance.

Only a couple of minutes later, as he had hid under the covers with the melody of his chest to help him in his coming slumber, Ludwig had joined him, just as fatigued with the feast as he had been. No words were shared as usual, but both knew that the same thing was bothering them.

 

Luckily, after the three months that passed, the memory Feliciano had of the ball was pleasant. He did well to hide the occurrence of his dance with Ludwig in the back of his mind.

There was still talk about it and many hoped for another one planned by Feliciano. But his apprenticeship for the queen’s throne was not all about parties, fancy decorations and suits. It was about time he got into the politics, the papers and the mechanism of how the kingdom truly worked. Laws, pamphlets, judging procedures, he was handed a new book to read every day by the Queen. Here he didn’t dare doubt her, taking her lessons and only adding something if he found it necessary, which the Queen tended to find favorable. He had been managing well and to his own surprise he was getting everything rather quickly, part of it having to do with his previous teachings with his grandfather. When procedures were done, sometimes he didn’t even need Queen Louis’s help and when it happened she would place a hand on his shoulder proudly. He was proud himself and would talk on about how happy he was that everything was starting to work into play, no matter if it was servants, maids, or Kiku, who loved to hear about his progressions as Feliciano loved to hear his.

In his excitement, especially after he had to deal with trials that ended really well by his decisions, he would even talk to Ludwig when he arrived at the room, as a joyful child that even danced around the room as he went picking his night shirts and preparing himself for his rest. Most of the time Ludwig would be indifferent, puff out some quick responses, but kept his eyes to his own scrolls and papers that he tended to bring to their room. Feliciano didn’t care if he was annoyed or not, he didn’t let himself be torn by whatever reaction he got, he just simply performed how well his spirits were, unaware that the arising King would sometimes smile under his papers, looking away from him knowing well he would be tempted by his figure moving merrily through the room.

On one particular evening, after Feliciano's usual training with Herr Egilhard on his power and magic, he was called to a meeting in the presence of all the important royals of the castle. It included the King, Queen, Jack, the arising rulers and other personnel important to what they were to speak about. The room they decided to meet in was a small, one with a medium sized table, with some bookshelves holding volumes of reports, a simple chandelier, simple curtains, simple rugs and a single painting of a past queen hanging on an empty wall devoid of frescos or designs. Whatever this meeting was for had to indeed be for something small since nobody, not even Ludwig, seemed tensed or preoccupied. They were as relaxed as if they were having breakfast in the dining room or even out having a picnic.

It started as soon as all were seated, with some other dignitary dropping a large manuscript with many loose papers that even reached Feliciano in his own chair. He picked it up and saw that it was an already signed command for the changing of busy routes in the city for a particular week that was coming up. Instantly he understood what it was for and smiled ecstatically, trying to hold himself from jumping on his chair.

“Your majesties, the Augusta music festival is to begin in two weeks’ time and our usual orders are in the process of being carried out to prepare the city. This year’s province focus will be the Grecian islands. By your request, Queen Louis, I have called forward a particular visit that is set to arrive tomorrow in the afternoon,”

“Excellent,” she nodded, expectant with a brightness shown eagerly in her face. Feliciano loved to see her this way and grew eager himself to know all the true details.

“The necessary documents need to be signed and as always, we ask for two chaperons to watch the preparations.”

“Which is why I asked the arising ruler to join us.”

All three of them perked with interest, knowing what was coming, but not all three were as anticipated of the prospect.

“Oma, I cannot, you know well how busy I am with my teachings with opa.”

“I wasn’t planning on asking you, Ludwig. This is a duty I will entrust to Feliciano and Kiku.”

Both looked up, surprise in Kuku’s expression, although Feliciano’s was vibrant, gasping and trying to hide any outburst with the unison of his hands against his face.

“Your majesty, I don’t think-”

“Do not worry, Kiku, your teaching with me can wait. In your own reign you will deal with these kinds of feasts as well and it’s important you learn along with the arising Queen," the Jack officially excused him, so Kiku held any breaths that could go to trying to convince him otherwise. Feliciano looked extremely excited about this, and it seemed to spread to the other, who smiled expectantly, their gazes settling again on the dignitary for anything else they should know.

“It’ll be an honor to have you both chaperon it,” the dignitary smiled and bowed. “Other than supervision, you are free to suggest and fix things to your likings. You are the future rulers after all.”

They had heard stories of this festival well enough, wonderful ones that were even the setting for many of the stories they read back at home. If it was anything like they read, they couldn’t bring themselves to change something that was already utterly perfect. They just wanted to be part of it, and supervision was well enough.

“Other than the coming festival, I come with news about another pair of monarchs who showed an interest to the festival and are coming for a visit. They’re set to arrive the day after tomorrow.”

The Queen reacted with confusion. Usually they were told with time beforehand the coming of other royals from official messengers. If they haven’t yet meant they haven’t received anything, which was rather odd. Whatever and whoever it was, it must have been a sudden and rash decision, and for only the main organizer to know, must have meant that their only interest was in the festival. But usually when other royals visited Berlin, they were expected to stay in the castle and were to be attended just like a Hearts royal. She’ll have to place orders to get the guest rooms prepared as soon as she headed out.

“And who are these monarchs?”

“The arising King and Queen of Spades, Alfred Franklin Jones and Arthur Kirkland,” he announced, which earned a groan from both Queen Louis and Prince Ludwig.

Feliciano didn’t get why, he used to know Alfred and he had been a wonderful person that both himself and Ludwig used to enjoy their time with whenever he came to visit the Italian province. Things must have changed in the passing of eight years for Ludwig to look maddened about it.

“They’re set to marry and inherit the throne in three months, and things haven’t gone…” he didn’t know how to word it, and he just didn’t want to say it was horrible.

“Well?” Queen Louis decided to fill in.

“Exactly. Their parents hope a romantic trip to Hearts during the music festival would be enough to do something.”

Hm, sounded very similar to what was going on right in their very castle, Kiku thought, looking to Ludwig and Feliciano, their minds on the festival, on the visit and away from each other like they weren’t even there to the other. He didn’t dare word it though.

“Well-” Queen Louis still didn’t seem very favorable to the idea, “-If it’s for the best, already decided and they’re on their way here, it cannot be helped.”

Feliciano knew Louis was busy enough and she didn’t need to deal with a distraught couple as well. Feliciano though of dealing with it himself, it had been a long time since he last decided to be a matchmaker. It worked well with his brother and Antonio, with those two cooks, the woman with the vinaigrettes and the baker, and those two teenagers from feuding families in his village. Surely he could succeed in uniting the arising King and Queen of Spades.

King Aldrich and Ludwig were already beginning to stand and leave just when he was about to suggest it. They were off and the Queen didn’t mind at all. This wasn’t something for them anyways.

“Raquel, give the necessary listing to Feliciano and Kiku. I hope you two find time to read it before tomorrow evening. We have an important visit and it be best if we have you both know everything that is needed so you can help them.”

Raquel nodded and began to search through his manuscripts for it, the Queen standing ready to leave deciding she was done.

“If I may ask, who is the visit?” Feliciano asked interrupting her departure.

The Queen smirked, hoping he’d ask at some point.

“I thought of leaving it for a surprise, but I assume it be best if I told you so you can better prepare yourself. Are you familiar with the Karpusi family, Feliciano?”

It didn’t take long for him to recognize. “Of course, they’re my grandmother’s family.” They were from the Grecian islands and they visited the mansion occasionally, even with his grandmother’s passing.

“Since this year’s focus will be the Grecian islands, I thought it would be ideal to have someone close work alongside you.”

“Who exactly though?”

“Herakles Karpusi.”

A cousin of his, grandson to an older sister of his grandmother. He visited along with the rest of his family, but he tended to be distracted with the cats that were present in his land, sleep in uncomfortable corners and practically avoided speaking to any of the Valenti. Lovino was the one who had a better relationship with him and sometimes he would be the only one Herakles would talk to, but he did have his small moments with Feliciano. Despite being so laid back and rather slow in his speaking, he was very smart and sometimes he could go on and on so passionately that Feliciano just didn’t know how he could interrupt him or even depart from the same room. He complimented his paintings and was the one who even got Feliciano to try sculpting. It had been two years since his last visit to Italy, he hoped he would recognize him.

“Do you mind this?” The Queen asked.

“No, not at all, just haven’t seen him in a while."

“I’m sure it won’t be a problem. Herakles is an amazing song writer and lyre player. His talent will help with the festival, along with others he’s planning to bring.” And Feliciano was confident that he would. He had heard him play before and it was absolutely heavenly. He couldn’t wait to see what else he knew and any suggestions that could add much more to the festival.

The Queen bowed and left along with Raquel, who had given them the scrolls with everything they needed written down. The room was now for Feliciano and Kiku alone, who watched to the closed doors as if waiting for them to come back and give them more instructions.

Seemed like the rest that was missing they would figure it out on their own.

“There’s a perfect study room in one of the highest towers,” Feliciano suggested. He had stumbled upon it randomly a couple of days ago as he was finding a quiet place to study some war treaties. “We can have the servants bring us some snacks and we’ll promise to focus.”

Kiku chortled, he doubted Feliciano could remain silent for too long, especially when it was just the two of them, and he knew himself that he wouldn’t be able to hold himself from joining in chatter.

“All right,” Kiku accepted despite it.

Chapter Text

Feliciano and Kiku decided to leave the castle together by the late evening. By Feliciano’s suggestion, they walked and took the available trains, which in no time left them in what would be the center of the festivities. It was a square right in front of the main music hall in berlin. From there on, the festival would spread across the streets around them and extend to different parts of the city. Feliciano and Kiku saw that already parts were closed, workers beginning in the settling of stands, stages or decorative monuments. Between that, the hustle of the people taking their normal commune, reunions, and visitors who wanted to take the rich architecture around them. Feliciano and Kiku felt rather diminutive and didn’t even know where to start. First of all they should look for Herakles, but where in this mess could he be? They really should have gone to Queen Louis before leaving.

In the plentitude, they finally noticed a tent placed right in the center of the square, next to a monument to one of their biggest composers. A flag of their kingdom and the royal family swayed at the top, and they assumed it was where they had to go.

After the occurrences of the ball, Queen Louis stopped being insisting about clothing, and so both decided on wearing something comfortable and simplistic, a simple blouse, pants and shoes in Feliciano’s case, while Kiku wore his red robes that he used to wear on short outings outside his home in Japan. It worked well to not attract attention, but an occasional passerby recognized them, giving them pass and a bow, which Feliciano and Kiku answered to with the same respect.

They arrived to the tent to see it filled with activity of men and women assembling different pieces to then bring out to its assign place. Others talked and others were busy writing perhaps pieces of music or just notes about how preparations were going for the very chaperons who had just entered. They had been so busy they weren’t given much attention, leaving Feliciano and Kiku to move about on their own and find their person.

“Do you see him?” Kiku asked, not starting to like being surrounded closely by so many people shouting, screaming and sometimes even pushing.

Feliciano kept his eyes open, not minding, until they he spotted the all too familiar curl.

“Herakles! Herakles!” He called and it didn’t take long for the other to easily recognize the voice.

He had been sitting in some slab of wood reading from both a music sheet and a schedule to the events at the moment planned.

“Feliciano!” He was surprised to see him dressed so commonly. He expected something else from his cousin who was chosen as a Queen.

“It’s been so long! It really is so nice to see you again. How was the trip?” Feliciano had to hold himself from hugging him and going on in chatter. Sure, Herakles and him hadn’t been that close, but he was still part of a small piece of family he hadn’t seen in four months.

“Eh, I suppose it was all right. I wasn’t allowed to bring any of my cats and the coach bumped a lot along the road. I still don’t think I’m used to them.”

The both of them went along in conversation about Herakles’s home, he asked about Feliciano’s family, how he had adapted to the castle and any other small little things about the time they hadn’t seen each other. Kiku was only in the background, unnoticed, and he wasn’t sure if it was what he preferred at the moment. At one side, he wanted to be part of the conversation and get to know Feliciano’s cousin, on the other side, he was sure he would become a stuttering mess.

He was glad Herakles hadn’t yet noticed his strong stare, which was admiring how his brown hair fell and framed the beautiful features of his face, an enchanting olive green to his eyes, tall, muscular to compete with Ludwig, and when he smiled when Feliciano started talking about some cat in his land, Kiku swore he would melt, hoping to only be awaken by surely the Ace that was before him. He swore he saw more light in the room, the fray of people disappeared, and all noise was dull just so Kiku could listen to even his hums or smirks.

“-oh, and I just have to introduce you,” Feliciano interrupted the dream state Kiku had entered, grabbing him by the shoulders and ushering him much forward so Herakles could completely look him over. Kiku stiffed, the only thing keeping him from trembling being the tight hold Feliciano had on him.

“This is the arising Jack of Hearts, Kiku Honda,” he introduced proudly.

Herakles gave that delightful smile, and bowed in respect, just enough of a time to see if Kiku could calm down the changing red of his skin. “P-pl-pleasure,” Kiku responded.

“He’s really cool. He helped me a lot my first month in the castle. We study together, and he’s extremely smart. He’s already lead his first ritual at the church and has healed six dying children in the hospital,” Feliciano gloated it all, surely loud enough for the whole tent to hear.

“Uh, uh, uh,” Kiku tried to speak, but he was glad that Feliciano already placed him in a pedestal, for Herakles stared deeply impressed.

“The kingdom is lucky to have a Jack like you then,” he complimented, taking notice of the robes Kiku wore, and just the appearance that give him away. “You’re from Japan aren’t you?” Kiku instantly nodded and was hating himself for not answering much with words. “I’ve been there a couple of times already. There’s a really cheap boat ride from my island to the closest Japanese one with two days of travel. The boat ride is insufferable, but the island makes it worth it. Japan is absolutely stunning and I’ve never been treated more kindly. If I could have a second house there, I would." And Kiku took that compliment to heart, breathless and hoping that Feliciano continued to hold him or he would fall down to the floor in a haze.

“I-I’m very glad, I myself would love to visit the Grecian islands, I’ve just never had the chance to." And it was true, he wasn’t just saying it to impress him.

“When you finally do, don’t be afraid to ask me for help, I will gladly offer my services to the Jack,” he bowed once again, only adding to Kiku turning redder.

“And I’m already willing to cover you,” Feliciano planned ahead. "Now, about the festival.”

Kiku was rather surprised that it was Feliciano that had them back to business.

As what was left of daylight continued, Herakles showed them the placing of different stages across the city. He suggested this wonderful idea of decorating the very platforms into different items and symbols important to Grecian stories of the Aces and other gods. Feliciano had loved it and approved it, Kiku joining in assigning different ones and where exactly in the city they could be placed. The workers loved the idea as well and right away they set to create it. Herakles, Kiku and Feliciano joined them, although Feliciano stopped after most of the materials were too heavy to carry or he had dropped them accidentally on some of the workers. He realized he was perfectly content just marking in a list the materials used and what they would later need.

Feliciano had been distracted with the work force, Kiku had been distracted with Herakles, and so they didn’t notice how the day darkened and the street lights began to illuminate the still busy streets. Feliciano had not minded staying later, but as his stomach grumbled loudly, he realized he did mind missing dinner at the castle. They should leave, they did have the visit from the arising King and Queen of Spades tomorrow.

“Kiku!” He called him.

Kiku was with Herakles talking about some sculptures he had brought, long gone with any topics of the festival. Kiku had been enjoying it so much Feliciano couldn’t let it be interrupted, busying himself with other matters no matter how complicated it got.

“We should get going or we’ll miss dinner.”

And Kiku knew he did not want his Queen to go hungry. Last time he missed dinner he went into utter turmoil and didn’t work on his reports or meetings until a plate of anything was brought to him that night.

Feliciano could tell clearly Kiku was hesitant to leave, and only the force of his duty and his own hunger were the things that kept his eyes and ears away from Herakles and his creations.

“Will you be here tomorrow?” Herakles asked, beginning to pick his own things to leave.

“I guess we can squeeze some time. I really enjoyed working on this today,” Feliciano admitted with vibrancy, one that Kiku wished he had instead of stuttering and reddening to an embarrassment.

“A-as did I. I-I hope we can continue to help with the stages and I’ll be sure to bring us new ideas,” and Kiku bowed, rather excessively Feliciano thought.

“I’ll look forward to them.”

With a couple of last waves, Feliciano and Kiku left the tent, making their way to one of the stations.

“I had a really good time today and I’m ecstatic about tomorrow. I kind of forgot how cool Herakles can be and it was nice to connect like that again. It kind of reminds me of the time-” Kiku let Feliciano blabber on about topics that went past his head, his mind too busy with the conjuring of his image, his tired eyes, his gentle smile.

He completely ignored Feliciano’s chattering all the way to the castle.

 

During dinner the night before, the messengers arrived with the official information on the Spade arising rulers’ visit. With it they knew they were to arrive in the early morning, which meant that all three of the Hearts arising rulers were expected at the castle entrance earlier before than was estimated. To Feliciano it had been criminal, who was currently still fretting with the buttons of his vest as he headed hurriedly down the castle.

Not even for his power lessons did he wake this early.

He was still late by the expected standards, which was the reason for his rush and the skipping of his breakfast. It was pain to his spirits, and as he arrived to meet with some guards along with Ludwig and Kiku who were already standing in their place, he didn’t understand how they can very easily deal with this, indifferent expressions without a care of the hour and their taken sleep. He looked quite lowly standing beside them, hunching as he tried to regain his breath and rolling his sleeves to get some better air.

“You’re really wearing that?” Ludwig looked disappointedly to him.

“This is a Silvanus,” Feliciano pointed to the vest he wore, red with golden designs, only the best from one of Heart’s past designers. He had made a collection specifically for the royals and Feliciano liked to use his things for important dealings as this. Still, it was the only thing of riches that he wore comparing to his white blouse and typical red pants and black boots that Ludwig swore he had worn the day before.

“It’s not enough, wear something more dignifying next time we have a visit like this."

“If I feel like it, Ludwig.”

“Don’t you-”

Kiku was glad the gates opened and the sounds of horse hooves reached their ears before it began to get hostile.

The new coach came at rapid speeds, wildly, jumping and swinging and having the three Hearts royals fearing that it would tumble down on its side, but whoever drove it kept it at bay somehow. It was before them in a matter of seconds, for them to finally notice the blues and violets with symbols of Spades. The driver didn’t have the reigns of his horse, catching his breath and laying down upon his bench panicked, even with the coach’s stillness, afraid to move and fall in a heap to the ground.

“Oh come on, Marlee, it wasn’t that bad.” The one who held the actual reigns sat rather proudly, not fazed at all by the speeds he had decided to take. This figure then noticed the three royals and waves to them, a charming smile that Feliciano instantly recognized.

“Alfred?” Feliciano questioned.

“The one and only all mighty arising King of Spades, of course.” He jumped to the ground, being respectful enough as to bow to them, and in return the others did the same.

Alfred had only changed slightly. His blond hair had become a little darker, slightly tanner skin surely by the many times he went out to work in his kingdom. Taller, stronger features in face and body to compete with Ludwig’s own, and rimmed glasses in blue that weren’t enough to hide the same blueness he always held in his eyes.

“Ludwig! My man! The one and only potato king!” Alfred greeted first, and not with the handshake Ludwig was expecting, but with a slam of his hands that left Ludwig in sudden stillness as he tried to realize what had just happened.

Alfred moved to Kiku, a respectful bow as he was taught. Kiku was just a stranger. “My own arising Jack, Yao Wang, has written and read about the things you have done in the Japanese province, as well as here in the German province.-I’ve been impressed, and I hope Ludwig hasn’t read any of my…incidents to you…I’m honestly a good guy,” he tried to convince, with a pretty bright smile that was enough of a trick.

Kiku bowed as respectfully, taking his word. “Do not worry, he has not,” he lied. “I myself have heard of your additional ailments to the growing motor industry in your kingdom. In a couple of years it would have a technological advancement to envy, and we hope by that time we have established better trading and diplomatic relations to share in that advancement."

“Awesome! I look forward to that! I like this guy!” He patted Kiku rather harshly in the back, before moving to the last, leaving Kiku stunned, rubbing his back and trying to hide any groans of pain.

“Feli, Feli, Feli,” Alfred approached him with a grin that Ludwig glared at from the side.

“Alfred,” Feliciano bowed in greeting, not being able to hide his grand smile. He was so happy to see him again and could only think of all the fun they used to have as kids.

“Eight years!”

“It has been! It’s so nice to see you again! I hope the stay is to your liking and that you enjoy the coming music festival."

“I’m sure I will! But come on, none of this political shit! I still remember how you used to love hugging people.”

And Feliciano still did, sadly royal life didn’t let him as much.

They both opened their arms ready for a welcoming embrace, but suddenly Feliciano was pulled back to a rather warm but also possessive tight hold that was settled on his waist. He lay close to Ludwig, too close to what he had been used to in the last months. Feliciano was surprised, and when he looked up to him, he saw dark fury in his eyes directed towards the Prince of Spades, strong enough to cut right through him if he so wished. Feliciano was fearful to do something against it, so settled easily into his hold…which was actually nice, and he had to stop himself from letting his hand rest on the strength of his chest.

“Oh, I forgot, your fiancé and all.” Alfred felt the death stare and settled on moving back and mellowing it out with his boisterous laugh. “Which reminds me I haven’t introduced you all to-”

“I’ll do it myself! Thank you!”

The door to the coach was suddenly slammed opened, revealing a blond spiky haired young man surely of Alfred’s own age. Unlike Alfred, he seemed much more fixed and poised, coming down from the coach in the elegance of a gentleman. He only held a large book in his hands, which had probably been his distraction to not hear his own fiancé’s commotion, the wild coach ride and his arrival to the hearts royal castle. As he approached and bowed before them, Feliciano could take a better look at his slim figure, pale skin, dusted with a bit of freckles, rather abnormal large eyebrows, but pleasing and beautiful green eyes that stared to them with a respective gleam.

“Arising Queen of Spades, Arthur Kirkland, your highnesses. Pleasure to be of your acquaintance."

“Pleasure is ours,” Ludwig said, enough to settle his sudden anger.

“I would like to apologize for the suddenness in our visit, but the King and Queen of Spades asked rather desperately for this and we could only confide and obey as only the arising rulers."

“Do not fret, we can quickly prepare and adjust. Our servants will bring your luggage to your shared room. We will all have breakfast in one of our terraces.” Ludwig moved aside, Feliciano still in his hold, extending his arm so both Alfred and Arthur could move along and enter the castle.

“Sweet!” Alfred quickly dashed along, hungry and already wanting his helping.

Feliciano hoped his extreme eating habits had died down since their last encounter, but a quick look to Ludwig, which he had close to see to detail, sighing and groaning, proved that it hadn’t changed at all. Arthur moved behind him, with an apologetic stare to the Hearts royals, hoping to stop Alfred before he left the table empty. Kiku moved ahead, and Feliciano wanted to do the same, but he was still caged in his King’s arms.

“Uh, Ludwig,” he called his attention, suddenly feeling it all fall awkwardly.

Ludwig seemed to have forgotten he had been holding him like that, instantly letting go when he noticed, dusting his clothing, standing back straight, his cold uncaring expression returning, refusing to look to Feliciano now out of embarrassment.

“I apologize, do-don’t think too much about it." And with a clear blush on his skin that Feliciano didn’t fail to notice, he moved behind the rest into the castle, leaving Feliciano alone with the servants who began to get the things from the coach.

Despite what Ludwig said, Feliciano did think about it, and as he did, a smirk spread on his face, a laugh escaped, which got some curious gazes from the working servants.

He decided to follow inside then, knowing fully well that Ludwig had gotten jealous.

Sure he didn’t like this possessiveness over him, especially by someone who hadn’t shown to care in the last months, but behind it he knew there was some caring intent. Being shown that hold…in it was the capability of what he could if he was loving as he had been, breaking whatever shell he forced himself into so they could finally-…he really shouldn’t give it more thought, it was only bringing him to hope. There was nothing, nothing, nothing.

 

Sadly they couldn’t visit Herakles with the preparations of the festival, they had been too busy with Alfred and Arthur to find time. As so, Feliciano and Kiku decided to leave first thing in the morning the next day and spend the rest of their time there, seeing as they didn’t have any of their power lesson or other duties to invest themselves in.

Another day to wake up earlier than normal to Feliciano, who was detesting it more and more, shown clearly in his still tiredness and sluggish steps. The only thing that kept him up and not making him decide to sleep on the stairs was Kiku’s great interest, who couldn’t stop talking about the festival and his cousin to even Arthur as they shared tea in one of the balconies.

Speaking of which, he was surprised to already find him so early in one of the study rooms, reading the same book he had held the day before when he arrived. Feliciano approached the room quietly, as to not disturb him, reaching then to leave a gentle knock on one of the bookshelves that decorated the room.

“Buon giorno,” he greeted when looked up, startled as if he was suddenly awaken from a long sleep.

“Oh, uh…good morning." It took him a while to understand the language.

“It’s pretty early for a guest to be up and about in the castle. You know you can sleep till whenever you want. Did you have a bad night?”

“Oh no, not at all, I just usually wake up at this hour. Thought I would catch up on my reading."

“What about Alfred?”

“The baboon probably won’t wake up till midday, so please enjoy the silence in the castle while you can,” he said rather harshly, the spatting thrown to his beloved book.

“I don’t think you should be talking about your fiancé that way,” Feliciano commented meekly.

Arthur didn’t comment, settling even more in his book, trying to forget the other arising Queen’s presence, but Feliciano just couldn’t let it be. He promised himself that he would work what he can to bring them together, as the King and Queen of Spades wanted, but to do that he needed to know the roots of their problems. Surely he could learn them from Arthur if they kept on talking and thus he hatched an idea.

“Hey, why don’t you come with us?” He suggested.

“Go where and with who?” Arthur returned his attention.

“Kiku and I are helping with the preparations for the music festival. You can go see the locations and watch how everything is set up. They give us amazing snacks and we get to see a lot of things before the actual start, like today we might even get to hear bands practice,” he tried to make it sound as alluring as possible, an excitement that Arthur saw he was definitely not lying about.

It did sound intriguing, an occurrence different than just lying about with a book that he had already read. He did come to Hearts for something new to do, a sort of adventure or dare he say romance different from what he had expected ever since he first arrived and got used to the monotony of the Spadian castle. He sighed, somehow disappointed that he easily let himself be swayed away by this comfort.

“All right, I’ll go and take a look,” he accepted, closing the book and hiding it well between others in the bookshelf, remembering it’s place well to not forget. “When are we leaving?” He turned to him, phlegmatic despite his real interest, unlike the explosive radiance from the arising Queen of Hearts.

Feliciano instantly took a tight hold of his wrist and led him outside in a run. “Right now!” He shouted, not giving them a break to stop until they met with Kiku.

Chapter Text

Arthur, after nine months of living under the wealth of royalty and staying away in another castle with the same riches, did not expect to actually be standing by the side of the arising Queen and Jack of Hearts…walking the streets and taking a casual train over to the square like they were common folk of the city.

To be honest he felt so awkward standing there in the train, with many stares on him, surely on the rich blue and violet coat with obvious symbols of Spades. Rumors spread easily in the wagon of who he could be, so Arthur tried laying his attention solely on the conversation Feliciano held about something simple as a game of football.

How could they deal with this so normally?

They reached the square filled with the same work force from the day before. Many more areas were closed but what mattered to the trio was the tent, now much larger to accommodate the bigger amount of people that came and the larger works they created. Feliciano and Kiku moved knowingly with easy steps, eager ones in Kiku’s case, while Arthur moved behind awkwardly, looking incredulous to all, surprise by so much going on in an instant. How could they keep order? How could Feliciano and Kiku keep up with it? They finally met up with Herakles, who had been talking to some workers about the size of one of the stages, thinking of changing it all together. When he noticed the three approaching, he excused himself and quickly moved forward to greet them. Kiku this time did it as properly, with right wording without a single stutter. He had practiced enough before his mirror.

“We’re so sorry we couldn’t come yesterday!” Feliciano quickly apologized.

“We received the news from the castle, don’t worry about it! But right now we need your help on some of the lighting effects in Meike square!” Kiku was rather disappointed that they instantly set off to their business, which was surprising to himself since he was usually eager to begin in his own work. “Feliciano, I decided to leave it for you,” Herakles handed him the scrolls and papers with the information, a pen to fill in anything he needed. Feliciano saluted in approval. “And Kiku, why don’t you join me in the sound testing?” Kiku approved way too quickly.

“Arthur come on, you can come and help me!” Just like that morning, Feliciano took his wrist and dragged him along outside, rushing through the crowds until they reached their spot down several streets.

Although not as closed as the main square by the music hall, worked still continued, a dazzling stage with a theme to the ocean, extending with different decorations that were already outstanding. Why would they need work on lighting? It was just enough as it is.

The square itself was long, surrounded by fish stalls and stores with sea related items, jewelry, medicines, and a little bar and restaurant that surely specified in sea food. It was quite beautiful, rare for its floors were red mosaics trying to resemble the flow of waves, going up in spiral stairs with nice little areas to rest and talk. Seats were already being prepared in those heights for the show. It was quite obvious why they gave this one the sea theme. Arthur was deeply impressed, so as Feliciano, and he had already come here.

They moved forward and talked quickly with one of the leaders, who told them about their lighting problems. They really wanted something more than just small random blinking lights on the edge of the stage and were hoping for ideas from the very arising Queen. Feliciano didn’t instantly have one, so he settled with sitting in one of the heightened banks, just staring with resounding hums, hands pinching his chin as he forced his mind to only think about lighting effects. Arthur, sitting by his side, after admiring enough of the square and the preparations, began to grow bored, sighing and beginning to notice the different shades of red that made the colors of the tiles below. This was not as exciting as Feliciano promised and he was just about to tell him how he could make his way back to the castle when his eyes caught the top of the stage mixed with the tiles and moving clouds of the sky. He got an idea.

“Feliciano, how much is your kingdom’s capacity of light shows?” He asked.

“Uh…” to be honest Feliciano didn’t even understand the question. “We just put…light bulbs,” he pointed to a box of them at the bottom by the stage, enough for Arthur to see that they were a poor quality, surely only to last for the festival and then throw away. They didn’t even give out the best lighting.

He suddenly stood up, picking up his spade symbol pocket watch from his suit. "Do you mind if I work on something?”

“Go ahead.” Feliciano was curious.

He saw before his eyes as the pocket watch was succumbed into light and began to turn into a sapphire long wand, with flowering designs and a main Spadian symbol at the handle. Arthur tested it around, swift movements to let it rid from any excess of its transformation.

“If you don’t like it, I’ll rid of it easily.” With a breath, some quick enchantments, he moved the wand like the leading of an orchestra, white sparks flying and covering the largeness of the top of the stage, as well as any other surface that could go with the rhythm he had in mind. It grabbed the attention of many of the passerby who stopped to look up and see what this strange Spadian man was creating.

After the light of the magic subsided, Arthur took back his seat, a small smile on his lips proud of what he had made. Feliciano joined in the sudden awes with the rest of the crowd, watching as the stilled sparkles glowed in a ripple from side to side, making the lights give the final touch that truly made the square look like they were flowing with the push of the waves in the middle of the sea.

“Oh my Aces, Arthur, it’s wonderful,” Feliciano rasped.

Arthur couldn’t help the proud smirk, leaning down on his seat, fueling himself with the constant compliments that were thrown all around him.

“You did say they were going to give us snacks,” Arthur reminded, beginning to feel hungry.

“Oh, of course!” Feliciano broke from the dream haze and called for one of the workers to bring them something forward.

Feliciano would honestly make do with a single fruit, a bag of some cereal, oh but a slice of bread with hazelnut chocolate sounded wonderful. He got all of that, with some tea and coffee, all presented in a rich table that the workers brought along with bows and respect just like the servants would in the castle. Arthur readily took his cup and began to eat without a care, while Feliciano sat perplexed, as if afraid to come near the table.

“What’s wrong?” Arthur asked, noticing his expression.

“Uh…nothing, I just didn’t think they had to do this. They could have just brought us whatever everyone else was having." Reluctantly he took the bread and the cup of coffee.

“We’re arising Queens, Feliciano, this is just what’s worthy for us.”

Feliciano hummed and took his sip and food, with this fault that continued to leave an atmosphere that Arthur couldn’t ignore.

“Let me guess,” he started, having heard this narrative many times before, “ you’re of peasant background from some forgotten farmer village in the middle of nowhere in the Italian province, introduced suddenly to a lifestyle of riches that you haven’t managed to get used to, even in the four to five months you’ve been here.” He continued his tea knowing.

“Actually no, I’m a Valenti. We inherited riches left behind by my ancestor, Romulus Valenti, as well as those we make ourselves from our farming lands. I’m from noble status, I had already lived a lifestyle similar to this,” he admitted calmly, with no malice from what Arthur had assumed. “But I am from a beautiful farmer village named Barga, you should give it a visit sometime.” If Feliciano held that malice, Arthur could have taken that statement badly and hostile air could have grown above them. But Feliciano was actually being truthful, a present smile and continuing with his coffee.

“I apologize, you just seemed so humble,” Arthur admitted.

“I just want to be treated like any other.”

“I doubt that’s possible in your position.”

“I can still try.” He began to take from some grapes, noticing then the stillness Arthur took, somber as he stared off around him, his mind elsewhere.

“Let me guess,” Feliciano though he could take part of the game, “you’re from a rich noble family, where you were pampered excessively to the point that they didn’t even let you leave your mansion. In that seclusion you learned magic well and thus moving to the Spadian castle made no change, the only problem is dealing with a fiancé who is extremely outgoing and boisterous.” He held a smug that Arthur didn’t think he could utter, it was almost comedic.

“Actually, no,” he answered the very same way he did, with a chuckle and even sitting up to prepare for his explanation. Feliciano seemed really surprised about it. “I’m from…peasant background, from some forgotten village in the middle of nowhere in the English province in Spades. When I had been born with the mark, people constantly though that it was a fake placed by my mother, being a witch and all.” Arthur drank his tea calmly, the words seeming quite normal for him to tell, yet Feliciano stared on astonish, not expecting this at all. Arthur gave this ready air for royalty that Feliciano only saw in those of high class. There had been no hint of peasantry, not in his clothing, posture, and even looks.

“So, I was right about your learning magic in your household then."

“Precisely. The Kirklands in England are a known wizard family, one of nobility. Sadly, being a bastard strip that off from me, but my mother still made sure to give me teachings like any other in my father’s family, as well as conduct appropriate for any court. My magic was always the most important, a part of me as blood. When I came into the castle, my power was far more advanced than even my arising King and Jack’s. They had to get me the best wizards and witches in my kingdom to actually be my instructors since no one in the castle was fit enough.”

Feliciano was entranced, losing any interest in his half-finished coffee to only listen, leaning with his head on the palm of his hands with true interest. “I’ve never heard about the Aces choosing a bastard child as a Queen."

“The Aces never really care about anything but potential, which they seemed to have seen in me as they saw in you.” They both clinked their cups in worth. “But I refuse to see how they saw it in Alfred. You were right, he’s loud and boisterous and it has been one of my problems dealing with this new change. Three boys the King and Queen bared, two of them would have made perfect matches for a Queen, yet they chose the most misbehaved as my betrothed. I keep swearing it was only to test me.” All his satisfaction was gone, but an intentional anger that was ready to search for his king and strangle him upon that moment.

“Alfred can be pretty…eccentric, but he can be a gentleman.” At least from what he had remembered and he heard and read from letters. “Has he actually been a gentleman to you?” Feliciano up to him curiously as he finally finished his coffee.

To his surprise, Arthur went silent, a scowl shown, and for a moment Feliciano thought that indeed it was the treatment Arthur was not given…that was until the future Spadian Queen began to blush.

“So…he has?” Feliciano tried to understand.

“The goat has been trying to flirt with me ever since we first met.”

“Trying?”

“His advances I find horrendous and they only mock me.”

“But he’s…trying, I’m sure they can’t be that bad-”

“He once told me he wanted his dick held like I hold my wand early in the morning.” Okay it was horrible and Feliciano cringed at it.

“Uh…”

“It only gets worse,” Arthur retorted before he had to say more. “But I will admit, he has been trying to make my stay in the castle to my pleasure. In some cases he works excellently and other times he has…” he blushed, recalling something sweet, Feliciano could tell, “…done things for me that I can consider to be somehow romantic, but it’s not enough to erase what his family has done.”

That perked Feliciano’s interest, for there was something behind it that was much more than just the Spadian King’s explosive personality.

“What…have they done? If I may ask.” He didn’t want to sound too intrusive, but Arthur didn’t seem to mind, taking his breaths to prepare to tell him.

“It’s a situation going on in Spades that in mine and Alfred’s reign would be one of our main problems, probably in the rest of the kingdoms if things go as Spades is planning.” He set aside his tee cup and plates, all empty, no distractions or pauses for what he was to tell.

“Spades has always excelled in the use of magic, our wizards and witches renowned throughout the world. In fact, in the past, for many centuries, the very kingdom was governed by ancient enchanters, elves and tribal fairies, their laws creating the basis on how the kingdom works, is energized and depends on. Of course, that all changed when the line of Jones started and when humans began to grow in population to reach similarly like other kingdoms. Although the humans in Spades do possess their own kind of magic, it’s not as powerful as those of Hearts.”

It was true. Hearts’ elven and fairy populations were rather nonexistent, and if there were, they usually came from either Spades or Clubs. They did have plenty fantastical creatures like dragons, phoenixes, St. Mark lions, and griffins, which the humans easily adapted with and some say that they began to use magic from those animals’ influences. It made them powerful enough, immersed, and peaceful with their own magic that no other human in any of the rest of the kingdoms possessed.

“Humans in Spades could not confide in magic as others did, so they decided to make other things that could equate. They began with contraptions they built themselves, finding new fuels that didn’t depend on magic at all, so they wouldn’t need any help from us. The Aces kept choosing human rulers, who began to impose on these things more and more until the laws changed to their favor and other creatures began to value less in our society. Our positions were taken, we began to be mocked in the streets and even violence arose against us. Many moved away from the American province into the English or Chinese province, where they are more accepted and common, but it is still not enough, we all still find ridicule and hardships.”

Feliciano could see utter hurt in Arthur’s eyes, for it was his kind of people that were suffering, and he wanted nothing else than to hold his hand in comfort, but he didn’t know him enough to know how he could react to such contacts by practically a stranger.

“Alfred’s mother and our current Queen is a tribal fairy, and it surprises me that Alfred didn’t inherit any of her magic, but the usual power expected from a King. Still, he’s interested in a technological advancement as his ancestors had been and he’s pretty determined to make the expected heights, which will mean riding all kind of magic and loosing complete dependence of it. I thought I could convince him to change his mind, but he seems to always ignore me on the matter. I once overheard him talking to his father about destroying an old elven temple just so they could build a train base from our capital city to a hill top village in China, which only proves to me that Alfred would just be like any other who would ignore the needs of my kind,” he sigh and slumped in his chair, not wanting to show the dread that had been bothering him since his arising started, but it was hard when it was a heavy problem that always taunted him even on a vacation as this.

Feliciano watched him intently, expecting new words of confidence, but nothing else animated him again.

“Have you really tried talking to him about this?” He told him in ease.

“Like I said, he usually doesn’t pay enough attention.”

“Then make him,” Feliciano dared suggest. “Arthur, this has do with people who are suffering and are looking up to you for new hope. As the Queen, you should be just as imposing as Alfred. Demand for answers, create meetings, speak out, don’t let Alfred govern without your own voice.”

Arthur still remained silent, looking up to Feliciano with the same unaffected expression.

“I don’t know how I can reach that so easily,” he already sounded so defeated, but Feliciano was determined not to lay him in it for long.

He suddenly stood, the resolution seen obvious. Arthur was rather surprised from it. “Make Alfred realize that magic is needed! Right this very instant!” He pointed and swung, eager to get them going right back to the castle, forgetting the duties they still had in the very festival.

“He barely even uses his own, he won’t get it.”

“He’s King! He’s supposed to use it or else his body could get hurt!”

“He does what’s necessary so he doesn’t suffer the icing, doesn’t do a good job at it though. He’s only skillful when it comes to the use of weapons.” Arthur disliked it, as so did Feliciano.

“Have you seen him trained to really know?”

“Of course I have, usually our training is done together, as with every arising King and Queen.”

Feliciano went eerily silent.

“You…don’t train with Ludwig?”

Feliciano was embarrassed to admit he hadn’t.

“That’s…odd,” Arthur only dared say. He really wasn’t that knowledgeable in the Hearts Kingdom to understand what made the King and Jack separate their training.

“Have you at least seen him train?”

Feliciano now leaned his head down, flushed red from shame.

“Hm,” Arthur lay in though, leaning back once again in his chair. “Alfred was telling me last night about having a spar with Ludwig tomorrow in the early evening. Why don’t you come with me to watch?” He suggested.

Feliciano peeked up interested, but wondering if he should. He was rather skeptical about it, and part of him felt like there was a reason for this separation, but the curiosity got the better of him and he nodded to Arthur’s suggestion. He kept telling himself that it was only to see what Alfred knew of magic and to try and talk to him that evening about Arthur, not because he wanted to know to what extent Ludwig’s power had grown.

 

On the next day, Feliciano told Kiku that he would not be accompanying him with the working of the festival in favor of staying with Arthur at the castle. He didn’t specify for what, not sure on how Kiku would feel about it being the arising Jack and knowing more about how their power training was supposed to work. Kiku didn’t seem to question further, especially when he knew he would spend more time with Herakles alone. He dashed quickly out of the castle, leaving Feliciano wondering, thinking that perhaps Kiku was just really determined about the festival coming out perfectly.

He had his usual simple breakfast with Arthur, both conversing on history after Arthur witnessed a mural in the breakfast room. When the time came, they both made their way to the training room that Arthur had learned would be the one in which Alfred and Ludwig would duel. It was rather low to be led by the arising Queen of another kingdom through your own castle, but Feliciano had never been to this training ground, opposite on the other side of the castle from his own.

When they both arrived, a simple crowd had gathered in the upper level, a hardened net separating the onlookers, a protection from anything that could go awry from those who battled. They were all tense, eyes set straight on the occurrence, not seeming to notice the entrance of two arising Queens.

From the shouts, clash of weapons, and the occasional spark of magic, it seemed that Ludwig and Alfred had already begun. Feliciano and Arthur eased close, gentle as to not attract attention from anybody, and settled on the edges, holding to the railing of the balcony as they witnessed the battle like everybody else.

Both Ludwig and Alfred held their own swords, powerful and beautiful ones that had their own excessive decorations, showing their kingdom and their own person. It was obvious they were costumed just for them, made with mind of their power and movements, which moved along with them as if it was truly another extremity of their body. Their hold on it was familiar, knowing exactly where to hold to swing, to slash, to even throw in the air and be confident that it would come back to their hold securely.

Ludwig fought with great ferocity, fire burning in his eyes without the use of magic, powerful and even vengeful. To him, it didn’t seem at all like it was just a friendly challenge, but a battle to the death in some distant war torn field. Somehow Alfred remained content, a smile on his face as he defended well, with a tranquility knowing of the game they had settled it to be.

Soon enough, the desperation had hit Ludwig, as so he began to use more of his magic, rays of fire that shone splendidly like a fireworks show. Everyone in the crowd awed at them, ignoring their intent of hurt, as Ludwig did a wondrous move in which he took the remaining of the flare to attack once again, a more powerful flame than he had concocted at first. Feliciano’s face widened with great impression, his own eyes glowing with the color, stirred and with a pang of envy. He wished he could do something like that, flames growing and spreading like an array of spectacular paintings.

The grounds heated, one that even made Alfred sweat worryingly, but it still wasn’t enough for him to release the few magic he knew himself. It was becoming harder when Ludwig only grew vicious with his fire attacks, even letting his fingers glow in red with some burning intent, surely for if his own sword failed him. Alfred sigh defeated, he would have to use it then, holding Ludwig with a meet of metal, as he took his breaths to bring it forward. Once the exercise was done, his eyes glowed more dangerously blue, a smirk as a warning of what was coming, but it didn’t do anything to phase the burning fire in Ludwig.

Ludwig shone very handsomely with it, fitting to his power, stature and future kingship. Feliciano placed a hand on his chest as if to avoid his heart from beating too fast to escape, to settle it, to think to himself that it was only the agitation of the battle.

Frost appeared from Alfred’s breath and soon his own sword glowed in blue, a cold one that dimmed the heat and even made Ludwig pause, moving back before it got dangerous. Alfred began to get just as ferocious with his magic, a burning ice of blue that he swung rather carelessly around, which made it easier for Ludwig to avoid, an occasional amber field he created with beautiful intricate designs no matter its suddenness and how it was meant to not last. Still, it was possible to hold off Alfred’s attacks while he thought about what he could do.

“See what I mean,” Arthur commented to Feliciano, who was suddenly awakened by the hardened state he had on his arising King, forgetting the battle and the purpose of their visit being Alfred’s use of magic. He only nodded, but returned his vision back to Ludwig, who was flaring his own sword preparing for a harsh swing.

The shield was removed and he attacked on, and by sheer luck Alfred defended the blow with his icing one, mixing with a bit of his time manipulation to try and make Ludwig’s movements freeze. It was beginning to work, Ludwig’s left movements slowing down. Alfred was already laughing out his victory, unaware that Ludwig’s free right hand was beginning to grow with a scorching flame, dangerous, practically drowning the entire room in its red.

It was so beautiful and intense that Feliciano couldn’t help but stare deeply into it, the growing warmth mixing along with something within him. It showed in his eyes, coming alight in amber like it had done earlier, only more intense. Without Feliciano noticing, magic arose from himself and it mixed with the growing magic around the room, joining along with his other spiritual companion, until he subconsciously aided in the use of his power. Feliciano was not in control of how much he gave, but it was too much, too much for the arising King and his still defects. The burning became too much, until it pain, until it scorched, and soon enough everyone knew something was wrong when the smell that arose was that of burning skin.

Ludwig’s sword fell to the floor, he released an angry growl of pain, cringing forward and holding down to the hand that burned to try and ease it, but the agony continued. Alfred had stopped, easing close to try and help somehow. Everyone around them inched closer, whispers of concern growing.

“It’s odd for the prince to miss a spell like that.”

“This is different.”

“Something like this hasn’t happened since he was a child,” they said.

Arthur was meaning to ask Feliciano if he knew, but when he turned to him, Feliciano had a distant look, watching with concern to Ludwig, his eyes still continuing with its rare glow.

“Feliciano,” Arthur called slowly, placing a gentle hand on his shoulder to wake him from it. As soon as he did, the glow disappeared and his face took a more horrible expression when he truly noticed what was going on.

“Hurry, get some healers!” Alfred had called as he tried to help Ludwig, but he didn’t want to take it, beginning to stand on his own, his mind making easily the connections of what happened and meaning to deal with it that instant, not caring about the burning hand at the moment.

He looked among the crowds, his teachers, other servants and maids who liked to watch, and finally he let his eyes met with his arising Queen, and furiousness like the very burn in his body grew, enough for him to push Alfred aside and begin to move up to the balcony. His steps were harsh, instilling enough fear in everyone in his ways to move aside or even run away from the training grounds. It was a surprise Feliciano could still stay standing, facing him as if he was ready to take what he had for him, even if he was shaking and fearsome as the rest, even Arthur taking refuge behind him.

When he came close, Ludwig took Feliciano harshly by the shoulders with his unburned hand and dragged him away, to a room in the area that was usually meant for his teachers to discuss his training. It was messy and small and surely not the room he would have wished to do this in, but it was the closest and he wanted to get on with it immediately. He practically threw Feliciano into the room, closing the door harshly behind him and locking it tight, facing it.

“What were you doing here?” He asked ferociously, a tone that only made Feliciano move back, afraid that Ludwig was only there to tear him apart.

“A-Art-Arthur suggested it, he-he wanted me to see how A-Alfred used his power,” he told, easing the more back, but only meeting with a bookshelf. There was no more space to move.

“Was that really all?” He sounded exasperated.

“Well, I need to know, since I’m trying to help them.”

Ludwig took a breath and Feliciano hoped he calmed with it.

“Don’t meddle with things that are not of your kingdom, unless absolutely necessary.”

Although he was more relaxed, he still scolded him like a child, which annoyed Feliciano, and he decided to pretend he hadn’t heard him.

“Also,” he finally turned to him, and the earlier burn of his eyes returned, instigating fear once more, making his trembling begin and the diminishing of his standing, “Don’t you ever dare came to my practices or challenges again, unless the Jack or King says so. I though your trainers told you about this.”

“They-they didn’t.”

“I’m telling you now then." And he eased dangerously close, his head practically laying on his forehead, to make him truly understand his words of warning. “I don’t want you near my training grounds and I don’t even want to feel your presence anywhere near me when I’m using my power. You saw what can happen.”

Feliciano took a quick look to the tattered skin of his hand, parts still glimmering in hazing fire, yet Ludwig continued to stare down at him, indifferent to the pain now. He suddenly remembered how this used to happen to him constantly in the past, having to do with his early power activation. Ever since he came back to the castle, he hadn’t seen Ludwig go through any of those past exercises, relaxed and seeming masterful in his control now. Feliciano though the power had grown into his body throughout the missing years, especially with his heightened stature and broadness.

He was wrong.

It was probably still continuous, in some way he didn’t understand and no one had bothered to tell him as always, and this time it had been his own fault, a joining of their power that was still too much for his body to bear. Despite how angry Ludwig was with him at the moment, Feliciano felt hurt for him, wishing it could go back to the days when an embrace or a kiss were enough to calm him, enough to ease the pain away and settle with the healing in great smiles. Those times were gone, and all Feliciano could do was nod, slowly and still fearsome, wishing he could finally sit down and relax.

“I hope you understood.” Ludwig turned and left, unlocking the door and slamming it back in his leave.

Feliciano still lay in the room hesitating, for now liking the shelter it had turned to, away from the turmoil the castle would be in once they found out and while they tried healing the arising King.

Chapter Text

Feliciano awoke at a more reasonable hour, yet with a carefulness that was rather odd from him. Usually he would skip or run merrily down the halls, his presence obvious to any other who passed by him. But that morning, he tiptoed his way, hiding from any seeing eyes.

His main goal was to go unnoticed by Ludwig 

After the fear he went through the day before, he though the best thing was to avoid him all completely, unless in their shared room, where he had made sure to cocoon himself in his blankets. He was extra wary, even trying to overhear the steps and rustling around him, hoping every time it was just the rush of a maid. He had to be quicker if he wanted to meet with Alfred on time before he busied himself with something else. He was so close, so close- he halted completely when he could easily feel Ludwig’s presence from one of the opened rooms. He was pacing around as he read some scrolls, Feliciano reading determination in his expression, too preoccupied to notice if anyone passed, Feliciano hoped. As he turned to pick up another, Feliciano moved forward, quick yet gentile, like a feather. When he was far from the vicinity, he was relieved to finally take hardened steps, running with the familiarity everyone knew him with. He was just coming down a pair of stairs when he noticed the Prince of Spades, making his way to the breakfast room, Feliciano knew.

“Alfred!” He called with eager intent.

Alfred instantly stopped and perked, recognizing. “Hey!” He waved, turned and move towards him, meeting with the other just as he reached the base. “Just in time for breakfast! Come on, I heard the cooks are going to make a huge omelet just for me. I hope they stuff it with loads of cheese.” His mouth already watered at the image, but Feliciano though he was going to be nauseated.

“That be wonderful! We should have it by one of the balconies. It’s a beautiful morning, we have to make use of it.” Alfred didn’t mind at all and followed him forward.

Once the servants were told of their location, their food was brought, including Alfred’s abnormally large omelet, practically taking the whole table. Luckily Feliciano only had a cup of coffee and his usual croissant, finishing quickly and taking his time to analyze the view of the city from their heights, as well as Alfred, who continued on eating joyfully unaware. He waited until his plate was empty, which really didn’t take that long, a large burp announcing his pleasure.

“I should come here more often,” he commented.

Feliciano only chuckled, finishing his coffee and placing it on his empty plate to later be taken. “I was talking to Arthur yesterday,” he immediately started, which got a concern look from Alfred.

“Was it about that time I named a hole after him?” He panicked.

Feliciano’s expression instantly turned sour, the idea so awful he lost completely what he meant to say. “No! And don’t ever say something like that to him again!” Arthur was right to not tell him anymore of his advances.

“Yeah…I know, it’s…horrible,” he admitted, feeling embarrassed, hand rubbing on his arm, looking away so hopefully Feliciano wouldn’t see the shame in his eyes.

“Not exactly how I wanted to start this, but good enough. Alfred-" he got suddenly serious, yet with his ever present kindness that made it bearable to hear, that didn’t make him fear as Ludwig would have done, “-what is it that you truly feel about Arthur?”

It was a simple question, but Alfred felt a heaviness with it that didn’t calm at all the still shame that continued. Feliciano eagerly awaited an answer and the prince trembled with a childish blush, trying to move his hands as if to push himself to say something.

“He-he is my Queen, an epic romance should be expected.” His cockiness was brought back, but Feliciano could easily see the doubt, for he was still red and his eyes continued to wander.

“Has it been really?” He didn’t wanted to sound so harsh, with the same gentleness as ever, but no matter how he said it, it was still hurtful for Alfred to hear since it was a reminder.

The boast completely disappeared to a frown, a truthful expression that Feliciano knew would show in his words now. “He probably already told you that it hasn’t.”

“Why?”

“Because well,” he hated having to admit this, “I’m not so good with all this romantic stuff, I tend to fuck it up and make myself look like the biggest fool in the kingdom,” he groaned. “They don’t really teach you in the books how to deal with this."

“Do I know that!” He commented with a roll of his eyes. “But there’s something else you’re not telling me about.”

Alfred looked up rather innocently, having to search through his mind too long to the point that Feliciano couldn’t leave him waiting any longer. “The issue with your machinery advancements and magical folks,” he reminded, casting the spark just enough for Alfred to instantly connect. It was not a good reminder, for any dim light that emitted from him completely disappeared now.

“Oh…that, um…I know it looks bad, but hear me out okay," he was ready to defend, so Feliciano prepared himself to hear that exactly, begging for an answer with his pout and intense stare. Alfred never though he would see such an expression on him. He took a deep sigh, sat straight, ceased his nervousness and presented himself like he would to a court instead of a good friend.

“Look, I’m not as heartless about this as Arthur probably made you think. I truly care about this situation and want to do something, it’s just hard.”

“What is making it?”

“It’s …well, my family, the people, they all want this and have been trying to achieve it for years. I had already created some things myself and new ideas keep pouring into our waiting. To tell the truth, it’s what I also want. I enjoy this, it’s a great prosperity to our kingdom and the rest could soon be a part of it. I don’t want it to be so drastic for others, but how can I stop something that I’ve already worked so hard for," he tried to convince and Feliciano could truly feel fault, but he was not falling weak just yet.

“But have you stopped to think about Arthur? He’s part of that very group that depends heavily on magic. Do you know what that means to him?”

“He-he hasn’t talked to me about it.”

“He’s tried to, he told me so! If you would have, if you would understand, then maybe gaining his heart wouldn’t be this hard for you.”

The prince went silent, looking away, hands griping on the fabric of his pants.

“Alfred, you and Arthur are both unified leaders, thus your decisions should be just as unified, with a conscience of all inhabitants of your kingdom. I know you want this heavily, but truly think about the consequences, new solutions in which everyone can have what they want, excluding whatever your family thinks. It’s your ruling, your future, as well as your kingdom’s, not theirs only," he made clear, for a moment reminding himself of his mother. He sounded just like her, mixed well with the words he learned from Kiku that day when he had been groveling over the planning of the ball.

Silence settled for too long, and in the meantime, Feliciano though of something, thinking about their relationship mostly. “Tell you what, promise me that you will talk about this with Arthur seriously, and he has to tell me about it. If you do, I’ll help you in romancing him.” A smile came to Feliciano’s face that Alfred could easily trust, and for once in the conversation he actually smiled back. He nodded, albeit still doubtful, for he was nervous to address something so problematic in his kingdom, but he knew well that he had to if he wanted something that could please every inhabitant. But he would cross that bridge, for it was important to reach into Arthur’s own feelings, and with Feliciano’s help, he knew it could come out fruitful. He shook his hand and promised, and Feliciano knew he would keep it.

“All right, I have some time before I need to head off to work on festival preparations, so tell me, any idea of what kind of things Arthur likes?” It could be a good way to start.

“He’s Arthur, he likes a lot of things, but mostly his magic, and he’s really good at it. He has an addiction to tea and these weird cake things that I find pretty tasteless." He pulled a face reminding himself of it. “He likes to deal with the magic folk, being it from pixies to the most respectful of elves. He tends to get a load of things from them, even illegal stuff that used to belong to King Khaos or Queen Pisa. I have to admit he has a pretty impressive collection back at the castle, I doubt I could give him something so rare and powerful. Okay and uh….what else." He lay in more thought, scratching his chin as he continued to analyze him well in his mind.

“What kind of things do the creatures give him?” Feliciano though it could help, leaning close, interested in knowing himself for they sounded wonderful and utterly magical.

“Charms, necklaces, rare ingredients for his potions and spells, and books, loads of them.”

“Books? What kind?”

“Sometimes they’re old ones with ancient spells and information on the kingdom, but other times it’s just…stories."

“Stories?”

“Yeah, short ones or novel long the size of my face. You always see him with one in the castle and it’s sometimes hard to get his attention away from them.” He sounded clearly disappointed, for many times he had tried to impress him with his words or anything he had done at the moment only to be plainly ignored.

That was a lead they could take, and Feliciano was about to suggest it until he noticed the time in Alfred’s pocket watch, sitting upon the table. He was late.

He suddenly stood, breaking the calm that had settled, which was rare for the both of them. “Books! Got it! I suggest you start thinking about something that you could use from that! In the meantime, I have festival working. We can continue to talk about this through dinner.” He picked his red coat and headed off, only a wave and smile as a goodbye and he disappeared down the halls.

Feliciano had to pick some handbooks from one of their study rooms, reaching the room on his way and piling them up in his arms until he made sure he had all of them. He was ready to dash out to the new sun of the day when a shining blue glint from the spine of an unfamiliar book caught his attention. He stopped in his rush to stare towards it, captivated by its form, rich in blue and growing vines in the front with a tittle that read ‘The Gift of the Sapphire Rose’ rested on a design of what the tittle mentioned. It seemed crafted just for the view of it, too precious to even read. It took him a while but he finally recognized it as the book Arthur had brought with him, which he had excessively read ever since he arrived. He had been too distracted to notice its unique beauty, scolding himself for the book was so precious it even held jewels encrusted into it.

He looked about the halls in the vicinity, the very room, wondering. It wouldn’t hurt to borrow it. He could leaf through it only for today and place it back before Arthur noticed. Besides, he would surely get distracted with the hundreds of different Hearts Literature around them that would surely be completely new and interesting to him. Without another though, he took it quickly as it was just another in his pile of handbooks.

 

At the festival, after handing the handbooks to Herakles, he left him to simply watch the work around him in the tent. With the festival coming ever closer, there was more haste with the preparations, which meant that more work force was occurring, too much to simply pay attention to one of those many things. If something had gone wrong, then it was pass the flaps unnoticed to the arising Queen and surely some other worker would notice once anything was placed where it needed to be.

The blue book was still in his hold, looking at him from where it rested on his laps, tempting Feliciano to go with his reading. He really wasn’t doing anything of great importance. A little break like this shouldn’t be a problem.

Carefully he opened it, meeting with a beautiful drawing depicting the four Aces. It shone with glowing metallics, in all the distinguish colors of the kingdoms, easily showing which Ace was which. It seized his breath, having to touch the pages to feel the softness, proving that yes, someone had actually made something like this. Surely the product of the magical folk in Spades. He turned the page for another drawing, of a young angel who worked diligently for the Aces, pages showing all her kind of work, from sweeping, to cooking, even sewing. Each picture held the very same craft, continuous wonder that held the same shine, making Feliciano truly dive in this and even dim the sounds and movements around him.

Finally he met with a just as beautifully cursive writing, detailing the story of the presented pictures.

The girl’s name was Teresa, a lower angel that the Aces adored for her hard work, kindness and felicity that was always well liked in the castle, bringing much serenity to their heavens.

New pictures were presented, of another girl that Feliciano could already feel evil intent from, similar to the vibes he felt to those of King Khaos’s men. Her name was Elfrieda, who was very jealous of Teresa and wanted nothing than for her to fall in wickedness.

In the Aces' heaven, there were four door portals that granted the access from their world to that of what they had created, grandiose and explicitly drawn in the book, designed in bigger riches than any of their castles could reach. The only ones allowed entry were the very four Aces, the rest of the angels and creatures forbidden unless ordered by them.

Elfrieda used this to her advantage, and thus one day had opened the door portal that revealed the Spadian Kingdom. She gazed until she found a struggling old woman, creating a flood that would surely drown her. Elfrieda had told this to Teresa, and in her kindness, she had rushed forward and helped the woman, trespassing the portals and returning before the Aces could notice.

But the Aces knew, they could feel it, sadly without the knowledge of what Elfrieda had created. The evil angel had overheard the Aces talking of giving Teresa a chance if she admitted to her crime. Elfrieda told this to Teresa but instead she convinced the good angel to keep lying no matter how insisting they were to the question, and that is what she did.

The Aces, enraged and betrayed, vanished the angel to forgotten woods in Spades, where she lived alone, covered well by a wall of thorns placed upon by Elfrieda herself so no one could reach her. Teresa had wasted away there for years, her wails causing a haunting feeling through the forest that made many travelers weary from entering its vicinity.

Only but one knight dared to come close, curious and hoping that he could somehow bring comfort to the poor soul. He could only see small glimpses of her through the wall of thorns, conversing with her and trying to bring her whatever happiness he could. He began to fall for her, her words enamoring him enough to want her own affections somehow. She refused to, tainted by Elfrieda’s betrayal. Yet the knight was willing to prove himself and asked for any type of challenge to win her heart.

The challenge was to present her four flowers that were only available in the Aces’ grace. Gold lilacs, chamomiles of emerald, a ruby rose, and her favorite, a sapphire rose. It was not for vanity or for glory, but because she knew what it would take to create the spells for it, and if the knight could go through it, thus the ultimate proof of his love.

The knight went off, hoping to be lucky enough to find them or find magicians, elves, fairies or dwarves that could help him in creating them. He visited temples, read ancient scrolls, lived for weeks under magical influences, and managed to stay in castles in his studying. He traversed all four of the kingdoms, and in each he learned to create with his own energy the flowers, with added magic that would make them lively for centuries to come.

When he returned to the wall of thorns many months later, he came back a man of study and professionalism, known well throughout all four kingdoms for his dedication on getting these difficult flowers for a beloved. Teresa had given up her hope for him after he had taken so long, but he was finally there and through the few cracks she could see, he held an entire bouquet of the flowers she asked, but the biggest, being the hardest and her preferred stood well between everything, the sapphire roses. They were so beautiful that she dared move close to the thorns, touching and dreading such separation. Luckily the knight had learned powerful enough magic to pull out his sword and defeat the wall into pieces to the ground.

Finally they stood before each other, human and angel, fully to witness their distinct beauty, falling into their arms and declaring outmost love. It was one of the most beautiful pictures in the book, extending two pages with so many curved details and colors that Feliciano remained in it for minutes on. He only turned the page out of curiosity over what happened to the two lovers.

Pristine pictures of their wedding, of her human transformation and finally the birth of their girl, gifted with the mark as the coming King of Spades, Lianne Coy. Feliciano recognized that name from his history book and was surprised to know that this was the story of her conceiving, or perhaps just a legend created for the fancy of children. Angels or even Aces barely made contacts with those of their world, unless for maters of kinship choosing. It seemed extremely unlikely, but Feliciano wanted to believe as he leafed through it again.

He transported himself to the setting and a smile managed as he dared cast himself as the angel, adorned with wonderful white and red loose fabrics, wonderful golden crowns, and powerful wings like those of a St. Mark lion. He wondered to whom he could decide as his Knight, and very quickly the image of a Ludwig in the high king armors of their kingdom appeared on his mind, riding across different cities and villages finding the gifts to prove himself. It didn’t help when Feliciano had once received a very similar gift from him.

He groaned and scolded himself. Ludwig was not going to be that ideal.

As he rubbed his hand over his face as to erase the image, he caught Kiku approaching, standing out rather brightly between the hurdles of work.

Who could really ignore him when he wore a very bright red kimono, designed with beautiful flowers surely native of Japan. Was he wearing makeup? Did he smell perfume on him? This was all rather bizarre from the very simplistic man he had gotten to know in the last few months.

“Kiku?” He was rather shocked, but still as impressed.

Kiku looked seductive and alluring, surely catching the eyes of many in the tent. The closer he came, Feliciano began to notice a tint of red on his cheeks and a blissful look in his eyes and smile.

“Oh, Feliciano, I thought you were going to stay in the castle today.”

“I can’t let you deal with this all alone, but look at you,” he pointed with his hands obviously, to all the accessories that made him stand out. “You look like an expensive doll! Why? Did you audition for a pageant show or did some designers take you as a model?” He spun around him, noticing many more details of the kimono, showing him that it was rich, with silk and gold, surely meant for high balls than just as outing to the city, especially to work in a festival.

“No, I just…felt like wearing it.” The blush and the nervous smile made Feliciano question it, but he was distracted by the coming presence of Herakles to continue about it any longer.

He greeted him, expecting him to come with a new sort of job that he could do. He approached with hands behind his back, shyly and with redness similar to that of Kiku’s, eyes set on the Japanese man only, ignoring all completely Feliciano’s presence. Feliciano didn’t mind it when it gave him the chance to witness and see, both uncaring of their surroundings.

They remained silent, only communicating with a gaze of their eyes, smiles, and even a fidgeting of their postures. They seemed nervous to speak and Feliciano was close to pushing one of them to do so since it was getting agitating.

“Di-did you get what you needed to?” Kiku finally asked.

“I di-did, did I take too long?”

“Not-not at all.” He was still too nervous to continue speaking, reeling to himself, falling into calm before he continued to ask. “Wh-what is it that you wanted to give me?”

Herakles hands fidgeted behind his back, until he grew the courage to move them forward, revealing a large dull metal ring that surely he had picked from around the preparations.

Feliciano felt just as disappointed as Kiku, but then he approached, placing the ring over the arising Jack’s head. Under his breath he uttered enchantments and right by Feliciano’s eyes he watched as Herakles himself began to use the metal to bend into pink and red blossoms, grey leaves and little white buds, all around until an impressive flower crown was in its place, magnificent and imperial to match well with Kiku’s outfit, like a true King instead of a Jack. When it was done, his hand moved down his soft black locks, caressing the side of his face, Herakles with a look of devotion, Kiku with his gratitude and a smile unlike anything Feliciano had seen from him.

And that’s when Feliciano realized two things. Number one, Herakles and Kiku were surely head over heels for each other and now he had two couples that he had to help. Number two, he knew the perfect gift that Alfred could make for Arthur.

Chapter Text

Kiku still wore the crown proudly as Feliciano and he made their back to the castle. The arising Queen looked diminutive next to him and for once he enjoyed this ignorance to make his route much more comfortable. By the time they returned, many servants had stopped their work to ogle at Kiku, throwing him compliments and some even daring to throw him a kiss. Kiku took all of them kindly, but truth was that the only reaction he had wanted to see was Herakles's, and with it he got a magnificent crown that made his dress the more refine.

When Kiku and Feliciano entered the dining room, all were starting with the appetizers and they had stopped instantly once they saw how Kiku shone. Regally he took his chair, a plate instantly placed for him, and he began with eating with the same honor everyone saw him at that moment.

“Kiku, what is this?” Queen Louis asked with no malice but true curiosity. She was just as impressed as the rest.

“Surely your most prestige tailors in Japan made this,” Monika said, taking into her hand one of the long flowing ribbons.

“They did actually. Thought I would use it one day for a ball,” he admitted proudly to them.

“Why didn’t you wait?” Louis sounded very disappointed.

“It was sitting too long in my closet. I thought I could take it out for some fresh air,” he shrugged, seeming uncaring as he continued to dip vegetables in his tzatziki.

“You look wonderful,” Arthur complimented kindly.

“Thank you,” Kiku nodded to him.

“Was the crown made with it?” The Jack asked, spotting a slight difference in its coloring and presentation.

“No, it was actually-” and he began to blush as he caressed his arm with a gentle hand, that distant look in his eyes that Feliciano was beginning to distinguish. He chuckled against the pieces of salad as he brought it to his mouth. The Jack noticed it as well and instantly knew that there was something more to it.

“So, what is it?” He asked again, quite fretting over his answer.

It was odd for Kiku, it sounded too attentive and begging, and he didn’t know if he wanted to tell him about it.

“It was a gift,” he hoped it was a good enough answer.

“From who?” He still went on.

An intimidating aura settled above the dining room, one that even made the servants shaky as they introduced their main dish of pasta and tuna niçoise salad. Kiku settled on eating, but he could still feel his jack’s imposing glare on him. He was half way through his dish when he decided to answer, not liking all these stares on him when they should be eating themselves and not letting such a small thing bother them.

“Herakles Karpusi, one of the main organizers of the festival. He thought it would go well with what I was wearing, and I agreed.” He didn’t dare continue looking at him, trying to finish the plate to escape this as soon as possible.

“Other men don't create enchanted flower crowns for the Jack just because they want to play dress up,” he pointed.

Kiku was finished, pushing the dish aside ready to leave. Dessert wasn’t looking that good.

“It was only a small gift, there’s nothing wrong with it.”

“It is wrong when this person is obviously trying to romance the Jack of Hearts.”

Kiku blushed heavily before them all, proving easily what was happening and revealing Kiku’s clear feelings.

“What if he’s trying to? What if I accept it? I don’t think it should be a matter that we should be discussing here.”

“It should be, such a thing is not permitted,” he made clear with a high voice.

Feliciano lost interest in his food, looking up with a worried glance to his arising Jack, who easily faltered to the words.

“You’re wrong! I didn’t read about this in any book.”

“I’m afraid he is right Kiku,” Aldrich suddenly interrupted, with his usual kingly aura that made every word absolute. It only added to the growing fear inside the arising Jack, yet showing a stance of strength. The only thing that gave away to his sudden anguish was in the tight hold he gave his chair, Feliciano fearing he was soon to throw it either to the Jack or King.

“Why?” He at least wanted to know, braving himself for what he was about to hear.

“The Jack is to remain celibate to his position and power,” the Jack started.

“Many Jacks have married and bared children, some of those had even been born with King or Queen marks,” he retorted.

“Because it was decided by the past Jack and King, mostly for connections of wealth to the castle or alliances to another kingdom or new province."

“I thought that was more for prince and princesses without an Ace mark."

“The Jack will do just enough, in fact, he or she holds more power than a markless prince or princess. We have to keep you available for if the chance occurs, it could mean a great deal to the kingdom.” He sounded like it was simply a business transaction, stern in his glances, looking uncaring to the arising Jack, who grew just as stern but with flaring anger he did well to hide by keeping his gaze away.

“So I must maintain abstinence from relationships I want just so you can use me as a pawn,” he arose rather angrily, but still managing to keep his stillness, driving in whatever emotions would cause him to break down.

“You should only do what is best for your kingdom and you should be willing to make such sacrifices for the good of it.” A clear finish was stated and the Jack glared on hoping to not hear another word from his pupil.

Feliciano awaited Kiku’s next angry response, placing his hands on the table, ready to stand up and defend him. But no. In a mantra of breaths, Kiku relaxed enough, as if the words of the Jack did their spell of convincing.

“For the kingdom, I’ll do what is needed,” he resigned, to the proud smile of the Jack.

“I’m glad you understand it’s for the best.” And they let him go, as swiftly as a calming breeze. All of the anguish suddenly disappeared from his figure, like the conversation had never appeared and his heart hadn’t been hurt.

Feliciano couldn’t leave him like this, and he stood just as the echoes of the dining room doors came shut with his exit. He glared to all of them, blaming them for their rudeness and rushing off to comfort his friend in what he could. The others let him, knowing well that Feliciano really wouldn’t be able to change anything.

 

Feliciano couldn’t find him in any of the nearing halls, having to reach the ones of Kiku’s living quarters to find him.

“Kiku!” He called, stopping him before he shut himself into his room.

“What is it, Feliciano?” He feigned as if nothing had happened, trying to look annoyed that Feliciano was simply disturbing his coming sleep hours.

“Are you all right?” He asked.

“Quite."

“Don’t lie to me, Kiku! I’ve known you well enough to know when you’re feeling hurt,” he imposed.

Kiku only continued to fake neutrality, holding the door as if ready to smash it against his arising Queen’s face. “What do you expect to do?”

“Why don’t I stay with you for the night?”

Despite how much he wanted to continue showing this façade, he nodded, knowing it would work well to bring him ease for the turmoil only Feliciano saw.

“I’ll be right back!”

He rushed to get some things back in his room, doing well to ignore Ludwig’s questioning glares as he picked up blankets, pillows, clothes, music box, and then left.

Feliciano had felt rather giddy about this, remembering the days he had Ludwig staying over, nights of playing games, singing or talking on and on until dream overtook them. He had the sudden idea to suggest Kiku one of their many games to keep him happy, but once he arrived to the room, Kiku was unconcerned, preparing his bed as any other day. He removed his lovely kimono, all make up was washed away from his face, the perfumes disappeared, and the crown now lay at his short bedside table. Feliciano neared slowly, meaning to sleep in Kiku’s own mat, but it seemed he had separated it to give Feliciano his own spot. The blankets and pillows were so thin compared to his own that were heavy and overly decorated. Still he dropped them over his side and made himself comfortable, keeping a heavy eye on Kiku as he joined him, taking his own side, pretending he wanted to rest, but Feliciano could easily tell his distress. Kiku stared on to the ceiling above him, not even turning, like Feliciano wasn’t even there. The arising Queen stared on to him, expecting something, but Kiku remained as he was, until Feliciano decided to do something about it.

“Why didn’t you say anything?” He suddenly asked, trying to near for the response.

Kiku remained silent for another long moment, and Feliciano had wondered if he had even listened to him.

“There was nothing I could say,” Kiku breathed out, turning his head away, hoping that Feliciano though he’d go to rest, but his Queen was rather persistent.

“Of course you could have! You could have said-” he though it over, standing his upper body as he tried to maintain a continuing gaze with Kiku “-that it was none of their business.”

“I actually did say that."

“Then you could have told them to leave you alone! They can’t make you decide who you fall in love with, and they can’t give you away to some business marriage like that. You’re the Jack of Hearts, your worth more than some petty marriage just for extra funds, like we don’t have enough.” He rolled his eyes, looking over to the great riches they were already surrounded with. “You should have a say in it! Enough the Jack does for the kingdom! It shouldn’t be rewarded with a loveless marriage or none at all,” he insisted, leaning closer but being careful as to not get too close and risk being pushed away.

It managed to give Kiku a smile, but it was easily drifted the more Kiku gave it though.

He couldn’t dare disobey the Jack.

“It’s surely a heavy set law that we can’t do anything about, no matter our opinions. Leave it as it is, if we do, we’ll be going against something perhaps decided by the Aces.”

“The Aces wouldn’t do something like that,” Feliciano hoped, thinking about the very union they had accepted with him and Ludwig. The silence was settled by himself this time as he gazed over to his ring finger, where the mark was still present, a constant reminder.

The Aces would surely know what they were doing, there had to be a reason for all of this. He hid his hand as to not let his mind continue with the subject, staring alongside Kiku to the simple pink colored ceiling, trying to fill it in with the image of their words and thoughts.

“You like Herakles, right?” Feliciano questioned.

Another one of Kiku’s extended breaths, his gaze rummaging around the room as if trying to find a distinguishable answer to give Feliciano.

“I-I do, but I shouldn’t, now when I know it can hurt the kingdom." He turned to the other side rather embarrassed about his feelings.

“There’s nothing wrong about it. It’s wonderful, it’s beautiful, it’s something rare that you should have the chance to feel,” Feliciano defended. “I’m sure it’s really not going to do anything,”

“You can’t be too sure.”

“You know what, I will be, I’ll change it myself!” He decided, which got a panic stare from Kiku.

“Feliciano, don’t!”

“I’m serious! I’ll be sure to change that! I’ll research what I can tomorrow. One of the first things I’ll do in my reign is change that law.”

Kiku was getting too tired, his head was starting to hurt, the heartache continued and he needed rest from it all. He settled deep into the blankets, figure still, eyes now to the floor to keep him grounded to the coming sleep.

“Rest, Feliciano! Don’t waste time for my sake, think about the kingdom instead.” And not a peep was heard from him again for the night, no matter how Feliciano stared and kept on expecting.

With a tired sigh, the arising Queen had finally given up, turning as Kiku had done. He turned on his musical box and let it drift him into rest, dreams settling as it turned off by itself joining the silence of their sleep.

 

The castle was busy with its own preparations for the festival. A big light show was expected on the final day, as well as an orchestral presentation from the music hall at the very entrance, for all to come and listen. Feliciano paid no mind to the rushing servants and continued on with his goal. Kiku was dealing with the festival as per usual, Herakles coming himself, which Kiku didn’t even know how to feel about anymore, but worked on for the sake of the festival.

“Alfred!” Feliciano called, spotting him along one of their many halls, probably lost. “I got an idea!” He instantly said.

“To help me with Arthur?”

“Yes! Now come on, we have to start as soon as possible!” He pulled him by the hand and led him to one of the large study rooms, away from the commotion, with just enough peace to deal with this in tranquility.

As they went their way, Feliciano had told Alfred about the book, the tale, the pictures, all until they reached the room, Feliciano continuing on as he dropped books upon books on the very large table.

“Did you hear about the story before?” Feliciano asked as he searched through one of the high shelves, using a latter to move him around other spaces.

“It’s a common Spadian fairy tale. My mom used to read it to my brothers and I as children.” He picked one of the random books, leafing to see it was one specializing in creating gold, another was about flower forms, another about creation spells for simple beginners. “What does it have to do with Arthur? And what is it with these books?”

Just then Feliciano had found a book specifically about roses. He slide down the latter, almost tripping at the end, but ran forward to place it along with all the others, uncaring if he almost fell.

“You’re going to create that very bouquet!” He decided for him, now picking random books from the table, to see which would be best to start with.

“What? Are you kidding me? Feli, if I remember correctly, those flowers were created in gold, rubies, emeralds and sapphires!” He sounded terrified of the idea.

“Exactly!” Feliciano continued on excited.

“I though Arthur and I made you clear that my magic is horrible! I can’t possibly do something like that!” He was just about ready to take the books from him and place them back, to take the prospect away alongside with it.

“That’s the point! With it you’re going to prove you’re capable about learning magic just as you’re will be willing to help the magical folk of your kingdom! Arthur would surely love the effort and would be glad to give you a chance!” He was very confident about it, a glorious smile on his lip as he decided on a book specifically about creating flowers. It was not the type Feliciano wanted, but it would help them give them a good start.

“Here!” He presented the book, “we’ll start with creating a leaf!”

And their small training began, testing Feliciano’s patience for Alfred was more a mess with his magic than he had expected. He repeated the words wrongly, he moved his hands in too much of a hazard, and when he did create something, it came out wilted, cracked and brown. They wasted a good amount of minutes on just a leaf, but when Alfred finally achieved it, Feliciano gave in to applauses that were enough to drown the sounds of the door opening.

“Now, I think we should start with a simple lilac,” Feliciano decided.

“What are you two doing?” Came the startling voice of the arising King of Hearts.

Feliciano jumped and almost screamed.

“Oh hey, Lud! Feli is helping me out here with some magic,” he told him with good ease.

Feliciano wished he could have that instant calm whenever it came to dealing with Ludwig.

“I thought you weren’t interested,” Ludwig reminded, coming into the room.

“I thought I was too, but it’s all going to help for a gift I’m going to make for Arthur!”

“What kind of gift requires all this mess?” He pointed to all the opened and thrown books in the table.

“Golden lilacs, Emerald chamomiles, sapphire and ruby roses,” Alfred admitted.

“What?” Ludwig stared on incredulous, knowing well Alfred’s problem with his magic. He took blaming glances to Feliciano, but the arising Queen was ignorant to them. “What mess did you pull him into?”

“I’m only helping him, what is so wrong about that?” He moved past him and picked up another book to begin with another lesson. “It’s going to take us a lot of practice and a lot of time, so I would prefer if you left us alone immediately.” Feliciano didn’t even turn to him as he finally settled on a good lilac spell.

“Alone?” Ludwig suddenly questioned.

“Yes, alone. Is there a problem? Alfred is a good prince I can trust, there’s nothing to be worried about.” Feliciano glared to him with a quick glance, before pushing the book for Alfred to take and read. Alfred just shrugged, confused at the situation, switching his full attention on the book.

Feliciano waited patiently for Alfred to start trying and for Ludwig to finally leave. Yet Ludwig wouldn’t, taking questioning glances to just about everything in the room until he settled in one of the chairs. He pulled it and took his seat. “I’ll…be staying. You might need my help.”

Feliciano could obviously tell it was just an excuse to get him to stay, for such a reason he did not get. He rolled his eyes and quickly began with helping Alfred. He took a better grasp of the wording, but his movements were still wild, Feliciano having to hold him and better guide him, much to Ludwig’s annoyance.

After several tiring minutes, Alfred had finally managed a simple lilac. Feliciano applauded proudly, but Ludwig groaned heavily for all to hear.

“When do you need these for?” He asked.

Alfred began to think about it. “It be nice to have them by the end of the festival. It’s bound to be really romantic, with like, all the decorations and the music playing.”

It was rather cute for him to blush and smile at the imagery, which earned a loving chuckle from Feliciano. That did it to Ludwig, standing up and reaching closer to them, practically coming between Alfred and Feliciano. He took the book and closed right before them, throwing it over to the pile. “You will never make anything if you continue like this."

“Do you have better ideas?” Alfred asked. “Do you even know how to make these?”

“Actually, I do,” he admitted proudly.

“No kidding."

“Why don’t you show him, Feliciano?” He turned towards him and Feliciano grew rigid, not expecting for Ludwig to remind him of them, or even command him to fetch them. He called a maid to do so, rather embarrassed to hand those in once she did, letting Ludwig know he had actually brought them with him to Berlin, and had even kept them clean and intact, a clear sign that he had cared for them ever since Ludwig gifted them.

Ludwig let a sweet grin expose as he gazed to them, showing them to Alfred, who awed and held them carefully, knowing of the great wealth it held.

Feliciano couldn’t believe it, eyes freezing on that, if even small, beautiful smile. He grinned himself, blushing, rubbing both his arms to control this sudden growing heat.

It was only a small reaction, just smugness. He told himself to bring it down.

Alfred took one of the roses in the bouquet, falling more in wonder when it grew in his hands and turned even redder.

“This is incredible!” He complimented, taking other flowers of the bouquet to continue watching the same splendor. “Damn, how long did it take you to learn to do this?”

“Countless days with sleepless nights. I was seventeen but heavily determined. Still have the scars from the burns and cuts I had gotten, but I got the tricks from continuous reading."

“Wow, you must really love Feli to go through something like that for him.” He gave him a smug grin, to which Feliciano frowned, and to which Ludwig easily made the statement forgotten with a heavy cough, taking the flowers and placing them back in their golden box and handing them back to Feliciano.

“In the process, I learned a quick way to work on it, and create any kind of flower I so wished."

“Then come on! Tell me!” Alfred begged, in such a childish way that Ludwig was close to denying him.

“You’re lucky! In elder times people took months to create these.” He turned fully towards him to make it clear. “The spells kept being mastered until they found a clear component that made it instant.” He seemed rather embarrassed to have to admit it, but Alfred was never the patient person.

“So, what is it?” He asked forwardly, close to practically shaking Ludwig for it.

“It’s linked to emotions, the very energy of determination, and, dare I say it, love.”

Alfred actually fell upon hearing it, not seeming as convinced.

“Are you serious?” He seemed insulted.

“It’s just like using any other creation spell. Imagine them well in your head and let it appear, but it’s only more efficient if you connect it to your actual emotions.”

“Really, just like that?”

“It worked well enough for me."

“Then show me yourself.”

Ludwig groaned but agreed. To Feliciano’s surprise, Ludwig turned towards him, a sudden determination in his eyes that drove his own forward to that intense blue. Out of nowhere, Feliciano suddenly became a main focus, an only, a lover, and the arising Queen let himself be taken and mixed with the sudden appearance of deep emotions between them.

“Don’t use your power,” Ludwig suddenly warned, before taking deep breaths, closed his eyes momentarily and offered his empty hand to Feliciano.

He was confused, but then saw before him as a red light began to glow, Ludwig’s fingers seeming to sow energy around him, moving downward with a glowing creation of a simple rose. Feliciano was perplexed, staring with fascination, a gasp escaping once the creation was done.

A simple rose indeed, but with the petals made out of pure rubies, shinning like a true treasure to be showcased. Too beautiful it stood that Feliciano was rather intimidated to be so close to it, but Ludwig actually dared offer it. Feliciano looked up to him once again, his ever common strict, maddened and intense eyes, using a lot of force of his facial emotions so it could remain as so. It was unreadable to Feliciano and he could only understand that he was to hold it when Ludwig forced it upon his grip.

“See." He turned once again to Alfred.

“Got it!” He gave him a sure thump up, determined to learn it this way, but still kept the books. He was still confused about many things concerning creation spells and would need them.

“Very well, I assume you’ll finish quicker and deal with other business. Feliciano, you should be working with festival preparations as soon as you can. Kiku will need your help,” he ordered.

“Yes, your highness.” Feliciano even gave a bow as he had learned.

“Don’t fail me!” And with one last glare he turned to leave, door shut behind him, the ruby rose still in his Queen’s hold.

Awkward silenced reined above them as they stared on to the exit, both trying to believe what just occurred.

“You actually tell Ludwig ‘your highness’?” Alfred asked.

“…yeah,” Feliciano gazed down to the rose rather sweetly, finger tracing a soft petal.

“Right after he made you something like that?”

“Mhm.” Feliciano was too distracted with the flower to really elaborate on his answer.

“You Heartians are really weird,” Alfred commented before giving his full attention to a reading.

Feliciano stayed with a sway, looking like he was beginning a dance with the rose, a sudden high of feelings that made him forget easily any hurt that always arose whenever he was with Ludwig.

Nothing, he had continued to say to himself, but it was hard to say now when he had a wonderfully crafted ruby rose Ludwig made right before him, after he had explained how emotions played well into creating them. He could have just done it to get it over with, Feliciano a simple excuse, but his gaze returned to the flower and this time he kept telling himself: No, there really is something, there really is hope, a part of him must still feel love as he once had.

Chapter Text

“Guys! I fucked up!” Was the loud shout along with the sudden crash of their room door open that had awakened both Ludwig and Feliciano.

Despite how this was usually an hour that Ludwig would be waking up at, it was not the way he wished it to be, groaning along with Feliciano as they tried to sit up and clear their vision from sleep.

“What happened, Alfred?” Feliciano asked, tired voice, stretching and trying to focus his view to see where the hell the floor was.

“Please don’t tell me you had one of the cooks quit,” Ludwig said as he picked a long and loose white buttoned shirt that he had prepared for the day.

“No! But I think it’s best if you come along and see for yourselves!”

And so they did, still in their sleep wear for Alfred was insisted that they went that very moment. He led them forward to the room that had been his and Arthur’s room for their stay, tightly shut, Alfred hesitant to open it. Ludwig and Feliciano stood side by side as they waited, annoyed about Alfred reaching and retreating his hold from the doorknob.

“Please show us already,” Ludwig commanded.

“Okay, okay, but please, don’t react too loudly, Arthur hasn’t seen it yet.”

And finally he opened and pushed them all in, shutting it quickly and laying himself upon the door, barricading from letting others enter and see.

Ludwig and Feliciano had expected the worst: a burning fire, a vortex, or no room at all. Instead, they met with a burst of beautiful colors, all lively, decorated well around all the room in the form of large, very large, flowers. It didn’t stop at chamomiles, lilacs and roses, but there were daisies, sunflowers, lilies, and even orchids. Their petals glistened in many gems, intensified by the rays of the sun as it rose upon the room. It was as beautiful as a garden, even more so, Feliciano coming deep into the room as he took it all, rotating to take every detail, every new flower, not a space shown mercy from this attack. The scent was delightful and it was enough for Feliciano to think about asking the servants to bring a table so they could have breakfast here.

“What did you do?” Ludwig asked after he did his own gazing with the same wonder Feliciano held…but still, it was a huge extreme, there were flowers the size of the bed and there were even ones in the bathroom. It was still property damage!

“Okay so, I was practicing the creation spells, and I decided to follow your advice of mixing my emotions with it, but I think I really overdid it, and well." He expanded his arms to all around him.

“Alfred, it’s absolutely wonderful,” Feliciano complimented with his still awe.

“Well thanks, at least.” He still seemed pretty annoyed.

“No really, it is, it’s more than just some bouquet. Oh, I’m sure Arthur will love it!” He already skipped in his spot with excitement.

And suddenly Alfred found the liking, staring around him and finally realizing that this could indeed work. He managed to create an entire garden of jeweled flowers, bewitching, unlike anything the arising Queen of Spades had seen. A simple tea table with music from the festival would make it the ideal that would surely have Arthur falling and seeing that Alfred’s magic did have potential, as well as a sign of the coming peace he wanted between the people of their kingdom. He was starting to watch everything with the splendor Feliciano saw it in, for once feeling heavy pride lay over it. He created this, he created this fueled by his growing feelings for Arthur. How lovelier could it get? How more romantic?

“Um…” Ludwig suddenly interrupted.

“What is it?” Feliciano asked.

“Arthur is coming,” he warned, gazing down the hall from the door.

“No!” Alfred shouted.

“We can’t let him see this yet!” Feliciano defended.

“How do you expect to hide it? This is his room!”

“This is a big castle! We can give them another one!”

Before Ludwig could deny Feliciano, the arising Queen pushed them both out, shushing the door behind them tightly. It was easily suspicious for when Arthur arrived, who looked curiously expecting them to easily explain.

“Arthur! It’s such a lovely morning, isn’t it?” Feliciano distracted, coming close and taking his hands in a loving hold.

“It is."

“Wouldn’t you like to spend it with me helping with festival preparation!” Feliciano tried to convince him, beginning to move him away, but Arthur was stronger and easily turned back, swiftly away from the sudden hold Feliciano had on him.

“As lovely as that sounds right now, I would prefer to stay in my room for the rest of the morning. I’ll be sure to aid you once I’m done with my most recent book.”

“Ah, come on Artie, staying in there? Do some action and help Feli!” Alfred defended now the entrance, standing in his way.

“I’ve done enough action this morning practicing my spell as you should be doing as well,” he took the time to scold.

“Trust me, I’ve done enough,” Alfred whispered under his breath.

“What was that?” Arthur wanted to hear him clearly.

“Arthur,” Ludwig suddenly interrupted, a stance of order even in his sleep wear. “I have to agree with them, it’s a beautiful morning and it should be used for the best. We really need hands in the festival preparations, so we would greatly appreciate your presence and effort there.”

The sense of duty was just enough for Arthur to stand uncaring to the door, thinking it through and suddenly finding it very validating.

“I suppose you’re right,” he sigh, knowing that his rest would have to wait. This must be important enough to have even the arising King in his pajamas on his doorsteps.

“Great! Then come on, let’s have some breakfast so we can head off as soon as possible.” Alfred grabbed his own arising Queen by the arm and led him down the halls.

“I already had breakfast!”

“Then you’ll have some more!”

The hall echoed with their continuing bickering, Ludwig and Feliciano standing behind as they finally watched them take a turn and disappear. They both took a breath of relief, quite ready to fall down and take rest on those very floors. Sadly it was a time everyone in the castle expected them up, and so reluctantly they would have to start with the day.

“I’ll have servants work on what is needed to get them a new room,” Ludwig told Feliciano, then deciding to head off as well.

“Thanks,” Feliciano said before he kept on moving.

It halted the prince and he looked back puzzled. “For what?”

“For helping to stall so Arthur wouldn’t go in. I didn’t expect you would, so really thank you.”

And there was that smile, glowing along with the new rays of coming sun that came into the hall. Ludwig wanted to scold his heart for the sudden acceleration it took and he had turned away briskly before Feliciano noticed the dusting of red on his face.

“I don’t like meddling with such personal matters, but it is for the wellbeing of their kingdom. I only did what I little could do to help Alfred.” He nodded and truly this time went his way, not letting anything stop him with his plans for the day.

He left Feliciano alone to smile.

 

“-lassen Sie das Augusta Musik Festival beginnen!”

The voice echoed loudly in the square, with fireworks, drum rolls and even confetti exploding in its proclamation. Loud cheers followed, music began and the city became alive with more movement than usual, all to the dance of the festival that gave the surroundings a new glow, a wonderful one that Feliciano was glad he had the chance to look above it all from the large frontal balcony of the music hall.

He was requested to wear one of his rich wears for the day, a suit in silk velvet, embroidered in gold and silver with damasks of their kingdom. Seals, ribbons and even a red flower crown were added, showing off his status of arising, recent works and achievements. The rest of the royals were as equally dressed, along with the rest of the population, looking like another rich ball at the castle.

Once the initial crowds dispersed enough to create space, the King and Queen gave all the permission to go on ahead and enjoy as they wanted, and Feliciano wasted no time.

In the main music square, a presentation from the city orchestra played, a beautiful melody that halted many, even Feliciano to stare and listen, something so grand that it made him lost sight of what it was that he wanted to do. He stayed for the rest, already the stars and moon settling above them, but in no means had it meant that the festival was at calm.

Now…what was it that he was supposed to do?

As he gazed to the kiosks that were selling instruments, music sheets, books, snacks or other artisanal works of their kingdom, he found the presence of his arising King walking by those very stalls, gazing intently to all the items as if he was inspecting each and every one of them.

You had three types of reactions to Ludwig’s presence; there were the ones who bowed and greeted him kindly, to which the prince ignored or simply nodded to. There were those who were scared or intimidated, and would run pass without even letting their eyes meet. And finally there were the sellers, who were desperate for large amounts of gold from the prince, raising their prices and begging for him to take a look at whatever they had to offer.

Ludwig moved past them without a care, ignoring even if he was right in front of their stall. He was alone, no servant, friend or family member at his side. He didn’t strike conversation with anyone and moved rather soulless down the sidewalk. Feliciano didn’t want to leave him like this, he wanted to give him that company, he wanted to give him the chance to enjoy this festival as one would with family or friends. He found himself moving closer to him, both taking a look to the white silks the stall before them had. They were embroidered beautifully with flowers, treats, Hearts or other kingdom’s symbols.

“They’re lovely aren’t they,” Feliciano complimented gently, but it still startled the other, no matter the strict composure he tried to keep.

“Ye-yes they are,” he said back, although he avoided his gaze.

“Are you going to buy one?” Feliciano found himself asking.

Ludwig hesitated, “I-I’m not sure.”

Feliciano only hummed, taking his time to look around, but Ludwig’s eyes stayed where he last left them, obviously trying to avoid meeting with Feliciano. The arising Queen wanted to groan, but left him as he was.

“There’s some other market stalls in Emelrich square and down Vico street, if you’re interested.” He was still polite, smiling and hoping to…initiate something, but Ludwig refused to continue with anything else, much to the pain in his heart.

“All right,” was Ludwig’s only answer, taking one of the fabrics into his hands to touch, to keep distracting himself from staring to his arising Queen.

Feliciano, from the corner of his eyes spotted who he at first had been looking for, both the figures walking side by side, heading to one of the hidden squares where a band was meant to play something traditionally Greek. They spoke and although Herakles kept extending his hand as if expecting something from the arising Jack, Kiku refused it, looking elsewhere, pointing to something, forgetting of such a chance and continuing normally through the festival. Feliciano kept still, hoping that both wouldn’t notice him, which became easier when Ludwig was doing absolutely nothing and pretending like he wasn’t even there.

“I…I hope you continue to enjoy the festival, bye." He gave a sheepish wave and settled himself between the crowds, following the other couple to the hidden square. He only momentarily turned back to see Ludwig still stranded in the same place, with the same strong gaze on the fabric, although his hold became stronger, to the point that he had to drop it before it broke. He then continued another way, on no specific goal. Feliciano told himself to forget about it and ignore him, just as he had done, just as always, no matter gifts of ruby roses. He tried to clear his eyes and hold himself from any further sadness.

He was going to stay attentive to his mission.

The small square that Herakles and Kiku took as their hideaway was tight, but luckily only a few tables were prepared and only few took their seats waiting for the presentation to begin. Herakles and Kiku took a table for themselves in a good corner where they could forget of the large crowds, pretend they were alone and listen to some lovely music. Feliciano tried to make his way closer to them, as secretive as possible, trying to mend himself with the dark walls despite the bright reds, silvers and golds on his clothing. Some went on with their own conversations, but some spotted the arising Queen, staring incredulously and wondering what he was exactly doing. They didn’t question long enough or pointed directly for Herakles and Kiku to notice, luckily.

Feliciano settled himself behind a tall rose bush, away from the mess of people, close enough to hear the conversation clearly, and hide just perfectly. Away from the eyes of Herakles and Kiku he was, but not from the little girl who easily took notice of him. Feliciano spotted her and waved, recognizing her. Her eyes were enough to vocalize her curiousness, but Feliciano didn’t tell her more but to hush. He raised his finger comically to his mouth, and the girl did the same, as a sort of promise that she will remain quiet.

Feliciano then peeked to their conversation, about old clock towers, suggesting that they should have programmed them to play music for the duration of the festival. It was cut with the beginning of the show, traditional Greek folk music playing. It was created by a small band, just enough for the small stage, but the music was splendid. Even in his hiding spot, Feliciano found himself clapping along to it, Herakles and Kiku joined as well, compliments thrown. Herakles told Kiku that music similar to this was regularly played in his own island, hinting that he should come along to see it himself with him. Feliciano noticed Kiku blushed at the implications, but yet he remained quiet, ignorant to his words, to the advancements of his hands trying to reach his own, or even as it lay behind him on the chair. Kiku tried to move far from it, even if it was to his liking, even if he reddened, but he kept denying himself, a struggle that Herakles began to see. To better ail him, he began to stop, but Feliciano could tell he was getting hurt by it, wishing that there was something he could do for the person that at first had been so accepting about these approaches. Feliciano wished there was a way that he could push the situation for Kiku to fall into as he wanted, without the weight of his position holding him back. But the show was over soon, louds claps from the crowd, Herakles and Kiku’s weak, clearly a saddened couple compared to the rest who seemed energized and ready to see much more of the festival.

Kiku didn’t take the usual train back to the castle, but instead continued down the festival with Herakles, admiring some work an artist had placed, a small musical made by a pre-school group about a Grecian hero, and they had some drinks from those a cart was offering. They journeyed deeper and deeper until they found a lonely fountain they could take a rest on and finish their drink. It was silent and still, and Feliciano had to be careful that not even his breaths could be heard as he hid in one of the dark tunnels that led to it.

“These drinks are supposed to be warm,” Herakles commented as he finished his glass.

“Germans usually prefer this cold,” Kiku told him, not seeming to mind it.

“It’s not the same. When you come to Greece, you should have a real Tsipouro.”

Kiku didn’t respond and Herakles settled with watching the sky above them, disappointed by the lack of stars compared to other more rural areas of the kingdom.

“What’s the most you miss from Japan?” Herakles suddenly asked, a question that for once had Kiku really thinking about back to his own province.

He had been too busy dealing with his work in Germany to really think about the things he lost in his move. He tried to preserve what he could in his actions in the castle, his room, the food the cooks made for him, his clothing, and decorating even the Jack’s study in things he brought. But like the Tsipouro they drank, it wasn’t enough, and there were things that still remained with his family back in the island with no way to reciprocate in the mainland.

“We would be here all night if I started.”

Herakles laughed, leaning slightly closer, his hand meeting with Kiku in a slight touch.

“We have it,” he said, with a shine in his eyes that had Kiku’s breath faltering, staring into them as he tried to find the words for what he had asked. He had to shut his eyes, look about and let his mind order itself, yet his hand took a loving hold of the Greek’s hand, which had Herakles smirking, leaning and waiting for Kiku to start.

Kiku finally managed the words, going on with how he missed the blossom trees, the sound of footsteps across their kind of woodened floors, their kind of tranquility, his mother’s miso soups, rice and salmon, his father’s training, and even his collection of rich crafted katana swords.

“You collect katana swords?” Herakles said astounded, even Feliciano was surprised from his hidden corner.

“I do. I have always been interested in that kind of martial art we use with it. I am skilled with them as any warrior.”

Feliciano did not expect that from such a calm and composed man.

“Why didn’t you bring any? You could have taught me something!”

“My father said it was unbecoming for a Jack and insisted that they stayed back in Japan.”

“You’re the Jack of Hearts, you should have done what you wanted and brought them anyway! You have more power than your father could ever want!”

“He is still my father and I wished not to disobey him, and I don’t wish to disobey my position either. A Jack shouldn’t misuse of his position for the pleasure of himself.”

Herakles didn’t know how he could deny, thinking it over as he continued to gaze to the stars, noticing that Kiku hadn’t let go of his hand, now gentle, loving as they rubbed their fingers together.

“I haven’t known you for long, but from what I had gotten to, even if you were given a chance of full reign with no control over what you could do, I don’t think you would ever misuse it in such a way, you would still do what is best for your kingdom, but I think you should also find happiness for yourself. It is as needed as the King and Queen’s, and you should try to aim for it no matter.” He smiled and Kiku was glad that he had that kind outlook of himself, which earned him another grasp of their hands, even letting his other hand join in his hold, moving forward and inching them ever closer.

There was a dear look as they beheld each other, a beautiful place, quiet, romantic, a scene come alight before Feliciano. Kiku raised their hands and found himself kissing them and Herakles raised a hand to caress at the side of his hair and face, with its pull inching them both closer. Lost they were in their gazes that they didn’t even notice the proximity of their lips, breaths joining, Herakles’s hands now on the arising Jack’s arms and waist, Kiku’s on his lap.

Suddenly they became shaken, struck with a thought that pulled the arising Jack away, moving his head aside, breaking the magic that had suddenly formed between them. “I really…shouldn’t,” he whispered.

“Why not?” Herakles whispered back, as seductively waiting for a return of what they just had.

“I shouldn’t…disobey my position,” was his answer, serious composure returned, not giving another chance for the other, who had to nod, move back, and give him the space he wanted. “It’s late…I should be returning back to the castle.”

“Uh…yes, yes  of course, I’ll accompany until you wish.”

“Thank you.”

They began to stand and fix themselves, and that is when Feliciano decided to rush back himself before they caught him.

 

The festiveness had died down for the night as Feliciano made his return, to the somber and dark halls of night in the castle, as his thoughts as he continued to think about Kiku’s predicament.

How could the very person who gave him the push to disobey the Queen and make the last ball as his own, still be as imposing to himself as to deny such a chance of a beautiful romance because of an elder law? Why couldn’t Kiku fight against it? Why couldn’t he help him in his insisting to change this law once he was at command? He kept telling himself that he should really start reading books, pamphlets and old documents about this as he had earlier promised, but being distracted with Alfred and Arthur drove him away from it.

He should have expected royalty to be this hard, to be this imposing and reckoning no matter the feelings of the rulers. He hated how they had to succumb and accept, how they had to let it control their feelings, and how the rest of their personal lives were to be dictated by rituals and the same elder laws that cause Kiku’s current predicament, that bind Feliciano to what would perhaps be a loveless marriage, and a life of political seriousness and order that he had never felt he could fit into, not even with his grandfather’s past teachings or the ones he currently had with the Queen. It angered him, it saddened him, he wanted his steps to smash unto the palace tiles.

As he came closer to his room, a sudden melody he recognized stopped him, instantly working its usual magic of settling and serenity.

He knew it was the sound of his music box, but he knew well that it only played unless it was opened by himself. Did he leave it playing before he left to the festival? Was a servant listening perhaps? He only opened the door to his room slightly in suspicion, preparing his voice to scream for if it was an intruder.

The room was in its usual dim glow, only but a single light in the middle table between Ludwig and Feliciano’s bed, just enough for Ludwig as he held the small chest in his hands, looking to it with admirable care, but also with a broken expression that showed grieving sadness.

Feliciano didn’t know how to respond to this, he only stared on, thinking that he was surely in a dream, the ones in which he found himself moving closer in simple steps, wanting to offer him comfort, an embrace, a kiss. The image stayed, he could feel the warmth of the light, the song of the chest continuing and clear. Ludwig was so lost in the melody he didn’t notice as Feliciano reached the edge of their beds. Feliciano didn’t want to break his concentration, remaining silent and still, noticing that Ludwig’s face remained in the same expression, gentile and soft for once, all until it ended.

“You recognize the song don’t you?” Feliciano suddenly asked, greatly startling Ludwig as it had earlier done.

Ludwig jumped, throwing the chest midair. Luckily, he quickly held it back in his hold safely, as precious as Feliciano usually held it. Feliciano smiled, not even minding that Ludwig was actually taking seat in his own bed.

“It’s nice isn’t it?” Feliciano asked in his ever friendly manner, inviting and not at all minding of what he had caught Ludwig doing.

The arising King was still as alarmed, panicked, trying to find quick ways to calm and find an excuse, but he knew none would be sufficient enough. He was sitting on his arising Queen’s bed, the chest tight in his hands, and the song had been playing long enough for Feliciano to listen to as well. As a way to diverse the situation, he stood and threw over the chest to Feliciano, trying to pretend he was uncaring to it. But Feliciano saw as he turned back and arise with relief once he had seen that the other had caught it safely.

“It is nice,” he admitted, going to his side of the room, preparing to sleep. “Accept to be mine, if I’m not mistaken."

“Mhm, um…” Feliciano suddenly grew nervous, for Ludwig’s voice was still cold, and he was afraid that he would say something cruel if he continued. “It-It is, you have to remember it, we-we used to-”

“Sing and dance to it. I know. It used to be our song. Not a day passed that we didn’t keep people up at night or create messes as we took any floor to dance it on.” Ludwig wanted to laugh, but he held it in a breath, distracting himself by continuing to prepare the bed.

Sometimes Feliciano thought that he had completely forgotten about all that, so hearing this brought incredible warmth as he held the box unto his chest.

“I wish…” Feliciano found himself starting, his composure turning glum, eyes looking away to a distant memory. “I wish it could be like that again…” he finally let it out, trembling now as he watched Ludwig completely still, dropping the blankets on the bed, looking forward only to the ceiling or walls as if to hold himself from saying something.

“Do you know about Augusta?” He suddenly asked, not at all going with what Feliciano had just established.

It caught the other completely by surprise, thoughts then turning to the important figure. “Romulus’s wife, she’s one of my great grandmothers,” he answered surely.

“Is that all?” Ludwig turned to him, expecting to hear more.

Feliciano’s expression fell as he tried to recall something else other than the fact that Romulus loved her immensely, created the song with him, and there was a music festival going right now in her name. He flattened, feeling disappointed in himself for not knowing enough about one of his important ancestors. All they talked about in the Valenti household was about Romulus.

Ludwig sigh disappointedly, yet looked elsewhere in understanding, so he didn’t become as harsh as Feliciano was expecting.

“Just go to sleep,” he decided.

“But-”

“Go to sleep, Feliciano!” He was turned, on the bed, draped in his blankets before his arising Queen could say anything else.

Feliciano wanted to keep insisting, to the point that he was just about to shake Ludwig awake. But even turned and seeming asleep, Ludwig gave off this threatening aura that it was best Feliciano moved away from.

He went off to the closet to get his night clothes and later jumped on the bed to prepare his own way to sleep. The chest was still tight in his own hold, but for tonight he placed it over at the bedside table, forgotten for his thoughts were too busy with other things.

Why mention Augusta all of a sudden? Did she have to do with something? Feliciano was never really told anything else about her, but his mind roamed in curiosity of what she had been, of what she could mean.

Chapter Text

Feliciano wished he could go out with everybody else to the continuing days of the festival. The schedule was plentiful with an array of beautiful things, but he missed it all to spend it in the stuffiness of the Queen’s library and study room.

He leafed, he read, he threw, making messes that would get Louis scolding loudly and basically throwing him out, thus he would end at the Jack’s library and study room when the ruler was busy with the festival as well. He was more careful there, as to not leave any trace, but always bringing with him an old pamphlet here and there that he would read carefully through the nights.

He went through old marriage documents, of past Kings and Queens, and of course Jacks. In the process, he found out that King Romulus and Queen Augusta’s was on display in the castle in the Queen’s tower. He rushed to see it, the document brown, hazed, and ink slowly fading from the centuries it held. As he read, there was nothing there that could help him, but his eyes remained of what it said about Augusta. Just the same thing that most documents read: the contract, the vows, and their signatures as promise of the devotion they were to show. Augusta had her own peculiar signature as any other Queen, but nothing new, nothing he could take, nothing that could give him a hint. He turned and went back on his mission, completely ignoring a special symbol that had been imprinted on the document.

He put all the most important books and documents before him in a large table in one of the study rooms, a small notebook in his hands to write the things he had found out. Looking at how many they were, and what he was supposed to do, he tried to hold himself from getting a headache, and started with the notes he had gotten on the first line of books. In his search, he found out that most documents concerning an arranged marriage of a Jack and another dignitary stopped before the ruling of King Iolanda. Here, Feliciano found out that many of the people that the Jack married were of different backgrounds, from mere peasants to even prince or princesses from their kingdom or others. There was no contract of family members or past Kings and Queens uniting them. So what happened during King Iolanda’s reign that changed all that?

King Iolanda ruled three generations after Romulus, the kingdom still in reconstruction after the damages of the wars of the Blackened Decades. A lot of changes were brought over and because of those very wars that occurred centuries ago, their whole law set was changed in order to get the kingdom quickly back on its feet. That’s when he found the document binding the Jack of the time, Humbert Beutel, to a Clubian princess to start a strong trade between the kingdoms and a fix of the lands given to Clubs from the remains of the Dark Kingdom.

Those times were long over, and he knew from his apprenticeship to the Queen that the kingdom was doing excellently well without such strong unions to other Kingdoms. That’s when he remembered a special document signed well after the ends of the reconstruction, five generations after Romulus. Feliciano remembered being well taught about it by his grandfather. The actual document was in the Club Kingdom, but he was sure that a copy must be here in the Hearts Kingdom.

It was in the King’s library and study room, and Feliciano had gone a late night, quietly and quick, for he was in no ways accepted to be there unless he was finally crowned Queen, and even so he could only go in with special permission from the King. To his luck it hadn’t been lock, there was no presence in the room, but it had been dark to the point that Feliciano had to use a light spell to make his way and find it.

Like the Queen and Jack’s libraries and study rooms, many of the most important documents of the kingdom were hanged across the walls, but seeing as the King’s was the largest and the documents were much larger as well, it took a while for Feliciano to find it located on the third floor.

As old and rusted as the rest of the documents, it read many agreements of terminal trades or continuous ones, the taking of laws or adding, and other finalized things that settled a good reestablishment and peace between all four of the kingdoms, putting an end to the reconstruction. The signatures of all the rulers that had to do with it were as large, easily distracting one from the reading the smaller things that were imprinted.

Feliciano decided that he would look well for anything it said about the Jack, since so many things were written in tiny letters. He took a small latter to stand up and look as well as he wanted, still having to tiptoe whenever he had to read something that became smaller. Around the midsection he found a paragraph specifically meant for changes to occur to the Jack. From hence they were symbols of medical services in the kingdom, they insisted them to be present in the birth of heirs, there was a code for them to read having to do with their powers and Feliciano ignored the rest, until finally he got to one of the last points.

‘Arrange marriage laws are no longer necessary, yet the King or Queen is in charge of deciding whether to let it remain or be annulled’

Feliciano gave a celebrated whispered, “yes!” And a small little jump. He landed wrong and fell down to the floor creating a large echo in the room. Surely anyone who was close by was bound to hear and so Feliciano quickly picked himself up and ran out through another door, hoping he could find his way back to his room without getting lost in this new path of the castle.

 

With further investigation, Feliciano found out that most Kings and Queens remained with the law simply because of the extra riches they earned, and as they became more classists, to avoid marriages to those of lower status and letting them stay in the castle. It made no sense, since there was a vast record of Kings, Queens, and Jacks who were chosen yet as commoners. Romulus himself was an orphaned boy with no nobility background whatsoever.

They had enough riches, and ever since the last ball the castle had been more open about who could enter. There was no point to leave this law, and the Jack deserved his own choosing at who he or she could be with and marry.

Feliciano was decided, he had the papers, he had information, he would talk with Queen Louis to already begin making the proper process to annul the law to have it gone as soon as he took the throne.

 

Despite missing the entire festival, finding this information, and assuring Kiku’s happiness in one aspect of his life was well worth it. At least he would be there for the last day, where one last feast was to be presented right before the castle. He was obliged to come and he presented himself well with a red jacket ornamented in gold threadwork, the blouse underneath loose with a simple cravat, golden choker and necklaces, tight cream pants, and long black boots.

Kiku cooed once he saw him enter into his room just as he was finishing with his own preparations, his ever rich red robes crafted with beautiful golden and red symbols of his province. He wasn’t alone. The very Jack was in a corner dealing with some scrolls surely about some work Kiku would have to do as soon as the festival was over.

Perfect, he should know as well.

“Handsome as ever, Feliciano,” Kiku complimented.

“And you shine better than a diamond, Kiku,” Feliciano complimented as well, even offering a bow. Kiku chuckled but quickly requested that Feliciano stood again.

“I’m sure you’ll have Herakles swaying when he sees you.”

The Jack glared at Kiku momentarily from his inspections and Kiku tensed. “Feliciano, I don’t think now is the right time."

“Of course is the right time! It’s the last day of the festival, right before the castle, music from a wonderful orchestra, a beautiful starry night, banquets, fireworks. Oh, I wish I could be kissed in a night like this,” Feliciano dreamed.

Kiku blushed and Feliciano already knew it was because he got a clear image in his head from a certain Greek. “Feliciano,” Kiku groaned in between his teeth in a scold, not liking the heavy eyes of the Jack on him.

“Kiku, there’s nothing wrong with having a beautiful night with someone you desire.”

“It is wrong! I’m not supposed to!”

Feliciano hated the proud smirk the Jack wore at seeing Kiku finally admit it without any hesitation.

“Not anymore.” And in that moment he extended the long scroll that he had been holding behind his back.

Kiku was dubious about it, afraid to take it, of what it could have, of the discussion that could occur from it. With a shaking grasp he finally did, untying it and instantly beginning with his reading. The Jack, curious, stood and began to come close, hoping for a glimpse of what the scroll held.

The tittle, which read ‘Annulment of V. 48, Sec. 42, of the Heartian Jack Order’ was just enough.

“Would you care to explain?” The Jack told Feliciano, eager for quick responses instead of continuing to read as Kiku was doing.

“I dug a little in the marriage laws for the Jack, and found out a thing or two, especially after reading the end reconstruction agreement.” He stood proudly, with a powerful smile, making him look mighty for once, but still a delicateness that wasn’t at all intimidating or mocking. “I spoke with Queen Louis, and after showing my findings, we both agreed that arranged marriages of the Jack for more wealth to the crown are completely unnecessary. The original law was placed merely to aid in the reconstruction process after the war of the Darkened Decades.”

“It cannot be removed so easily, the law has remained for several centuries afterwards and it has served us well,” the Jack excused, Kiku having to move away to continue to read in relative peace.

“Actually it can. The very end of the reconstruction agreement says that it can be removed easily if the King or Queen decides.” Feliciano made emphasis when he mentioned his coming tittle. “Besides, it hasn’t really served well the Kingdom, it only adds more selfish riches to the Jack. Sadly the past Jacks had tried to convince their arising Jacks to accept it just so they could enjoy from whatever is left for them.”

It seemed like Feliciano was accusing the Jack, and he was not about to stand for it.

“You’re not even the Queen! You shouldn’t be putting or annulling laws yet!” He tried to defend himself weakly.

“Actually, I cannot sign or make them official yet, but I can go through the procedure,” he assured. “Queen Louis wanted to officiate it herself instantly, but I told her to leave it off for when I take the throne. It will be the first thing I pass!” He declared, just as Kiku looked up to them after finalizing his reading. “From now on, the King and Queen, or even the past Jack, are in no ways to interfere with the arising or current Jack’s marriage or relationship proposals. The Jack can be with whoever he or she wishes, to wed or to not,” Feliciano declared loudly, with the voice of a true Queen.

Kiku couldn’t hold it any longer; the smile, the rise of energy and he found himself doing something that he never thought he would ever do. With a shrill of joy, he jumped and took Feliciano into an uncommon embrace. Of course, Feliciano had no complaints or tried to even show his surprise. Instead, he enjoyed from the sweet moment, both laughing and twirling together like excited little children. The Jack only stared on as they spun on, afraid that they would trip or stumble onto something big and get hurt.

After several minutes they finally stopped, Kiku departing to look at Feliciano with the biggest smile the Jack had ever seen on him. “Oh, Feliciano, thank you, thank you, grazie, danke, arigato!” He shouted, kissing his hands, his cheeks, and taking him once again into his surprisingly strong arms. Feliciano returned it gladly, trying to make it just as powerful.

Really, they should hug each other like this more often.

They were interrupted from with a sudden knock at the door. A maid peeked her head in, bowing to them. “Your highnesses, the King and Queen have requested for your presence.”

Kiku had never been more excited to go, more excited to meet with Herakles, and he was close from dragging both Feliciano and the Jack out alongside him.

“We’ll be right there,” Feliciano told her.

She left, and Feliciano and Kiku used one last moment before a mirror to check that everything had been all right after their great embrace. They left before the Jack could say anything else. They weren’t going to let him continue to defend himself and ruin their last day of the festival.

As they hurriedly made their way down the halls, they met just in time with Alfred and Arthur making their way up.

“Aren’t you both going to the festival?” Kiku questioned.

“For some reason he wants to take me elsewhere,” Arthur told seeming annoyed by it.

Feliciano hid his chuckle, knowing perfectly well.

“I assure you, you’re going to love it."

“I better if I’m missing the festival for this.”

“Trust me Arthur, you will,” Feliciano helped assure.

It got a curious gaze from Arthur, but Alfred was pulling him forward quicker down the hall before he could ask.

“What are they going to do?” Kiku asked once they disappeared.

“It doesn’t matter, we should be getting to the festival instead,” Feliciano distracted, letting both continue as they had earlier.

 

The festival was at its heights. Everyone who couldn’t during the week came, busying the streets even more and bringing it with more splendor as they all came out with their best wear. There was so much activity and movement, a song to hear, a dance to join, food to have, games to play, that absolutely no one had an excuse to just stand and watch.

The commotion was too much that Feliciano had easily lost Kiku in the crowd, and he let him to meet up with Herakles, to do as he wished without the weight of what it meant to his title. It made Feliciano feel rather self-conscious of the fact that he was alone, and at this point he was rather desperate for a dance, willing to take anyone as his partner.

There was space just before the stage that held the main orchestra, the very one which the King and Queen enjoyed from and other dignitaries from the castle. As he searched for any maid or servant he knew, his eyes still landed on the lone figure of the prince, enjoying from a drink by the sides as he watched his own parents and grandparents enjoy in the array of couples that swung to the music. As usual, he looked bored, unimpressed, probably wanting this to end already.

Feliciano wasn’t going to on his watch.

With unknown bravery, he came close and greeted with a: “Well, you’re the most cheerful face here.”

Ludwig didn’t laugh, he gave a small glare, emptying his drink and thinking of taking another one. “And you seem to have nothing else to do,” he commented.

“So do you. Are you really planning on staying here for the rest of the night?” Feliciano smiled rather kindly still.

“What else could I do? I lack the abilities to do about anything having to do with a music festival.”

“You can still try.”

“Try to what?”

Feliciano gazed rather intently to the beautiful couples laughing as they extended and grazed their way across the floor.

“You can try to dance with me,” he suggested with a smirk.

Ludwig almost choked on his new drink. “I rather not,” he said quickly, hoping that Feliciano hadn’t notice the beer running down his mouth.

“Is it because it’s me-”

“It’s because we shouldn’t!”

“I think we should!” He took his drink and gave it to some server to take away, quickly using both his hand to pull him forward to the spinning crowd.

For some reason Ludwig was weak on trying to pull himself away, and by the time they reached the center of the space, Ludwig had given up and settled with Feliciano’s sudden wanting in this. He was nervous to the point that Feliciano could feel him shaking in his hold. He was suddenly unsure as to where to put his hands, where to look, where to even stand, nothing like how he danced with him in the last ball. Then again, he had probably practiced define steps just for it, just to impress and deal with what was required of him for the night. But now he was outside at a festival, taken suddenly with cheery and casual music that was just wrong to dance in a simple waltz. It had been so long ago since the last time he actually did this properly, and he had a panicked expression, just like the ones he used to take as a kid. Yet there was Feliciano, with his ever calm, with his ever beautiful smile, welcoming even to his paralyzed stature. Noticing how Ludwig turned, he soothed him with his hands over his arms, massaging them slightly until he came to a still. Feliciano helped him place one hand on his waist, the other in the grasp of his free hand that didn’t rest on his shoulder.

“Breath,” he told him, and like the command of a spell Ludwig began his usual mantra until he began to ease. “Focus on the music, focus on me, don’t be bothered if it’s bad or not, just enjoy it.” And with a confident smile, Feliciano lead them into the melody of the music, into the harmony of the festive crowd, to an exciting dance that didn’t hold the spite and anger of their last.

It wasn’t the best one, as Ludwig still turned shaky and grew very shy to let their eyes meet, but it was still nice, it was still a fine way to enjoy from the music and spend their time together.

 

As Alfred and Arthur had gotten closer, Alfred decided to place his hands over Arthur’s eyes, much to his annoyance.

“Alfred, I know we’re in front of our first room here,” he managed to notice on their way.

“It is, but there’s something in it I want you to see, something I made myself…for you.”

Arthur didn’t let a word escape, but Alfred could feel his sudden heat, and with a glimpse he could see that he was blushing. Arthur took a deep breath to remove it before Alfred could continue to stare.

“Keep your eyes closed.” Alfred trusted that he wouldn’t as he let go to open the doors, returning them to guide him into coming in. He made sure the doors were closed behind them and that all the extra preparations he had in the room were just as he had left them. “All right, you can look now,” he finally said and Arthur did it slowly, to be able to get some time to prepare himself on how to react.

No time would be enough for this sudden bombing of colors, for this sudden shine, for this beauty. He had to place a hand upon his chest to calm his breathing, to not be overwhelmed by so much in a single instant.

“What-what, what is this?” Arthur asked as he came closer, then noticing the table that was prepared already with food, the windows and balcony doors open to let air dance around the room along with the aroma. Music drifted in, and the night was starry and clear to add to the shine of the flowers, for the very jewels to try and twinkle along with the sky.

“I-I I made it,” he declared.

Arthur came near to one of the many sapphire roses, feeling it true in his touch, proving to him that it was real, and from the sense he got in the room, it was magic induced.

“You-you did? No, you-you- Feliciano and Ludwig must have helped you!” Alfred couldn’t have obtained that ability so easily. He knew how bad his magic was.

“I swear, I swear, I did,” he pleaded. “Feliciano and Ludwig did give me some help, some pointers, some advice, but all of this was by my hand and magic.” With the bravery he had prepared for this, he took his hands in his, tightly as to get Arthur focused on his words, on his truth.

“But…how?”

“Well…actually reading,” he chuckled, “and practicing, and focusing, and all these other things you always told me about, but I was an idiot to listen to.”

Arthur grinned, mostly because he liked hearing him admit that he should have listened to him.

“And…uh…” he grew nervous to say. He looked away, not standing to see Arthur’s eyes shine in a green as magical and jewel-like as the rest of the flowers they were surrounded with. But Arthur kept trying to pull him in, with magic in his eyes, one Alfred couldn’t refuse any longer, reeling himself back in it and dedicating to say the words that instant. “My-my feelings for you!” He finally admitted.

“Feelings?”

“You-you know, emotions power one’s magic, and being the arising King and all, well it kind of, doubled, and we got this, and I made this with mind on you and what you wanted and that story you’re always reading, and I had to get Ludwig to get us a new room and I was so excited for today cause I wanted to show you that I can also use magic and that-”

“Alfred, breathe, dear.”

Alfred didn’t know how when Arthur just eased him with that very sweet endearment in his enchanting accent.

“Okay, breathing.” He did so very heavily.

Arthur had to roll his eyes, but he came close, wrapping his arms around his neck and looking up to his future King with a dream state in his eyes that made Alfred wonder for a moment if he was actually dreaming.

“Relax,” Arthur told him once more, hands rubbing on his back and neck where they wrapped.

Alfred fell towards it until his breathing regulated, and he could finally look up to him to continue to say what he wanted. “I’m sorry I didn’t show properly how I really want to help our kingdom. It was just hard to when all I’ve been taught is to think uncaring to those who are not of my kind. But I’m going to change that, you’re going to change that as well, and I am going to give you all the help and voice you need to make it happen," he promised with true potential in his eyes. He leaned and placed a gentle kiss upon his forehead, taking in the blissful scent of his hair. “The Aces surely chose you to qualm the tension between the people in our kingdom, and that we will do, and I’m willing to start as soon as we return to Spades.” Arthur looked up to him, seeing the shine of determination in his eyes, in his expression, in the hold he took of his waist. “I want to be a proper King to you.” He leaned to lay his forehead with his, their breaths mingling in the temptation of closeness, but instead of giving in, they instead started in the sway of music that played loudly enough for them to move with.

They danced like they would in any ballroom, yet with a closeness not allowed into any publicity of a feast. They messed their steps, they laughed, Arthur pointed to a flower here and there, hoping he would be able to take one back to Spades. For once he enjoyed a moment with Alfred, for once he made him blush proudly to show, laugh and even his heart race without some awful pick up line or some embarrassing act. He liked this new Alfred he danced with, one with promise as to what was to come in their soon coming reign. In a single night he learned to see that he could confide in him, and that he could trust in what their relationship could turn out to be. To begin that, in a moment of a close hold, Arthur placed his lips upon his arising King’s, and it was just like the magic that Alfred tended to tie with Arthur. He kissed back, hands rubbing against the back of his neck or threading throughout his hair to make him remain there, to remain infinite in that moment.

 

Feliciano dragged Ludwig on their continuous dance far longer than the arising King had hoped. Yet, he still did not try to escape, he did not voice any halts, and Feliciano was actually starting to feel him become tight in his hold on him, which only proved to him more that a silent part of him wanted this to continue all the way until the orchestra would leave. No matter his nervousness, his fear, or trembling, Feliciano would sometimes catch him smiling as he realized he had gotten a certain move right.

Kiku had stared at this rather incredulously, having to rub his eyes and pinch himself to make sure he was actually seeing Ludwig dance casually with Feliciano. His sternness for a moment seemed erased and he was gentile, even enjoying it, confident in the hold he had of his arising Queen. He didn’t see angry glares between them, and their mouths didn’t word hate. There were only grins and amusement, and they continued to enjoy from it as the orchestra continued to play.

Both Herakles and Kiku were just as taken by the rhythm, and they let themselves be caressed into it just as the rest of the couples that had been participant of it. Feliciano met with them in a moment they passed by each other in a dash. They both smiled at him, of ever going thanks, of clear gratitude that they could have showed in another embrace if the arising Queen hadn’t been so busy with his own partner. Feliciano only winked to them in welcome before he dragged Ludwig to another corner just as the music had them.

By the time the orchestra finished for some last words from the King and Queen for the night, all the dancers were exhausted, looking for drinks to cool them or settling their breaths along with the King and Queen’s speech. Ludwig was finally free, Feliciano giving him the space he wanted at the beginning. He looked to be in a daze, shaken by the moment and trying to find a way to place himself back in his reality. Feliciano could have laughed loud enough to dim out the words of the King and Queen.

They spoke loudly about congratulations to how excellently well the festival had come out, thanking every single one who had given a hand to create the masterpiece. When they had finished, all who were present applauded to those very men and women that made it possible, such figures bowing in thanks to the crowd. Herakles was one of them, who also ushered for Kiku to do the same, as Feliciano had done, even if his own help was small and only there for the beginning.

He suddenly thought of Alfred and Arthur, who he hoped were having a time of wonder up in the flowered room, where he looked up to, to the far balcony he knew they were in. He smiled as if they could see him in his proudness.

He was alarmed suddenly by the lighting of fireworks, bringing the sky alight in shine, in colors and forms that gained more hollers and claps from the crowd below who watched splendidly. The crowd was distracted solely on them, even Ludwig, but it wasn’t enough for Feliciano to evade the sight of how Herakles took Kiku’s jaw in a slow caress, to his eyes, to his lips, reflecting the lights of the sprinkling sky. With the loud boom of the biggest one, they met in their first kiss, any sound or presence forgotten as they mended with each other in the play and softness of their lips. Feliciano smiled, feeling accomplished in the double mission he had set for himself, yet he grew saddened that he had no one to share such an ending with. He looked hopeful to Ludwig, who stared to the show with a normalized expression, back to his uncaringness, back to their coldness.

If he was expecting something that moment, he was definitely not getting it.

Chapter Text

Feliciano thought that things now had a chance to change.

Ludwig had shown to be jealous when others came too close to him. He had given him a ruby rose, which was made by a magic that needed specific power from your emotions and feelings towards a person. He caught him listening to his music box, and their last dance was actually one that he knew both of them had enjoyed.

Feliciano thought he had seen him finally crack an opening, he thought their relationship could progress, he thought there was high hope and something new to grow between them. But in the coming two months, it had been like none of that had happened.

Ludwig seemed to be trying harder to keep his cold composure, to ignore him the more, to be angrily commanding, scolding over any little manner, and more insisting than ever that Feliciano was calling him ‘your highness’. Those two words were beginning to be the two most he hated, a great spite in his tone whenever he mentioned them that even the servants would notice when he spoke. Every time they were together, everyone feared an argument would arise, that Ludwig would do or say something that Feliciano wouldn’t be able to take and shove their dinner on his face and head.

The entire castle made sure that no dangerous weapons were at their vicinity lately, but then they would remember that they still had their powerful magic. They just hoped they wouldn’t awake one morning to find the castle burned to a crisp because the arising King and Queen couldn’t handle one of their recent quarrels.

Six months in the castle and in no way did it seem that Ludwig was any near to becoming the husband Feliciano had hoped for.

With only six months left for his coronation, he had been given heavy loads of work, getting more and more used to the schedule and laboring of a Queen. It didn’t help when Ludwig was not being helpful at all, commenting on the slightest thing he was doing wrong and talking down at him as if he was just another mere servant in the castle or even a lost child that even with six months of experience did not understand what he was doing.

No, even the servants in the castle and the children were treated better than this.

Another ball was being prepared, and Feliciano was grateful for it. A ball to distract him, to relax, and to hopefully spend as much time away from Ludwig with the good friends he had made in the city. He had hoped to help Queen Louis with the preparations, so he had come to the study room with great excitement, just as she was working on special invitations. They were stamped with some high seals with directions to the other kingdoms.

“Who are those for?” Feliciano had asked, as he took one and saw a symbol Heartians gave to those of Diamonds.

“For the other Kings and Queens, or arising ones. Their presence is usually required in these kinds of balls,” she said as she moved about checking papers, signing and organizing.

“What kind of ball is this going to be?” He asked, hoping to catch a peek with the papers she was working on.

She picked them up, stood and moved elsewhere before he could see. She gave out a teasing smirk, a playful look in her eyes as she thought about the best way she could hint this. “It’s a surprise for you, dear,” she decided with, moving to get some things from one of the book shelves.

“But if I’m going to help you, shouldn’t I know?”

“Definitely not!” She scolded, Feliciano thinking that she was to hit him with a scroll she had just picked up. “Feliciano, the last ball you made was absolutely wonderful, but this particular one should be completely under my hand. It’s the last one I’m organizing before I step down.” She saddened and Feliciano instantly understood. He just wished he could comfort her with a hug, but she was so insisting with her current working that she didn’t give him the space or even the time.

“Is there anything I can still do?”

She thought about it for some time before she decided. She took out two envelopes, one meant to be sent to Italy, the other to Iberia, and handed it to the young Queen. “You’ll be happy to know that your family is invited to come, so why don’t you find messengers to deliver these and I’ll let you decide which room they can stay in for their visit.”

It indeed made him excited, instantly a smile sprouting into his face, jumping with thrill as he took the envelopes with the directions to his old home and Antonio and Lovino’s house. Feliciano had missed them dearly.

“This makes me more than happy! I’ll send them immediately and choose the rooms right now.” He dashed out of the room like a hyper child, earning a chuckle from the Queen.

With him gone, now she could send the commands for the ballroom that was to be chosen, and that was the finest in the castle, the one with the glass dome.

 

Feliciano had separated three rooms, and just before the Queen decided on the ones meant for the other royals that were to come. He had been too enthusiastic with his family’s visit to question the visit of other royals, to question the heavy preparations that started for the ball, more so than the last one he had made. Servants were hurrying and nervous with great action just the day before it, just the days the Valenti were set to arrive. Feliciano had to hurry his way down through loads of servants carrying heavy items, cleaning, and even adorning the castle with new banners and flags. His interest was vague, it was practically nonexistent to this excessive decorating, just as the simple way he was dressed, which as he thought about longer, would get him a scold from his grandfather and mother. But he didn’t care, they could pretty much disown him if they wanted, but he just wanted to see them again, wanted to hug them, kiss them, speak, eat and drink, and somehow be given the time they had taken away from each other.

He skipped and jumped to make his way faster, arriving to the entrance just as they were arriving. Servants were already there to help with the luggage the coach had brought, and were currently trying to convince Renata that she didn’t need to help them. She was a guest to the royal castle and should be treated as such, but the woman kept insisting.

“Mamma!” Feliciano called.

Whatever discussion she had with the servants dropped all completely.

“Mio bambino bello!” She called practically on the brink of tears.

They both ran to each other and crashed into a hard embrace, that was filled of cuddling, of kisses, of arms cradling the other, swinging, and seeming never ending. The servants, who had never met Renata before, stared dumbfounded at the incredible likeliness she had to the arising Queen. They continued to fill the air with laughter and speed talking Italian filled with countless endearments, of I miss you and you look absolutely stunning. They only detached each other when Antonio and Lovino came close, who Feliciano jumped on just as he had done to his mother. The little group of only four was already talkative, seeming to rush their experience of six months in a wording of seconds. They just continued to impress the servants more and they had almost forgotten about the two figures that were still left in the coach.

A heavy groan from one of them was the only voice that managed to interrupt this loud reunion, Feliciano instantly recognizing it and running over to greet it. He stopped midway when he noticed the way this person coughed, how he needed his father’s help to get down, how he bended and it seemed a great effort to just stand as the proud soldier he had once been.

“Feliciano!” He still wanted to greet as strongly as ever, opening his arms to him and expecting his crashing.

A gaze from his father told him that he shouldn’t be as aggressive with it, but Feliciano couldn’t help it, not when Augusto's arms became just as tightening, as familiar, a chest that he could cradle into and hope he could be strong enough to not let tears stain his nice vest.

He had only been away for six months, it shouldn’t be enough for his grandfather to look the age he actually was, for him to suddenly look so sickened. What had happened? He wondered, detaching to look into his same golden brown eyes, the same smile, the same life no matter, that were just like his own.

“Mi sei mancato così tanto!” Feliciano told him, bringing him to another embrace, this time his walls not strong enough to let out the whimpering, the small tears that reached his eyes.

“Non piangere! Non piangere! Mio bambino, non piangere!” He caressed his hair and back, cradling him like he was still that small baby from long ago.

They all turned to give Feliciano a pat and a close watch that Augusto could continue to hold him without the problem of his weight. Distracted they had been to notice the coming of another figure, watching the scene and waiting for a good moment in which he could make his presence known. Renata had turned momentarily, wondering over the person who was given them heavy eyes. For a moment she had thought it had been Aldrich, but as she properly stared, both her eyes and mouth had widened.

“Ludwig?” She instantly questioned.

He bowed in his spot in assurance, a welcoming smile that was just enough to drag Renata in his closeness, having to reassure herself constantly with her eyes that this was in fact the little German boy that used to visit the Valenti manor constantly, Feliciano’s dear best friend, a boy that she herself had helped to raise like another mother.

“Signora Valenti, it’s been so long, you haven’t changed in the slightest, as beautiful as I remembered,” he told her kindly.

Renata was still paralyzed in her spot. He had grown taller than herself, a strong build, a mature face, no trace of the child she once knew. At least he was still respectable to her, a familiar smile, and she just couldn’t keep leaving this distance between them.

“Oh, Ludwig, look at you!” She opened her arms and he easily accepted the joining, an embrace like that of a mother and son. “You grew up so much! But my, are you handsome. You might not be that young infant prince anymore, but you shine like a true King,” she admitted, kissing his forehead and letting both her hands caress at this new defined jaw and strong cheeks. He looked dearly to her, appreciated of the words, taking her hands in a caring hold.

Feliciano had never seen him act this loving in his entire stay in the castle.

Antonio and Lovino then moved close, the three of them greeting in a quick bow. Ludwig saw the way Antonio held Lovino’s waist, the rings in their fingers, and quickly noticed something that had his eyes widening for a slight moment, but he quickly hid it when Lovino wrapped his arms on his chest, his glare pretty much the same as he had remembered it.

“You look like a boulder."

“I see you’re still as eloquent as ever." As to not say anything else.

“It’s great to see you again,” Antonio added before Lovino could continue.

“Likewise.”

With Vincenzo and Feliciano’s help, Augusto reached him, startled suddenly at seeing his now immense figure.

“Augusto!” Ludwig greeted, with a bow and a respectful smile.

“Goddamn boy, come over here, I can’t carry you like I used to,” he laughed, but Ludwig was obedient and came forward to another Valenti hug, receiving rather harsh pats in the back that betrayed whatever sickness Augusto had gotten. “You look exactly like Aldrich did at your age. The Beilschmidt genes are strong in you, best German line of rulers I can honestly say."

“Surely no one can compare to the Valenti."

“Boy, we haven’t ruled since Romulus himself, but grazie, grazie, keep saying that,” they laughed.

“I’m sure Feliciano told you about your room accommodations, our servants as well as myself will lead you to them,” Ludwig offered the entrance and he could easily tell that they were eager about staying in a castle, taking his welcome and beginning to go in.

Augusto was paining from the proud walk he tried to make, sometimes stumbling, but through it remaining nonchalant and continuing forward.

“Augusto, please, use your cane,” Vincenzo told him, bringing it forward to him.

Augusto did take it, but angrily and only raising it in the air in disapproval. “I can do this by myself!” He declared loudly, but half way through, he became needy of it and his footsteps joined along with the harsh stabbing of the stick to the floor tiles.

Ludwig and Feliciano decided to follow as the last behind, but there was something bothering the arising King that he couldn’t remain without knowing much longer. “Are Antonio and Lovino married?” He asked suddenly to Feliciano, in a whisper hoping the rest wouldn’t listen.

“Yes, they’ve been married for three years now,” he told him, already used to the idea. But Ludwig was deeply impressed, and from a strain he held, Feliciano could tell he was trying hard not to laugh.

“What’s wrong?” He asked.

“It’s just, we used to make a lot of fun about it. Didn’t think it would actually happen.”

Feliciano let out a chuckle, remembering, but it was still nice that they did. Over the years they showed great attraction and love for the other, and Feliciano blessed it each year, wishing he could be given that very same devotion.

Ludwig moved further ahead before any conversation could arise between them, and so Feliciano moved then by his mother’s side, taking her arm to wrap as he walked alongside her. He pointed to many of the murals, speaking of its artist, meanings and stories behind it. Renata was just as into art as Feliciano, so she was deeply impressed, questioning and pointing to details that Feliciano loved hearing about. As they went up a new set of stairs, Feliciano noticed the heavy work it took Augusto, how he had to hold down to the railing and Lovino had to go and help him.

“Mamma, what’s wrong with Nonno?” He asked with clear worry in his tone.

“He developed a muscle deficiency soon after you left,” she said sadly, the same hurt in her eyes as she watched him having to hold himself from Lovino to continue going up.

“Are you guys getting help for him? Medicine, treatments,” he went on.

“We have two doctors in the village constantly visiting to check him, they offer all these things as well as diets that he refuses to partake in.”

Feliciano rolled his eyes. Typical, but then again he would probably do the same thing.

“But he still insists to work on the fields with the rest, flirts with every woman that walks before him, still as lively with his soldier stories to the village, and still gives the children piggy back rides, which sometimes make him return to the villa with more back pain,” she laughed, and Feliciano smiled as well, noticing that Augusto went on with his speech on how he could continue down the hall by himself, much to his older brother’s annoyance.

Despite his predicament, Augusto will never stop being the strong grandfather figure Feliciano had always seen him as. No matter what happened to his body, his soul was still made of the strongest iron.

Speaking of strong.

Renata was rather hesitant to ask, gazing strongly at Feliciano, trying to see what would be an opportune moment to mention it. While he seemed distracted with a chandelier they were passing under, she decided to be quick. “Ludwig has definitely changed,” she began.

As she expected, Feliciano’s expression became evidently soured. “For the worst,” he said harshly.

“He seemed awfully kind to me, as he had always been. I wasn’t expecting that after the letters you were writing me,”

“Probably only to you guys, he didn’t give me that welcome when I first came to the castle.” He was somehow even jealous about it.

“Why wouldn’t he? Why would he be acting this way towards you?”

Feliciano grew exasperated, Renata fearing that he would throw one of the many vases they passed in his sudden anger. “I don’t know, mamma, I wish I did! But he’s still being horrible and rude and menacing! He’s done nothing to deserve neither my friendship nor love.”

“I’m sure if you both talked-”

“He’s impenetrable as a wall! Nothing is going to work.” He was defeated and how it hurt Renata, to see their adoring friendship reach to this point, of anger, hurt and betrayal, all that she had been confident would not happen and had even made Feliciano feel before leaving. But faith had betrayed them and now she had no way to console him in the matter. With a breath, she decided to remain silent.

 

The rooms they were given were extravagant and one by one next to the other. Feliciano had spent the rest of the day and night with them, all sharing what was Augusto’s room to talk loudly and laugh. It was the noise that got many of the Beilschmidts coming down to shush them, but to also join in the extensive screaming as they greeted each other after eight years. Feliciano introduced them all to Kiku, and upon finding out what was going on with Augusto, decided to offer his expertise and work up something for them before they left.

It was such a cheery atmosphere of the conversations he missed having. He spent the night in Antonio and Lovino’s room, the three of them talking till the late hours. It was there that Feliciano noticed how Lovino refused to take off his shirt and remain dressed even when he went to sleep by the figure of his husband. Maybe he was just cold, he thought, so he shrugged it off and went to sleep with them. Tomorrow they had a ball.

 

He dressed in a tight fitting dress jacket, embroidered in gold at the collar, shoulders and sleeve ends. It opened to reveal another tight fighting vest of deep red, buttons crossed in gold, fitting white pants, with a perfect golden and ruby belt, and his usual black boots. He wore the cross necklace last, finished just as Renata came in to see him. Her breath of impression was enough to get Feliciano’s attention, who turned towards her smiling and accepting to her presence. Renata was elegantly dressed in a red satin dress, puffed sleeves, covering another white transparent dress commingling with gold, the same that was tied in her front and the necklaces she wore.

“Mamma, you look so elegant!” He complimented.

“And you look dashing, mio bambino!” She came close to caress his cheeks and kiss his forehead dearly. She laid there for quite a while, holding him as he had done when he was a child, not that he minded it, but there was something rather odd about it. He actually felt sadness from her and had to move away to look into her eyes and see what was going on, but she easily feigned content.

“Come on, everyone is waiting up in the ballroom.”

“Up? You mean down.”

“No, up, the one with the crystal dome.”

Feliciano had suddenly stood, surprised that it was chosen for today. Louis had mentioned that it was only for very special occasions, but Ludwig’s birthday already passed and there were no important dates set in his calendar. The doubts he pushed away in favor of joining his mother and arriving there himself, quite ecstatic to finally be able to see this particular ballroom in person.

 

He was blinded, he was transfixed. How could he take notice of the large amount of people there, of the dancing, of the talks, of the other royals he was supposed to meet, when he was too overawhelmed by the gold, the velvet, the shimmering of the large chandeliers, the spectacular night sky above them, covered by the wonderfully crafted dome that was a piece of art by itself. The rest of the riches continued down, in the sculptures in the walls, in the murals, in the paintings, in the crafted floors.

Feliciano had only dreamed of such places, and never did he think that he could stand alive in one, that he could move across it, that he could feel intimidated by its grandeur and elaborateness.

“This place... this place is wonderful,” Renata complimented, just as breath taken as Feliciano.

The arising Queen couldn’t even utter words and it wasn’t until he could hear a distinct giggling that he actually came back down to the floor, to the ball.

“Elizabeta!” Feliciano squealed, jumping on her, both sharing a grasp that made them spin as if they were ready to dance with the couples that had already started.

“Oh, Feliciano, it’s so nice to see you again!” She finally said after they were done laughing loudly enough to catch the attention of many.

“Elizabeta! Look at you, beautiful, regal. Oh gods, I wish I could be as queenly as you when I’m crowned.” Feliciano spun her around to take a better look at her green dress, standing out in this room full of gold, reds and whites. She wore a simple tiara to show her power as Queen of Clubs and it fitted very well with the rest of her elegancy.

“You will be Feliciano! You’re already so fitting.” She rubbed his hair as she had done once, but careful not to ruin it for the special occasion.

Another figure came close, and once Feliciano recognized as well, he went and hugged him, as tightly as he had Elizabeta, despite the other’s clear annoyance and how he tried to find a way to escape.

“Roderich! You’re here too!”

“Of course I would be, how could I miss-” Elizabeta stepped on his shoe before he could continue. Luckily Feliciano hadn’t noticed.

“We must sit and talk! There’s so much we need to tell each other about, like, you have to tell me-”

“That would be wonderful, Feliciano! But before we do that, it’s important that we introduce you to someone.” She then eased the presence of another figure, tall, commanding, more intimidating than even Ludwig. If it wasn’t for the kind smile on his face and his sweet eyes, Feliciano would have trembled and begged for Elizabeta to hold him.

“This is Ivan Braginsky, King of Clubs,” she introduced proudly.

Ivan in turn bowed to the arising Queen, gentleness to it that Feliciano found himself trusting, smiling and bowing as kindly in return.

“It is an honor to finally meet you. The letters that have arrived in Clubs detailing what you’ve done interest me greatly. I admire your actions.”

That was so kind, and Feliciano couldn’t help but bow again in great thanks for the compliment, giving him one of his well-known smiles.

“And I’ve heard wonders about your strength, your majesty. The kingdom has never seemed more impenetrable, what with a Queen and Jack like Elizabeta and Roderich as well.”

The three smiled with quite the pride.

“As expected. The field that keeps King Khaos prisoner is in our land. We always have to prepare for whatever he might decide to unleash, or whatever the other kingdoms might throw against us.” And he was menacing, fearsome in a way that no one seemed to have noticed but himself.

It seemed like Elizabeta and Roderich had gotten used to it.

Feliciano bowed as if to show that he should feel no such threat from the Hearts Kingdom. Feliciano was not looking for war, and he hoped it was the same thing with Ludwig.

“Ah, there you are!” Yet another familiar voice, who came close to the group to get his greetings as well. “I’ve been looking all over for you. You think I was going to forget my young boy,” Francis greeted him, with already welcoming hands that Feliciano fell into and laughed.

“Your company in the mansion is always missed, and here two actually. You should visit more often.”

Francis used to play so much with him, used to come with stories of the Diamond Kingdom, even showed him some dessert recipes and was there to talk about any insecurity or curious question he had held. It was Francis who had even given him ‘the talk’ when his family was avoiding having Augusto do it.

“Feliciano, dear, I would if Ludwig was only more accepting of it." He pinched his cheeks, cooing in a manner that made him laugh, Feliciano not minding as he continued.

“Ignore him, I’m here, and that should be enough to visit more often.”

“Even if I could, I’m busy myself with my kingdom, and my young Queen still needs help and guidance for her ruling. It’s almost like raising a child myself.”

With a sign he ushered a pair of brothers, Feliciano could tell by their likeliness, closer. They were both very young, one seemed to have just begun what would be his teenage years, the other girl, even younger. Feliciano guessed around nine or ten years old.

“These are Vash and Lili Zwingli, respective arising Jack and Queen of Diamonds,” Francis presented.

Both were nervous and the boy seemed to refuse to bow, but he ended up doing so because his sister did, kindly, as respectable, and with the ever grace of a Queen.

“You both are beautiful darlings,” Feliciano complimented, to which the boy looked insulted, but the girl blushed in thanks. “Zwingli? That name sounds familiar. By any chance, are you both related to Rebecca Zwingli?”

“Of course, she’s our mother,” Lili answered easily.

“Really? That means you’re related to Ludwig.”

“We’re his cousins actually,” Vash answered.

“That explains. Did you know, your parents actually got married in my village and had their party in my house?” He thought he could let them know. It perked their curiosity and thus all of them got into conversation.

Feliciano enjoyed his time with all of them, eating, dancing, getting to know the royals he hadn’t met before and catching up on the years that passed between the ones he did know. Yet the meaning of this ball did not evade him.

Why were all the royals here? Why choose the finest ballroom for it? Really, what were they celebrating? He questioned everything around him even as he rested upon a table that he shared with the rest of his family, all tired from their own feasting. It was becoming late, yet things were still as alive, people still danced, people still kept arriving, and no one seemed like they were ready to leave.

“Feliciano?” Renata called back his attention to the table. “What’s wrong?”

He gazed once again to the room, the liveliness of the people, understanding, they knew what they were here for, but yet he, arising Queen, did not.

“Just confused, I guess,” he said, taking a sip from the wine he had been given.

“I’m just as confused. Kiku gave me these exercises to try and I can’t even read them.” Augusto currently held the scroll he was talking about, turning it in all directions, but it was still a puzzle.

“I’m sorry about that, I’ll make you an Italian translation for tomorrow,” Kiku promised, just joining them after a round of dancing.

“No wonder.” Augusto finally noticed it was written in Japanese. “I’m sorry I interrupted, what is it that you’re confused about, caro.”

All in the table gave their attention back to Feliciano, who was rather nervous to admit, hands rubbing on his glass hoping that none would judge him.

“I…I don’t know what this ball is for,” he admitted.

Instantly all held nervous eyes, some angry, some sad, and then there were some who were actually understanding. As always, no one seemed to bother to tell him, and Feliciano was angry about it to the point that he even placed the cup on his table rather harshly.

“I would gladly appreciate it if someone could make it clear.”

“They really didn’t tell you?” Lovino was the one who dared answer, quite mad, arms wrapping on his chest as if ready to face whoever decided to let it remain a secret from him.

“Some years they do leave it as a surprise to the arising Queen,” Augusto added.

“It’s traditional.”

“I don’t see the point of it this time."

“Queen Louis probably decided so.”

“When things are like this between them.”

“They really should have given him a heads up."

“But I’m sure it would still be beautiful."

“If Feliciano-”

“Will someone please-” Feliciano suddenly interrupted in a loud voice, “-just tell me.” It lowered in a kindly beg, not standing this discussion about him while he still didn’t have an answer.

And all were too worried to tell him, and with the continuing silence, Renata decided to take the dive, taking his hand in a loving hold. She looked around to the party, alive, people dancing, and lights shimmering splendidly.

“I don’t know if we should be telling you, but I think it’s necessary after what you’re going through with Ludwig.” She held his hands tighter, before finally admitting: “Feliciano…this is your engagement ball.”

It did not help at all, Feliciano was still as confused. “My engagement ball? It doesn’t make sense, I’m already engaged to Ludwig.”

“Long ago, last time being with Romulus,” Augusto began to tell, bringing the table to silence as they prepared to listen. "The arising King and Queen were not betrothed so immediately at such a young age, as it was done with you and Ludwig. In those times, no one really knew if the King and Queen were to marry until what they called the half arising ball, this one in other words. It was in this ball that the King would ask the Queen for marriage. If they denied, then they would go through with a coronation without a marriage. If they accepted, preparations were made to add a wedding and thus begin the lighting of the main tower, which shows the entire city the days left to the coronation. After the war of the Darkened Decades, it changed to better gain access to the gods, and to be more expected of what kind of ruling the kingdom would have. A married King and Queen are more wanted because it means more peace in their union, better prosperity and more power to the kingdom. One without, although not to be seen as anything bad, still weakens the kingdom slightly, and if the arising King and Queen deny, then precautions must be taken to prepare the kingdom for that, which is why they prefer it to be known as soon as possible.”

“We decided for you to marry Ludwig because you both had been such good friends when you were children,” Vicenzo added.

“We thought your kind of love would be the best for the kingdom, which is why we decided on sealing a marriage,” Renata said.

“Not to mention you are also the first Italian Queen since Augusta,” Augusto reminded.

Silence still continued on, the information weighting on Feliciano.

He knew the kingdom was dependent on that kind of power, but he never knew it had this history to it, never knew those chances could exist, and suddenly felt this harsh blame at them for tying him up to the person Ludwig had grown up to be.

“But if my marriage is already sealed, why make this ball? Why have him ask?”

“Like I said, it’s mostly for tradition. Kings and Queens continued with the ball just for a touch of romance. It’s seen as a starting point for the castle to begin the planning and preparations for the wedding and coronation, and to start the lighting of the main tower with the counting,” Kiku decided to be a part of.

Feliciano continued to remain silent, with a somber look that was unlike him. He gazed forward to the party with hatred, understanding then the festiveness, the luxury, the amount of people, why no one had left yet, why his family came, why even the other royals came. This, whether in the past or present, had been considered the deciding point of what would be the Kingdom’s future, one that was already decided for him, and the party seemed to taunt him on the fact that his voice and even Ludwig’s was never a part of it.

“Anyways!” Renata suddenly interrupted, wanting to change the dulling pace that their table had gotten after the revelation. “Now that we have that announcement out of hand, I think it’s time Lovino shared with the rest of us his own,” she smiled to her eldest son, who instantly tensed and blushed at the sudden attention he was given.

Renata kept ushering for him to say it with her constant smile, but Lovino was still paralyzed, seeing if he perhaps had a chance to escape, fidgeting and beginning to sweat. Antonio placed his hands on his shoulders, a smile so big that it even spread to Feliciano, and he grew more curious as to what it could be.

“Come on Lovi, what is it?” Feliciano turned completely towards him, wanting to offer any hold or aid to calm him over his sudden uneasiness.

“Come on, don’t hide that you’re just as excited as I am,” Antonio told him lastly, and it was the words that got Lovino to breath, to give up into his arms and finally say it. But instead of wording it, he knew it was best if he actually showed it.

He began unbuttoning his cufflinks, much to the tension of the table, all moving closer to take a quicker look. It was free, and Lovino began pulling it down, revealing red marks swirling wonderfully across the few skin he showed. They could mean about anything, but it was sure enough when Lovino turned his hand and showed two protruding ruby jewels from his skin that aligned down from his wrist. They signified two months, and it meant something that had Feliciano squealing and shouting ecstatically.

“Oh my gods, you’re going to have a baby!” The rest that Feliciano kept shouting was gibbering as he pulled both Antonio and Lovino into a strong hug, jumping in their seats, even beginning to tear up. “I’m going to be an uncle! I’m going to be an uncle!” He announced loud enough to grab the attention of many in the ball. They turned and noticed the jewels and marks Lovino had in his wrist, and they all began applauding and offering congratulations to the couple.

Lovino usually hated this much attention, but couldn’t dare say a thing when his brother was this excited, when his mother and father were deeply delighted, his grandfather so happy that Kiku had to pat him in the back to avoid him having him tear up as well. Antonio was the proudest, and he just loved hearing over and over again that Lovino was bearing the magic that would one day create his son or daughter. He kept a tight hold on him to show to everyone in the ballroom that yes, he was the one that offered the other half of the magic, the other proud father.

“I get it! Enough! You’re happy! Yes, I’m having a baby! Now get off!” Lovino pushed him away back to his chair, fixing himself and settling back his sleeve as it had been. He didn’t need any more attention.

“He told me before we left to Berlin, and I already started making little socks,” Renata glowed, having to hold herself from screaming any louder.

“Mamma, you don’t have to do that, I’m sure Antonio and I could-”

“Nonsense, we’ll give that baby everything. Once we come back. I’ll immediately send workers to work on the room in your household,” Augusto acclaimed.

“I’ll send a load of presents each month, I can even talk to the castle hold and we can have you give birth here,” Feliciano added.

“You guys have to stop. It’s only been two months.”

“I mean, not that we shouldn’t-” Lovino glared at Antonio before he finished that statement.

“We’re capable of doing the necessary things ourselves. Besides, we already decided that the baby would be born in Italy, so I’m hoping to give birth in the manor,” Lovino had planned.

“Of course,” Augusto raised his glass in approval.

“Nothing will make us happier,” Vincenzo said, and Renata was just too excited and full of energy to even say a word.

“Have you thought of names?” Feliciano decided to ask.

“Oh come on! It’s only been two months!”

“I like Mariano!” It seemed Antonio had already started.

“Don’t encourage them!”

“Oh, I like Elena!”

“How about Enrico?”

“Nicoletta?”

“Augustino!” Augustus proclaimed, which earned a glare from all of them. “Okay, okay, fine,” he seemed disappointed.

“I always liked the name Sara from your provinces,” even Kiku was taking part in it.

“Oh, that does sound pretty!” Antonio agreed.

“Remind me to get you a book of names. I’m sure there’s one here in the castle I can lend to you.”

“Really, you guys should-”

A sudden interrupting cough brought them all into immediate silence. They all looked up to see Ludwig, dressed in a tight burgundy jacket, with silver buttons connecting it at its center, black velvet at the collar and sleeves. He wore a proud St. Mark Lion with a Hearts symbol, a simplistic cape, going along with the respectful stance he took before them. His eyes were commanding, a message of wanting to drive them away that they all instantly knew. They began to stand, giving the space for them that was needed, much to Feliciano’s dread. They moved to the crowd of the ball, Feliciano’s last comfort being a hand on his shoulder by his brother. The table was empty, Ludwig and Feliciano were alone…well, that was what Feliciano thought until he turned and noticed that the music had stopped, that the dancing and movements in the room halted instantly, all were turned towards them, expecting eyes and smiles for what they were to witness. New simple glasses with drinks were already being spread, preparing for the toast that would come surely once Feliciano gave his answer.

Once it was quiet enough, Ludwig turned towards him, leaning down, with no nervousness or shake, as practiced as everything was with him. He took a hold of his hand, then looking up to him with disinterest, annoyance as his own, putting in order the words he surely practiced.

“Feliciano Valenti,” he started. "We have reached the half of our year of arising, with only six months left for the coming of our own ruling. As expected, the kingdom would like to know if you accept my proposal. I wish to marry you and gain power for myself as well as for the kingdom so it can maintain as prosperous as my grandparents will leave it to us. We will have sufficient heirs to inherit our wealth and names, and bring honor to the kingdom and to the Aces as it should be. I have proven myself to be respectable, strong, loyal and knowledgeable to be your husband, and you have proven to be as obedient, orderly, kind, and beautiful to be my own and my Queen. Thus I ask, will you marry me?”

He dared talk about deserving, he dared talked about proof, call him obedient because he had cowered him to do so, orderly because he needed to come up with something that was Beilschmidt enough for him to be a part of, kind because it was probably the only thing he knew about him now, and beautiful, it was superficial, it made him feel like he was just a decoration he wanted to have.

How dare he proclaim himself something that he hadn’t been to him, go on and ask after all the comments, after his behavior, after his demeaning, his coldness. He had been coarse, rough, rude, nothing like the type of husband that deserved him, nothing like a lover, nothing like even the friends they once were.

He wanted to slap him right there, he wanted to cry, scream his disapproval for all in the ball to know about.

It was then that he decided to look to the crowd, still expecting his sure approval. He looked down to the still evident red mark on his ring finger, the reminder of the promise they had made to the Aces.

They had been tied by the gods, and the kingdom was ready to celebrate the coming prosperity of an Italian Queen after a long wait.

Everybody was counting, the King and Queen especially, who stared along with the rest as if this was some show for their entertainment.

With heavy duty on him, with their stares, Feliciano knew that he had to please, he knew that he had to give the required answer, no matter how Ludwig had been, no matter what he was thinking.

It was tradition, he thought lastly.

So he took a breath, calmed, ready to release what was to come with his answer:

“No.”

Chapter Text

All faces in the room were instantly frozen in shock, settled in paralyze statures as they tried to believe what they just heard. The silence that came was haunting, potent, their stares full of fear and concern. Ludwig was in the same state, still leaning, although Feliciano was seeing the growing anger in his eyes.

“I’m sorry, what? Could you repeat that?” He asked, hoping that with the sudden aggravation in his tone and the feeling of dread in the atmosphere, Feliciano would change his answer. But the arising Queen remained strong even with its lingering, letting go of Ludwig’s hand and sitting aligned in his chair, willing to repeat himself, and more strongly to make it clear.

“I said no. I refuse to marry you, Ludwig Beilschmidt.”

The gasps of the crowd were clearer now, whispers arose, but yet all were still appalled to their spots, a shakiness to them that didn’t even let them move a step. They thought it was just some cruel trick, a joke the arising Queen took too far, and would soon give the answer they wanted to qualm the anxiousness of the ball.

“Stop with this nonsense, Feliciano. This is not something you should be threading so messily about,” Ludwig growled.

“I repeat, my decision is no.” He stood rather harshly, wanting to step away from the fury that grew ever so stronger with the arising King. He turned towards the crowd, as blank as canvases. “I apologize, but please, don’t let this interrupt the dancing and feasting, there’s still plenty of food to take. Thank you for coming.” He bowed to all and began heading towards the exit, with sure steps, all eyes following him. Only Ludwig didn’t, who still stood in his stance, not entirely sure what to do now. He hadn’t practiced for this, he wasn’t ready for what the crowd could tell him, what he was supposed to tell them, what he was to face. If he turned, they would all see not only his anger, but the fall of his dignity.

“Um…Feliciano,” Renata called, running behind him.

“Oh dei,” Vincenzo joined her, Antonio following as well.

“I thought you left your idiot ways!” Lovino called, joining, Kiku coming as well.

“Feliciano! Feliciano!” The voices kept calling as they tried to reach him, but as the echoes of his name continued down the halls, it meant that the arising Queen continued never the less, the figures having to rush quicker or better get his attention with their more loud shouts. The last one to leave was Augusto, who actually chuckled at the occurrence, much to the annoyance of the King and Queen.

 

“Feliciano!” This call shot along with the loud smash Feliciano gave to the doors that finally returned him to the main halls of the castle and away from the commotion of the ball.

“Feliciano! Get back in there and fix this!” Vincenzo shouted.

“There’s nothing to be fixed,” Feliciano told him back.

“You know well that you have to!” Lovino shouted.

“Feliciano, what you’re doing is dangerous,” Kiku warned, with a gentler tone as they kept following behind.

“Caro, I know that Ludwig is not the most ideal match, but you have to think about what it means to the kingdom,” Renata tried to convince, with the same gentleness as Kiku.

“I’ve already done enough for this kingdom, and I for one wanted to do something for myself.”

“Your willing to put your kingdom at risk for yourself?” Lovino was insulted.

“It’s not going to be at risk!”

“Of course it is! You just denied matrimony to your arising King!”

“I’m not the first one to do that!”

“But you’re the first one do it after being tied in an agreement by the Aces!”

“Feliciano, this could have catastrophic repercussions!”

“You’re overreacting!” They were suddenly caught up with Augusto, who moved towards them rather contently, no stress from what just happened.

“Papa, are you seriously accepting this from Feliciano?”

“If the boy doesn’t want to, then he doesn’t want to!”

“But what about the agreement with the Aces!” They kept repeating, and it was driving Feliciano sick.

“I’ll find a way to annul it!”

They finally reached the doors to his room, a big relief for him, but at the same time there was the fact that his whole family and Kiku followed him there.

“I don’t think that’s possible!”

“Feliciano, it will take you a lo-”

“Please,” he begged, “just stop! I know there’s a lot I have to deal with right now, but I want to enjoy some time to rest at least.”

“You just want to go to sleep after that!?” Lovino shouted.

“Yes. Now would you be kind enough to leave." With one last smile, hiding away the turmoil, he went into his room and shut the doors harshly in their faces.

They continued to murmur in front of his door, and wanting to get away, decided on heading to the bathroom, where he prepared a bath. Not usually hours he took baths in, but he needed to relax, needed to forget, think that he could wash away the heaviness of today with the water.

A sufficient amount of time passed, knowing well that his family left, so he headed back into his room so could change into his night wear in relative peace. He kept his thoughts on the melody of the music box that played, on the rosy scent he used from the soaps, on preparing his bed, on organizing the things he was supposed to do for tomorrow in his head. No matter how hard he tried to keep his mind focused, it wasn’t enough to drive away the harsh throw of the door as it opened and closed once again. The force was hard enough to shake the room slightly.

“I’ve seen you do a lot of reckless things ever since you started your arising, no, ever since we were kids, but this, this is your finest work!” Ludwig started, hiding no poison in his voice.

Feliciano was turned away from him, standing in his place as he went to turn off the music box.

“Do you know what you just did? Do you know what you just caused? Do you have any idea how much of a fool you made me look up there?” He shouted, reddened with anger, pointing fingers harshly to the door. “I’ve never been more embarrassed, never more humiliated!”

“I was given a choice,” Feliciano suddenly interrupted, saving the music box in its usual place, still refusing to look back to him.

“That wasn’t meant to be one! It was for show! You weren’t supposed to go ahead and decide what you wanted carelessly!”

“I still stand by it,” he continued bravely on, beginning to pull the blankets from his bed.

“You will anger the Aces! Who knows what kind of curse they’ll befall on the kingdom for this.”

“The Aces are not cruel enough to punish a large population of people just because I can’t get along with my King."

“Well we won’t know until we see it, this had never happened before."

“Well I’m quite proud."

“This is nothing to be proud of, Feliciano!”

“I’ll be proud my own way!”

“This selfish pride of yours will ruin the Kingdom."

“Oh, now I’m the one who’s selfish,”

“At least I am trying to fulfill my duties!”

“Uncaring of what it means to you? What it could mean to me?”

“Our own opinions should be the least of the kingdom’s problems.”

“They care about our happiness just like we do theirs.”

“Then make them happy! Accept, go apologize and do what is expected of you."

“You don’t even love me!” He screamed, wanting to drive him away after he was daring to move closer and closer with the fury of each onslaught of his words.

Whatever walls he had been holding after his refusal broke, shown in the tears that began to gather in his eyes.

“Why do you care so much? You clearly do not want this marriage either, you want nothing to do with me, you want me away from you, you don’t- you don’t-” his whimpering didn’t let him continue, the tears now spilling over his face.

It was the clearest thing in the room, as Ludwig stood silent. What expression he held Feliciano preferred not to know, not after he was breaking like this in front of him. He raised his hands to his face to try and cover himself, but no matter how, he couldn’t control the shivering, the sobs that drowned anything else, even the tears that managed to stain his hands.

“I…I,” Ludwig stuttered.

Feliciano looked up, his reddened eyes and tear stained cheeks plain for Ludwig to see, and Ludwig’s frozen and still expression, of senseless, of even hurt. Feliciano whipped away what he could, trying to stand as straight as before even if it hurt to.

“Tell me, Ludwig, tell me please. Do you actually feel…something for me now?"

Feliciano didn’t think Ludwig could turn any whiter, didn’t think he could see that lost expression again, clearly holding himself, chaining whatever he truly wanted to say. The silence that continued was agitating, it only made Feliciano hurt the more.

“I…” Ludwig started. “I…I can’t tell you.”

“You can’t tell me, or you just don’t want to admit it."

“No! No, no, it’s not that, it’s just-” he actually tried to move closer, extending his arms, Feliciano didn’t know for what since he pushed and turned him away.

“I don’t want to hear anything else! My decision is final." He headed towards his bed to sit. “Unless you can see me as an equal, change, respect me, and really prove that you care or even love me, there will be no marriage. I refuse to accept someone like you as my husband.” He fell down unto his bed, pulling the blankets over and settling his head in the comfort of the many pillows. “Who is to say a loveless marriage will not hurt the kingdom as simply denying it," he uttered before he remained in a single position, closed eyes away from the figure of the arising King, who still stood in his place, wakened eyes that wanted to say so much.

“Feliciano-” he tried to reach.

“I’m done talking about this to you,” was the last he uttered.

Ludwig remained standing, looking down to him, hoping for a chance, but Feliciano was quickly asleep, and like that the conversation was meant to be finish. With a groan Ludwig began undressing himself and prepared for his rest, as he usually did, turned as always, hoping to forget. He pushed away the pain, pushed away any want of tears, hid his anguish. He promised himself he wouldn’t dare break. He could hide it, he could push it back, the hard grip on his blankets the result. Part of him hoped that for the next day Feliciano would come into his senses, and if not, then he needed to rest for the coming storm that would be waiting for them then. For once, he actually missed the melody of the music box playing dimly under Feliciano’s blankets.

 

Six months passed, to a time when usually the kingdom was preparing itself for the grand royal wedding. But it did not come, just as a coronation was not prepared.

No matter the insisting Feliciano was given in the time to come, his answer was still plainly no, screamed at them all so much it was becoming a regular occurrence nobody was surprised about anymore. As the news spread across all the provinces, letters of all kinds, in all the tongues of the kingdom, arrived with pleads to the arising Queen to change his mind or ones saying that the arising King should change his attitude.

It grew into one of the big discussions in the kingdom. Was what Feliciano doing inspiring and altering? Or was it a disgrace that needed to be shamed on? Was the Prince’s behavior just expectant of a King? Or was he just being ill-mannered and he needed to change if he wanted a Queen like Feliciano as a husband?

No matter what the kingdom thought, discussed, worried, shouted or even showed as Feliciano would be walking along the streets of the city, it would always end up being lost words or actions to the arising Queen. He rather maintained his visits to the city as friendly ones to spend good time with his people.

Feliciano, who along with Kiku’s help, settled a long work of trying to find annulments to the promise of the Aces. The castle made it hard as they did not want to offer any information, any libraries, any agreements, scrolls, or books. What Feliciano wanted to do, he would have to do it with only Kiku’s help, searching on through all the libraries and archives of the castle for any clue by themselves.

Until such a way was found, or until Ludwig and Feliciano could come into an agreement, King Aldrich and Queen Louis decided it was best to not step down yet and continue on with their reign, beyond what they were usually expected of, to avoid any kind of wrong doings with the Aces.

Feliciano turned nineteen with no husband and no crown. Ludwig, Feliciano and Kiku were already behind, even if by a single month, and that only flared the arising King more, who still did not change and did not hesitate in his ever pretentious attitude that only got the ignorance of the arising Queen, continuing to think that Feliciano would just give up one day and come crawling begging for another proposal.

They still worked on the doings of the kingdom, more so now, because even if they weren’t crowned yet, there were just things that the King and Queen were loosening power in and they needed their help.

This shouldn’t be happening, Ludwig angered as he paced about the King’s study room, harsh steps that threatened to smash the tiles and make a hole to the floor below.

The room had a view to one of the many gardens, a particular one in which Queen Louis, Kiku, and Feliciano were enjoying coffee and tea drinks and discussions on marital funding. It annoyed how calmly Feliciano worked on the negotiations, the only actions being the frivolous move of his hands that spoke as ever with him. His grandmother dared go with that same repose, and Kiku was just as peaceful.

“How can they be so relaxed with all that’s happening?” Ludwig questioned.

“They are just making do with what they can in the situation,” Aldrich said, sitting upon his desk as he worked on documents.

Ludwig didn’t answer back, he yet maintained his scolding gaze at the three figures below and it wasn’t helping Aldrich with the calm he needed to work on these assignments.

“You shouldn’t push the full blame on Feliciano, a part of this is your doing,” Aldrich dared comment.

“My doing? I’ve only ever just been loyal to the crown, I’m only doing what I should as a King,” Ludwig defended himself, his harsh steps going over to Aldrich now.

“I didn’t tell you that you should be treating your Queen as such. Even I can tell that you’re completely disregarding his feelings.”

“If I remember correctly, you once said that a Queen is a beautiful companion to your disposal."

“Exactly, I said a companion, not a lightweight to ignore. I don’t know where you got this idea that you should be so disrespectful to your Queen. In the nine years that passed we showed you well to be a King, especially after your earlier power activation, and although we were rather harsh with it, we are proud that it helped you become as strong, efficient, commanding, and respectable as we wanted. There is nothing to discuss there, but Louis and I hoped that we had shown a proper example of a relationship for you to know how to be around Feliciano during the arising year.”

Ludwig turned away. “Well, things are different this time.” He took seat by the window, his stare glued to the glass and the figures from below.

“What difference? So he’s the first Italian Queen in centuries, that doesn’t mean that the relationship dynamics should be any rare. For Aces mercy, you two used to be best friends, why can’t you just repeat that?”

No answer, Ludwig’s stare became melancholic, leaning to the glass in a defeated posture that Aldrich knew he was not going to receive answer to. He sighed and leaned in his chair exasperated, his glance going to a stack of envelopes and then suddenly being reminded.

“Does it have to do with that letter you received from King Ivan three years ago?” He wondered.

Although his grandson made sure to remain as still in his sitting, it didn’t escape the sudden tension that appeared in his eyes.

“I remember you were pretty distraught after reading it. Your mother told me she hadn’t seen you cry like that in a long time.”

Ludwig's face was now completely turned, not sparring an inch of expression on his face.

Silence continued on, Aldrich hoping it could fill the room in enough calm so his grandson could tell him. “What was in it that is making you act this way with him? You know you can tell me,” he eased gently, waiting patiently for any answer, but no matter, Ludwig remained just as turned and silent.

“Your thoughts on Feliciano completely changed after it…you didn’t even send him an eighteenth birthday present,” he reminded, tempted to stand and come close to him, but he settled in his chair, only trying to lean and see more hints from the appearance of the face he currently hid.

“You always seem like you need some sort of consolation when you’re thinking about it.”

Just then the doors of the study room opened, a shaking servant holding a silver encrusted tray coming in. It still did nothing to stop Aldrich in his wait, still facing Ludwig for words, as if the servant wasn’t there.

“I’m sorry, but I cannot, I rather deal with what I can myself.” Ludwig sounded sure, determined, and Aldrich knew that there was no way around it.

He’d like to think he tried, so he sighed, turned to the servant and told him that it was okay to place the tray upon the desk. Too preoccupied he was with his grandson that he did not notice the single item it held.

“I hope so, but either be kinder to Feliciano or actually help him in finding a way to cancel out your engagement by the Aces.” He finally noticed the color of the item and turned to it, sudden terror marked heavily on his ever dry face.

He picked the black envelope, the green seal from Clubs showing that it was official, urgent, and real. Ludwig suddenly felt the tension in the room, turning to his grandfather, seeing clearly the fear he held over the simple black envelope he held tightly in his hand.

“Opa, what’s wrong?” He asked, standing, finally moving away from the window and pushing away his earlier distress.

It was like that simple black paper had taken every word away from the King of Hearts, bringing him into mute silence, but a widened mouth still wanting to speak.

“Opa,” Ludwig tried to wake him.

“A meeting!” He suddenly said, his tone brimming with anxiety, “call forward a meeting!” He made his way to the door.

“Right now?”

“Yes, immediately, tell everyone to come. Now, now, go, go,” he ordered, crashing his way out through the doors to already start making the preparations.

 

It was a maid who had Queen Louis, Kiku and Feliciano rushing inside, saying that it was urgent and of dire need that they were all present for this sudden emergency meeting. The hall where the largest meeting room was located was filled with the crowds of all who had come, trying to make their way inside.

Feliciano had never seen so much commotion in the castle. It was nothing to compare to the ball and festival preparations, for those had been happy and invigorating, this one brought dread, panic, worried whispers through all, even the servants.

“What’s happening?” He asked, hoping that anybody from the plentitude could answer him.

There was so much noise of uttered nervousness that no one had heard him. Guards came to better control the crowds and flow of the entry way, making way and space for the more official dignitaries to come in first.

“Your highness!” One had called to Feliciano upon noticing him.

He begged him to come forward, two other female guards coming and helping him squeeze throughout until he was finally inside. It wasn’t any different from the hall, and he had only found a chair in the large table because it was already reserved for him. All kinds of leaders were in there, from the arising King, to even the servant leader of the castle hold, so many that some had to stand, for all chairs that were presented were taken, not enough for all of them. Nervous murmuring continued, drowning even the chance for Feliciano to ask Kiku beside him what was going on.

Once the guards saw that everyone that should be in there was present, they brought the doors to a close, and it only grew the agitation inside. King Aldrich finally came in from another room, the presence that brought everyone to harmonious silent. It didn’t last long, for they all startled and whispered fearfully between themselves when the King threw the black envelope before his chair, upon the table for all to see. Feliciano didn’t recognize it, neither did Ludwig and Kiku, who gazed on with the same concern, but for everyone around them, it was clear enough, enough for the alarm that had spread all across the castle.

“Ladies and gentleman, I don’t have to read aloud the contents of this letter for you all to understand,” he spoke loudly enough for even the person in the very back corner to hear clearly and feel the ever potent of the King. “The Validity Spheres that Queen Louis and I last placed over fifty years ago to power King Khaos’s confinements are running low and will soon end with the energy last placed by the past rulers.” Startled gasps arose, whispers once again, then shushing to let the King continue to speak. “With the dwindling of the protective force, it means that more of his servants will come out to plan heavy attacks on all the major cities of the kingdoms, attacks on the royals, as well as to try to destroy the protective force King Romulus and Queen Augusta placed centuries ago. As always for when this time comes around, we have the present threat that King Khaos could escape and create ruin as he had last done.” Silence fell in worry, in loved ones looking among each other, holding each other tight, shaking, fearing what could happen in the coming months.

“One of the reasons I have called you all here is to discuss and prepare warnings all across the kingdom. All the provinces must know. We have to strengthen and prepare our borders, our guards, our soldiers and armies. Send men and women to weak points that King Khaos’s men can take advantage of. Send word to our people that they have to remain vigilant and careful. We all depend on each other equally to assure that no tragedy shall befall on any of us. King Ivan has written me that similar messages have been sent to the rest of the kingdoms.” All military, guard, border patrol, and messenger leaders bowed in approval. “As expected, Clubs has also immediately called that the King and Queen of Hearts should hence start their journey across all of the Kingdoms to get new spheres of validity and place them on the protective field before King Khaos could use the weakening to his advantage.” All eyes were clear on Ludwig and Feliciano, who sat with clear panic, memories of the time they had been attacked themselves by King Khaos’s men.

Renata once spoke to Feliciano about this, but he didn’t think it could be before him so soon, ready to be faced. “Another thing I have called this meeting to discuss, with the current predicament of our arising rulers, who exactly should go this time on the journey?”

Chapter Text

“The journey has always been strictly done by crowned, sometimes married, Kings and Queens. It shouldn’t stop now!”

“Your majesties, you should do the journey once more!”

“The Validity Spheres only accept new powers, which means that Ludwig and Feliciano’s is the one that is needed this time."

“Besides, my wife and I don’t have the vitality or energy we once had. We cannot possibly make a journey that will be too tough on us. We’d also be too weak to deal with the threats. We’re slowly loosening power,” Aldrich added.

“How do we know Ludwig and Feliciano will be capable of it?”

“If I might add, I believe that they are both strong and skillful enough. They had shown me well and I can see that they can go against whatever they might face,” Egilhard, their power training teacher, helped.

“It does not excuse the fact that they are neither crowned nor married."

“What if it isn’t enough?”

“It’s a lot of time alone, what if we end up with an heir before its necessary?”

“You’re assuming too much.”

“Wouldn’t that be good even?”

“I suggest we crown and wed them immediately."

“On this short notice? There’s no time! The journey must immediately start!”

“Well, what else can we do? We can’t send Kiku."

“What if we give extra guards for the King and Queen on the journey?”

Suggestions and discussion flew on and about above the heads of Ludwig and Feliciano. It was tiring, maddening, Ludwig rubbing his temple wishing he could shush them into silence with a shout. Feliciano was scared, fearing over what this journey could hold…that is, if they decided they should even go…if they ever agreed to it. The rest continued to fight despite, but if there was something Feliciano agreed with Ludwig in the situation, was that all these people were here commenting and discussing right before them, but none had given them, the arising rulers who they were speaking about, the chance to speak and join, make up their own opinions, suggestions and even choices. Shouldn’t they be just as part of it?

“If I may,” Ludwig suddenly interrupted, with a single raised hand to bring the quarrelling into silence so he could speak. They surprisingly handed it to him, and Ludwig knew he had to be quick before someone else continued. “What if I just go alone?”

“Absolutely not!”

“Ludwig, that is too risky!”

“You have to go with someone!”

“What if I go with Gilbert?”

“No, it has to be with your Queen."

“Then I really don’t get why we need to be discussing this,” Feliciano suddenly interrupted, taking order and command that no one had been expecting. Mute silence continued as they all stared to the arising Queen, making sure that it was he who said it.

“Are you saying that you would be willing to go?” Aldrich asked him.

“I…I should be…shouldn’t I?”

“But they’re not crowned yet!”

“What does it have to do?”

“It is still a job that should be expected of them, even if they are still in their arising. It is their turn, it is their power that is needed, and they should commit to it as every King and Queen has done, no matter,” Queen Louis finally added.

“I still insist that I can go alone,” Ludwig still hoped, a plead in his voice.

“You won’t! Absolutely forbidden!” Aldrich appointed. He turned to Feliciano, who sat rather nervously in his chair, eyes avoiding the many stares that were on him. “Feliciano, do you really not mind going alone with Ludwig, getting the Validity Spheres from each kingdom, and placing them in the Field?”

It was a sure duty, no matter how fearful he was about it. He knew he had to for the safety of not just the Hearts Kingdom, but all the Kingdoms. He was scared, shown obviously, trembling lips, hands intertwined in front of him, fingers rubbing together as he tried to relax it. He gazed over to Ludwig, who was angrily tapping the table still thinking of a way to convince them.

“How long?” Feliciano asked.

“Usually it takes about two months, but when I went with Louis we did it in a month and two weeks. It all depends on how you and Ludwig fare with it. I must admit that it’s dangerous. You can be targeted, you could have problems with your transportation arrangements, you have to worry about thieves, pirates and jokers, across all kinds of terrains that you never thought could exist. But it’s necessary, for the good of all the kingdoms.”

It didn’t help at all to subside him, especially after knowing that it meant dealing with all of this alone…with Ludwig. The very arising King didn’t share in his glance, his tapping becoming more furious, trying to extinguish even something of fear with his action. It made Feliciano wonder what exactly was going on his mind to make him so tensed, so restless. Something told him that it was more than just anxiousness about the trip. It would be just the two of them, no King, no Queen, no Jack or arising Jack, no parents, no brothers, no servants, just them, in the vastness of the world as they went on with their task.

If they went, what could this journey hold for them? Would he be able to learn from him? Would he be given a chance to connect what they hadn’t, understand, maybe even mend all that had been broken? Either that, or Ludwig would turn for the worst, more so without the eyes of the castle to stop, scold or even restrain him. It was going to be a thin line of falling into either prospect, but no matter what could come from it, there was still a job that needed both their hands.

“I-I…I’ll do it still. I-it’s in mine and Ludwig’s responsibility,” he decided surely and bright for all to hear.

Aldrich and Louis nodded, in agree with his decision. If Ludwig had suggested to even go alone, they knew he would take the journey. Even if he didn’t want to, he’d still go because of the requirement expected from him.

“So have we come to a decree?”

The entire room showed acceptance. They couldn’t say anything else when the arising rulers, and the King and Queen decided officially.

“Then it’s settled, Ludwig and Feliciano will go on the journey. Preparations must start immediately. I give you both three days to pack and prepare, for then I will have a coach ready to leave. Hurry, we have no time to loose. Send the messages, arrange the travel, the whole kingdom has to know,” King Aldrich began commanding, moving about the room as all began to scurry as they had earlier done. Some rushed out of the room to start, others spoke on with King Aldrich on the details, the meeting room and the halls becoming the mess it had earlier been, but now with more frenzy and action. Even the Jack with Kiku rushed out to get the important scrolls and preparations to create new Validity Spheres.

Feliciano still sat where he was, confused as to what he was supposed to start, especially when everyone around him was in such a mess and distress that they themselves would surely not know what to tell him. Well they did tell him to pack so he might as well prepare a trunk with all he would need for the trip. He gazed over to Ludwig hoping he could be given some hint, but there he was, still tapping furiously against the table, although his expression was now serene with a particular kind of fear, refusing to look at anything but the wood of the table.

“Ludwig…” Feliciano thought he could ask. To his surprise, he actually looked up to him, willing to hear. “Are…you okay?”

Ludwig instantly stopped his tapping, guessing Feliciano knew with it. “It’s nothing." He hid his arm, the room and halls in still too much a mess to come out in.

“Are you sure?” Feliciano asked once again.

“I’m sure, let’s just wait for this to disperse enough so we can go up and pack at least.”

Feliciano nodded, although it still didn’t erase the curiosity over the worry that still shone around Ludwig.

“Are you…really okay with this?” He still asked.

“With what exactly?”

“With going on this…with me alone?”

Ludwig didn’t answer quickly, busying his vision with the array of people that began to empty the room.

“You said it yourself, it’s a responsibility we have to uphold.” He stood, space enough for him to move, hoping to avoid anyone coming on to him with frivolous question with what just happened. Feliciano followed the same example.

 

They were told to pack four trunks, with all kinds of available wear, since they were going to meet with different kinds of climates, events and people. Ludwig had filled three trunks successfully, but the last one was proving harder than he had expected. He was currently checking through his jackets and coats, some holding their sashes and seals, others only silver or golden buttons that he thought were rather simplistic. He hoped to have the last trunk for Clubs and his return to Hearts, after hopefully everything went right with the placing.

“Just bring everything!” Gilbert suggested, who had decided to join Ludwig in his choosing and preparing, even placing things in the trunk himself he thought he would need.

Gilbert had packed his special swords, knifes, and guns. He placed any study books he might need to catch up on regular power training when he returned. He packed some bottles of beer, and some other crazy items Ludwig would throw away at some point in the trip, and finally, a red collar that he played with by spinning it on his finger, not really packing it yet. Ludwig hadn’t noticed it, searching still in his closet.

“I should, I’m running out of clothes anyway.” He turned and finally saw, face dumping in anger and annoyance. “Why do you have that?” He asked his brother, with the ever present scolding tone he always took with him, especially after sensing trouble in his game and in the very collar.

“What? Thought I’d offer you one,” he smirked.

“I won’t need such a thing, so give it back to whoever you stole it from.” He turned and began placing what he had picked into the trunk. He was practically done, only a couple of things he could surely pack just before leaving.

“Are you sure? That’s a lot of time alone with Feliciano you’re going to have there.”

“This is a job Gilbert, it’s not for fun!”

“Still, I mean, you’ll also be going through some pretty romantic places. Maybe you’ll only share one bed, maybe Feliciano will move on you and beg you things you won’t be able to resist.”

“Really? After the way we’ve been with each other lately and after his refusal to marry me, your perverse mind still dares conjure this up.” He slammed his trunk in insult.

“Hey, who knows, things can change in the trip. Both your magic is powerful, especially Feliciano’s. With just one round you can have him bearing easily. All this bad boy would do is cut off the reproduction magic from arising and you can focus on giving it to him good. It’s just a precaution. Sure, heirs would be amazing for the kingdom, but doing so before marriage would really ruin your image as an arising King.”

“Like pre-marital sex won’t?”

“Hey, you can hide it somehow!”

“Feliciano has the promise necklace, everyone will know when it happens.”

“If you’re probably not getting married anymore, then convince him to take it off.”

“I cannot until we find a sure way to cancel out the agreement with the Aces. Really just stop suggesting and approving to this. I will not initiate such a thing with him.” He rolled his eyes and continued with inspecting the room, seeing if there was something he was forgetting or something else he should bring.

Gilbert thought it was best to drop the subject, stopping his play with the collar and placing it on one of the little tables.

“Whatever you say, but you have to admit that Feliciano grew up into one hot piece of ass. If I was you, I would have been all over him the moment he first arrived, treating him like the Queen he will be and showing him off to everybody. We would be married right now and wouldn’t be leaving our room.” He made disgusting kisses, embracing an invisible figure and it flared Ludwig to know who it could be.

“Until further notice, he’s still my fiancé,” Ludwig growled in reminder. He didn’t need people telling him this, people that didn’t understand, that didn’t know.

“Well you have to act like it, especially now after you have some time to truly show him and fix this.” Gilbert stood up, being reminded of things he was supposed to be doing. “Really, don’t disappoint anybody in this trip,” he told him lastly before he headed out.

“I won’t,” Ludwig made sure, although he hadn’t fully understood what Gilbert truly meant with that.

This was a journey only for the Spheres of Validity and to repower King Khaos’s confinements. Nothing else was of matter, nothing else should distract, nothing else should it be given space to do …should it? No, Ludwig will not give it more chance, more thought- a job, a job, a job.

He caught sight of the collar still in the place Gilbert had last left it. He ended up packing it... just for precaution.

 

All of Feliciano’s things were packed, something that luckily Queen Louis had helped him do, having to stand Feliciano’s choice of simpleton and foolish things. He actually packed his cooking pots, special condiments, bags and bags of different kinds of pastas, sketchbooks and even flimsy things the children in the city had given to him as luck for the trip. Queen Louis would have thrown them away at the first chance she got, but Feliciano was too compassionate to do such a thing.

“Finally, we have finished!” Queen Louis declared as she made her way alongside Feliciano across the halls, now preparing for one final thing, and that was creating their Spheres of Validity.

“I’m so glad, I’m actually really nervous, but also really excited,” Feliciano told her honestly.

“Both are appropriate. The trip is filled with all kinds of dangers, but thrilling opportunities, beauties and experiences that compare to no other. If you would have been married to Ludwig, you would have enjoyed it the more. It’s almost like a honeymoon.”

Feliciano soured, but smiled on to not show his distaste of that last comment, especially when he was talking to the person’s grandmother and things were still rather bitter about his refusal.

“I think Ludwig and I will enjoy it still,” he mentioned, just as they arrived before the throne room.

Feliciano trembled, for he hadn’t entered the room before, which was usually reserved for certain special occasions such as this one. Although now a days not as used as it had once been, it was still a room of command and power, the true seat of the powers of the kingdom. Feliciano had always felt rather intimidated by it, even if such power was meant to lay on his shoulders and hands one day.

Once the guards opened them from inside, Queen Louis entered with heightened ease, Feliciano following behind in shy and slow steps.

It was not as big as he expected, but its heights were still impressive, pillars strong and just, intricate windows letting in light to adorn the countless amount of paintings, sculptures and designs that flowed through the room like blood of power. Red of course shone, with gold, silver, marble and bronze, all until they reached the three impressive thrones at the bottom. The smallest one was for the jack, which stood at the left, the center with the largest for the King, the one to the right, for the Queen. He was breath taken at the beauty, weighted down by the power above him, around him, seeming to taunt him to sit, to claim it his own and start commanding as he should.

“Ah, finally,” the King welcomed.

Feliciano had been too distracted by the things around him to see that people were already there waiting for them. The rulers, as well as the arising rulers, were the only ones present. With a wave of Aldrich’s hand, the guards disappeared out into the hall to guard, so no one could disturb the process that was to occur. The Jack, from a chest he had brought, carefully took out three crystal clear orbs, light, like bubbles that could pop at any second.

“They arrived just earlier, directly from Rome, till this day the crafters that make the best bases from the ones in Hearts,” King Aldrich explained letting the Jack move in front so they could watch them. “From the very place we store them after being used. I assume you all remember them clearly.”

How could they forget? It was one of the worst nights of their lives. They cringed at the thought and still hid their faces in embarrassment, even Ludwig did.

“Opa, we were seven,” Ludwig reminded.

“That still doesn’t excuse the fact that you lost one and broke a window in the building! You’re lucky scouts got it back and the payment for the fix wasn’t as bad as I hoped.”

Ludwig rolled his eyes and maintained his gaze to the clear orbs now, not wanting to show clearer what he felt about the memory.

“Right, now, each of you, take one.”

And so they picked them up, dear in their hands, curious as they spun it in their holds. Aldrich then ushered them forward to move to an exact place in the tiles of the floor. It was a design of a night sky, a particular one, a story to it that not even the King and Queen knew. One star shone the brightest, and Aldrich placed each one at the top of a spike, close to their own throne. He didn’t explain why, it was just a formation the castle had been used to for centuries. He made sure they were all properly placed and then moved away, giving each the space they would need.

“We’re going to do this one by one, Feliciano’s power is still too great to mix well with the both of you, so we have to be careful and we have no time to get new Spheres, it has to work on this try.”

They pointed for Kiku to start, who stiffened, eyes only on the sphere, hands tight on it, waiting on the command of whatever it was that he was supposed to do.

“Kiku, focus all of your energy, and I mean all of it, unto it, but don’t let it escape or overflow.”

“Is that really it?”

“You have to give enough energy to help along with the rest to power a force field that will stand and cancel out a magic from a powerful being perhaps for the next fifty years. You’ll see that it will become hard to keep balance, and perhaps you will grow weak in the process, but we need you to maintain and continue it until the sphere deems itself complete.”

“Will I notice?”

“You’ll see and feel it,” was Aldrich’s last warning.

With a couple of deep breaths, Kiku thought that he should try it that instant then, get it over with quickly and be the test for all to see how it worked. He closed his eyes, centering his power within him, letting it then flow out through his hands and begin to power the orb. Only the outer shell began to light up in a soft pink, intensifying until it began to turn into a deeper red. By some natural feeling, Kiku begun to spun it in his hands, spreading the magic into the inner sphere like filling water, in reds and pinks that shone brighter and brighter along with the arising Jack. The light from outside seemed to have disappeared and Feliciano was impressed at the way Kiku’s contours shone, practically darkening him until all that existed from him was his magic and energy. His eyes were closed, but he knew that if he opened them, they would alight the room as well. The power was enough to have him lift up, fly across the full heights of the room if he wished, but it wasn’t complete, for suddenly it had all died down, stopped, the light turning off like someone had blown it away. Kiku was back on the floor, breathing heavily, leaning as he tried to find the energy in him to even stand, but it proved extremely hard after he gave all that energy to the sphere. It shone in reds and soft pinks, moving around the capture of the sphere like sand. Kiku stared to it impressed, even in his tiredness, in his weakness, so tempted to fall down to the cold hard floors and sleep there. The Jack ended up holding him so he wouldn’t fall or end up falling asleep.

“You can do this, Kiku,” he inspired.

He nodded, managing to stand if it even was a feat, holding proudly to his own sphere.

They all looked to Ludwig, expecting his turn now.

He started just as Kiku, with a breath, an inner focus, instead of pink, already starting in red, then turning into another darker red almost reaching black. He turned it, the sphere began to be filled with his power. He alighted, he floated, until finally it was done. He stumbled, his eyes showed his great tiredness, and it seemed like any single little poke was enough to have him tumbling to the ground. No one would dare, and he glared over to his grandfather showing that he didn’t need his help to continue to stand.

Ludwig’s sphere shone in different shades of dark reds, contrasting very differently from Kiku’s.

It was then Feliciano’s turn, startled at the heavy gazes he got, trembling as he didn’t know how exactly he should begin.

Where should his power start? How could he do a concentration like that? There had been the warnings that he was too powerful, what if he ended up breaking the sphere? What if he couldn’t control it enough and end up hurting Ludwig and Kiku?

Time passed, the seconds haunting the room that continued to wait.

“Feliciano?” Queen Louis worried.

He would just have to try and hope for the best, hope that nothing bad would happen, and hope that he could control his power enough. He followed Ludwig and Kiku’s example, began with calm, concentrated, forcing himself to only be a slight amount, but he felt the sphere begging for more, and like a crash he only offered what it wanted and needed. The light had been too bright to notice the color it had begun to glow, so much that the rest had to cover their own eyes to not fall blind. Feliciano arose just like the others did, but there was something different about it this time. He rose the highest, illuminating like a clear star, so much that King Aldrich feared that it was too much for the sphere to handle. He was about ready to shout at him to stop, but he was impressed by seeing what came next.

Marks arose on Feliciano’s body, unlike anything they had ever seen, swirling in wonderful designs like vines on a pillar. His eyes were opened to shine, a golden spiked crown alighting his hair and the dim trace of wings behind him.

Before they could question any longer, it was gone, off, and Feliciano was suddenly dropped to the floor with a hmph. All traces of what just happened disappeared completely off him, sane, clear, if only a slight pain in his rear after his abrupt fall to the floor.

“Ow…” he only uttered, trying to relieve himself by rubbing the affected areas and trying to stand again.

Luckily the orb was still in his hold, safe and usable, yet in quite the rare colors that had the room still starring in disbelief. It shone in a unique red, a beautiful one that represented the most imperial shade, mixed also with gold, silver and bronze, in a blend never before witnessed in a Validity Sphere. Feliciano didn’t seem to mind as he rubbed his head, more hurt instead of tired.

“Feliciano, are you all right?” The Queen asked.

“Ye-yes, ju-just a headache,” he groaned. But other than that, he was perfectly fine, standing proudly and with enough force to run down the halls of the castle if he wished. Yet, everything had been so odd, they didn’t know how to react, what to tell him, what to explain, because they didn’t understand themselves what just happened.

To distract themselves from that occurrence, Ludwig suddenly asked a very important question. “How are we supposed to bring these with us across all the four kingdoms? They’re so large, I doubt they’ll fit in any of our trunks and bags, and won’t we get more? They easily attract attention.” Especially Feliciano’s.

“I’m glad you brought that up,” King Aldrich said, turning away from them to move to his own throne, from its side taking out a scepter that mended well with the decorations of the room to be easily forgotten by anyone who was coming there for the first time. It was long and golden, a single red sphere at the top, rather insignificant actually.

“This is the king’s scepter of course. It has been used by every King since the very first one, a symbol of your power and magic in the time to proclaim and make decisions. It has many uses, but one of its important ones is the deliverance of the Spheres of Validity. You’re not supposed to be using this until being King, but because of the situation, we have no other choice.” He handed it over, and Ludwig held it proudly…but he was still confused as to how exactly it was going to help them to carry the spheres. He gazed to it intently, but it showed now hint or design of how it could do it. He sent a questioning glance to his grandfather. Aldrich eased close, helping his grandson to hold it as he should, pointing to specific marks in the handle.

“Listen and learn well Ludwig, I won’t be with you for when you have to carry the other ones.” Making sure Ludwig’s hands were still where he left them, he moved away, ready to explain.

“Now, all of you, offer your orbs to the scepter.”

It was confusing at first, but they did exactly that, just awkwardly offer them to the scepter that was still in Ludwig’s hand. Nothing still happened.

“Ludwig, with your power, now simply drag them into the scepter, you’ll see for yourself, but remember to always keep your hold exactly like you are now if it’s for the acceptance of orbs.”

Ludwig looked conspicuously to both the scepter and the sphere that was in his hold, but did as he was told, pointing it forward and pumping his magic through it. Soon enough, the red orb alighted, the three spheres as well, and suddenly they disappeared out of their holds in a puff, leaving even smoke behind. The three looked around themselves, fearing over what had happened to them. Aldrich answered by pointing to the staff, and that’s when they noticed three little lights glowing down the hold, still shinning in their distinct colors as they had made them, above nine dark sockets that were surely meant for the others. In the end, there should be twelve.

“They’ll be safe on the scepter for the journey, but hide it well if you won’t be holding it. Once you arrive to Clubs, King Ivan will explain what to do with them for the placing. Are we clear?” He looked to both Ludwig and Feliciano, a time for questions just not about the staff, but the journey in total.

It had been rather clear in their last minute preparations, they just wished they could be told more about their journey. They knew their every mode of transformation were assigned, with their lodging and even stays at the other castles, but if there were dangers, what would they be? What could they do to them? What if they went off the path? What if something happened? What were they supposed to do then?

“Everything will be fine,” Aldrich assured, “the road is rather simple and I’m sure many others will be guarding and watching over you, just look out for sudden dangers and protect each other when necessary.”

They nodded and hoped that it would be as he said. Maybe the rest were just exaggerating the dangers and complications to keep them better focus and alert. They couldn’t just risk the lives of the arising King and Queen in such a way. Ludwig and Feliciano kept repeating to themselves that all would go well, and that they would return in no time to settle what they were last doing.

It was just an orb placing and a visit around all four kingdoms, how bad could it be?

The three of them nodded, bowed, and began their exit from the room. They still had some last things to settle before their departure. With the doors closed, leaving the current rulers alone, they finally let their worry show, looking among themselves for the still evident question.

“What-what just happened to Feliciano?” The Queen was the first to ask.

“I wish I knew, but I had never seen such symbols, those forms. Did you go through something like that when you made your own Validity Sphere?” The Jack asked.

“Never, my magic never did such a thing.”

“Did the past Queen ever told you anything similar?”

“No, he never did, I didn’t see anything like that in my books.”

“Feliciano’s power always keep surprising me. I have never read or seen a Queen with so much magic. I wonder if it has to do with the fact that he’s Italian.”

“His Romulus line perhaps?”

They both then gazed to Aldrich, who had remained silent for this discussion, deep in thought. They hoped he perhaps knew something, but just like them, it was also a mystery to him.

 

Mio caro Feliciano,

The whole village knows about your coming trip, the messengers worked quick with their announcements, and I hope they’re also quick enough to let you receive this message just before leaving. My darling, I desperately hope that all goes well. I honestly say that I feared this day and hoped it would never come, but alas, before I knew it, you’re already preparing to leave. I’m scared of what some evil man can do to both you and Ludwig, but I’m also confident that you will both deal well. You’re the grandson of a powerful soldier Feliciano, and no, your grandfather is not insisting over my shoulder to write that, but he is insisting that you smash whatever enemies with your pots if you have to. Surely it would not come to that, but still stand strong and I wish you great luck, an open mind to learn, my love and my deepest belief for you and Ludwig. I heard that when you return, you’ll be stopping at Barga before heading back to Berlin, so when you do, the village will celebrate your return with a great feast. I’ll be looking forward to it.

Safe trip, mio bambino.

Feliciano read, right at the entrance of the castle. They were expected to leave in this late night, cold, dark, with only dims lights in the entrance, making it the more obscure, like they were hiding some important treasure from being seen. The last trunk had just been packed inside the coach, and all that was missing were both the arising King and Queen, who still stood at the entrance with many others, wishing goodbyes, luck, and even handing of items that could help them. Feliciano saved the letter in his bag and turned towards Kiku, who was handing him a new blanket he could use for the trip, with soft fur that Feliciano instantly wanted to rest in. He embraced him in thanks, told him about how he was going to miss him and probably bring something for him from Spades. Kiku assured that he would work what he can to continue to find annulments while he was gone. He promised that when Feliciano returned, a breaking should be done and a coronation could finally be celebrated. He smiled and brought him to another deeper hug, one to which he shared with other cooks and servants he had dearly befriended. He said goodbye to Ludwig’s parents, and received a choking hug from Gilbert. He bowed to the King, and he placed a hand of luck on his shoulder, wishing him safety, in deep earnest as Feliciano read in his hold and eyes. It was actually quite endearing and he felt tempted to hug him, but he knew Aldrich would refuse. He did share an embrace with the Queen, and she even ran a hand on the back of his hair, with the same wishes of everybody else, she even wiped a tear away when Feliciano began to move towards the coach. Ludwig gave them all quick goodbyes, last being the one with his grandfather. The same hand on his shoulder, the same words he wished Feliciano, and then the handing of a book with notes. It was unfamiliar to Ludwig, and he looked to it with question.

“This holds lessons as to how to connect your magic well with the Queen. We were expecting to train you in this matter once the counting for the coronation and wedding started, with haste and force since Feliciano’s magic is more powerful than we had expected. It’s quite dangerous still to let you deal with this alone, but being alone with Feliciano for so long, we don’t know what kind of exposure of magic you both will have, so it’s better you have this information now to better deal with it. The notes have medical procedures for if your burn or the magic turns for the worst. Use everything well,” Aldrich advised last.

Ludwig thanked him and bowed, holding it tightly in his hold, assuring himself that he would start reading immediately. He headed towards the coach, where Feliciano was already waiting, prepared to go in, all ready to wave and watch them depart. But a sudden presence, a glowing interrupted, and all turned with both fear and impression to see a St. Mark lion enter the gates of the castle. He walked in with calm, slowly, regally, as a King would, a mighty presence that no guard dared go against. None of them did anything, they were too stupefied in their spots to go against the creature. They continued to stare in both wonder and question, yet fearing what it would do once it halted right before the arising King and Queen. It sat and stared up to them, expecting something, but both the arising rulers were confused as to what.

Should they shoo it away? Had it been one that got lost? Was it a trained one that belonged to somebody in the city?

No, it came alone, with no rush, with no show of wanting to run away. Besides, there was just something different about this one, in regal reds and oranges, seeming to shine brighter than any they had ever seen, and then they noticed that it wore a rich jeweled ruby necklace around its neck, the very same design that decorated its torso and tail.

“Um, Hello,” Feliciano wished it.

Ludwig glared at him to stop, but to his surprise, the lion seemed to have understood, bowing as a greet. Ludwig felt like he should do the same, and so he did. Once the lion saw that it was given respect from both the arising rulers, it turned towards the crowd, specifically to the current King, Queen, Jack and the arising Jack, and he bowed to them as well, and they did so too as by some sudden decree they had to obey that instant.

“Wha-what is it?” Someone in the crowd asked.

“I have never seen one so obedient.”

“Where did it come from?”

“I feel Ace magic from it,” the Jack whispered to the other royals, instantly recognizing it, but not enough as know exactly what this animal was.

After the heavy stare it had in the crowd, on the castle, on the very stars, it settled its gaze back on Feliciano, close, nose inching to where his hand fell beside him. Feliciano instantly understood and began to pet him as if he was a dog or cat he spotted in the streets. The lion answered well, purring and even nuzzling at the touch, wanting for more, the ever closer to Feliciano, who smiled and laughed, not fearing as he had earlier done.

It came as a surprise to the others, and all Ludwig could do was stare dumbfounded, questioning gazes to the crowd, debating if he should stop this and get Feliciano on the coach or let it continue as so for it could disrespect whatever this creature was. He had to admit that he was rather jealous of the acceptance the lion had for Feliciano, how the arising Queen could play with its fur and cradle him, and he was just standing there awkwardly.

Before he could omit anything, they witnessed as the creature’s glow intensified, blinding it completely, growing smaller, smaller, and smaller until it disappeared and what was left in Feliciano’s arm was a miniature. It was almost like a small firing kitty, but it still held its mane, the jewelry now turned into symbols on its fur, his wings tucked safely along with his tail, now falling into sweet rest in the arms of the arising Queen. Feliciano quietly cooed at it, scratching its mane and neck for it to lay more comfortable, and it was just too adorable to let go, to leave, somehow he felt like he was meant to bring it along with him on the trip. He headed towards the entrance of the coach, readily with it, not minding at all this sudden companion to the journey. Ludwig gazed to the King and Queen expecting a scold of denying.

“It has Ace magic,” the Jack told him.

“I feel like…” the Queen gazed over to the sky, as if she could see the powerful beings right before them, “they sent him.”

All agreed, all approved, shivers arose, but what a blessing it still was, what an opportunity never before witnessed.

Feliciano went into the coach, choosing a spot to tuck himself into, cradling the small creature lovingly, the arising Queen himself close to joining him in rest. Ludwig gazed to it, not believing how a powerful creature from the Aces easily accepted and laid with Feliciano as if it was an old companion, a dear friend. It was best to leave it as that, best to let it come, best to let this begin.

“We’re off,” Ludwig declared, not wanting to stall any more time, heading inside to join Feliciano and closing the doors harshly behind him. Ludwig tapped a certain area on the ceiling and the horses understood, neighing and officially starting course. With no rider to take them, the horses knew well where to go and were specifically chosen for this, and so the rest could confide they could arrive to their next stop safe and quick.

Through the window in the back, Feliciano raised and looked to the crowds that wished them goodbye, shouting and giving exaggerated waves that Feliciano wished he could share with as well, but couldn’t with the confines of the space and the hold of the St. Mark. He settled with simple waves and wording out with his lips messages that he hoped they would understand. They were pass the gates of the castle, into the streets, heading to the exit, the castle turning smaller and smaller the more far away they went, the people now gone, for Feliciano to not see for as long as this trip would last. He settled back, looking straight to the decorated wall of the coach, then to the side, where Ludwig rested, head leaning against the window, eyes tired, he wanted to sleep.

Feliciano sighed. This would be his company, this would be who he should trust, who he depended on, and who could protect him.

Turned away from each other, as if another night in their own room, Feliciano decided he should rest as well against his own side, petting the creature still. It would be a while until they got to their next stop.

Chapter Text

They had traveled throughout the whole night, Feliciano waking up to find the coach still in constant motion. To his surprise, Ludwig slept on, and Feliciano, after opening the curtains to see what lay outside, could not understand how he could let himself ignore all this beauty, tall mountains of green and snow, plentitude of red flowers, villages, fresh air, a road that continued on with promise of more to see. Feliciano was breath taken, tempted to wake up Ludwig so he could witness it all as well. He stuck his head out, wanting to take more of that natural smell, see beyond what the walls of the coach impaired him to. He caught sight of the horses, continuing to drive them forward, no matter the cold, no matter the weight or how tired they probably were. A lake was coming soon into their vicinity, shinning splendidly, with good pasture and he knew he had to take the chance.

Following Ludwig’s example from last night, he tapped at the coach ceiling, catching the horses’ attention. “You guys must be thirsty and tired, please, let’s stop to have a drink and you all can rest for a while." He pointed to the place, hoping that they understood enough. They seemed to have since they took a sudden turn, closer towards the splendor, right by a tree that would give excellent shade.

It was the sudden movements that had Ludwig awakened, groaning, rubbing his eyes while stretching, looking around him as if to realize where he was.

“We’re making a quick stop so the horses can refresh.”

“Did you tell them to?”

“Of course! They’ve been awake the whole night! It’s only a quick stop. We’re pretty close to the station anyways.” He moved all curtains, even the ones in Ludwig’s side apart. “The views are absolutely stunning. You just have to look Ludwig.” He pointed, hoping it had peeked his curiosity enough. Ludwig still looked tired and uncaring, but at least his eyes were frozen on the distances, on the trees, and the height of a church from a near village.

The coach finally came to a stop, and at that very moment Feliciano came down, after leaving the St. Mark in a comfortable position on his earlier seat. He took off the reigns from the horses and lead them forward, with space for them to drink, to rest, or just walk what they wanted without the weight of the coach and its riders. It was such a beautiful lake, large, with a clear shore, and Feliciano was tempted to take off everything and join in its depth, but sadly they didn’t have enough time.

It was finally nice to have this space to move, a tranquil spot that they could have the breakfast he had packed. He went to get it just as Ludwig was coming down, relieved as Feliciano was even if he didn’t word it. He went forward, just as taken, just as tempted to let the water feel every inch of his skin. It was an enchanting place, the sand soft underneath his feet and every brush of wind seemed to want him to fall down and rest. Feliciano then rushed at his side, taking seat, Ludwig noticing that the St. Mark decided to have a rest at the top of his curled hair. It was like another bed to him. Feliciano took out various pieces of bread along with jars of jam, bottles of milk, and packages of coffee from the basket he brought. Not his preferred way, but he was sure that an ounce of magic could help. Once he took what he wanted, he offered the basket kindly for Ludwig to take. Without giving him a glance, Ludwig took his own portions, more so than Feliciano since he was used to heavier breakfasts, but they couldn’t cook eggs and sausages at that moment. Hopefully that would change once they stayed at their lodgings and arrival to the Diamond castle.

They had their breakfast in calm silence, eyes on the horizon of the lake, meeting with the rise of a beautiful hill. Soon enough Feliciano was done with his meal, sitting more attentive to the wind, the distant bells of the village and the hooves of the horses as they explored the shore. With sudden movement on the top of his hair, Feliciano remembered the little lion was resting there, awakened and now playing with a distinct curl that blew along with the wind. He chuckled, took him into his arm and began playing with it, tickling it and letting it try to chase and bite his finger. It was rather gentile so he didn’t mind it.

“We should name it,” Feliciano suddenly interrupted the serene air.

“It’s probably from the Aces. It surely has a name already.”

“Then why didn’t he tell us. We can’t just go the whole journey calling it the lion.”

“It’s easier.”

“No, help me name him.” Feliciano raised it, turning it as he guessed a fitting name. He hummed, stayed thinking for the longest while, even when Ludwig was done, noticing that the horses were moving further away and was about to stand up and get them. “Guido!” Feliciano started.

“Why does it have to be Italian?”

“So you want something German? Okay um, Wolfgang!”

“I hate that name.”

“I think it sounds fancy, and like…a gang of wolves.”

“This is a lion.”

“True…I think it’s best if we use another language then.”

Ludwig rolled his eyes and left him to get the horses, while Feliciano suggested different names in Spanish, Swedish and even Japanese. By the time he returned to place them on the reins, Feliciano was still not sure on one, sad for he wanted it to be instant, to continue the rest of the journey with a knowing name to their new member.

“You can name it Pookie for all I care, but get on the coach already, we can’t be stalling time.”

Feliciano suddenly jolted in elation, eyes glowing at whatever sudden realization.

“Pookie!” He said it aloud.

“Uh…”

“We’ll name it Pookie!”

“I just…came up with the name, it wasn’t meant to-”

“I like it! It’s perfect! Do you like it?”

The lion didn’t seem to mind, nuzzling itself in Feliciano’s arm, quite accepting to it.

“Pookie? It sounds ridiculous.”

“You’re the one that suggested it, and no, we’re not taking it back! It’s official, his name is Pookie!” He introduced with a pout…quite adorable Ludwig had to admit, which had him rolling his eyes to not show his blush or attention.

“Just get in the coach!” He commanded, reaching exasperation.

Feliciano decided to obey and go in.

They continued on their road, ignorant to the other, both distracted with their own views in their own sides. The only sounds were those of Feliciano’s comment as he talked to…Pookie, pointing the littlest details that just flew by to Ludwig.

Another night was reaching, and finally they could notice the deep glow of their next coming city. It wasn’t the largeness and plentitude of Berlin, but Hamburg still shone as beautiful, as spectacular, and Feliciano was so happy and excited he stuck his head out to witness it more, to feel this new air, for Ludwig to see this time.

“Would you get back in the coach!” Ludwig had constantly told him, but it never worked, Feliciano always found his chance to do it, to greet passerbies, to point to distinct buildings, the sweet smell of some of the restaurants, and romantic roads that he wanted to loose himself in.

Sadly, this was not for sightseeing or exploring, but only for their arrival at a distinct train station that was only available there in all of Hearts. It was the fastest way to get to Diamonds, giving them a sure arrival of two days to the city of Amiens, where they would then depart to the capital, Paris.

The coach continued until it arrived before that very station, where already they received a warm welcome from the crowds, who came to witness a visiting from the prince and the arising Queen, especially after the news they made all across the kingdom. They shouted and tried to scream their greets above the others, too many for Feliciano to properly greet back, only managing some of the close ones. They were hurried by guards down their reserve space, the same ones who offered to take their luggage.

A train was already waiting for them, and Ludwig and Feliciano were taken to one of the front wagons, surely the one meant for high class due to its luxurious decorations, dark reds, white and gold, the seats more comfortable than even the ones from their coach, and with space for tables and even beds. Their trunks were packed above them, the area practically deserted with only the extra presence of two other pairs: Two old women, and two other young ones, whispering among themselves surely about them. Feliciano smiled and waved to them, and they did the same, and Ludwig had to push him back, with a scolding glare to behave and stay silent. Pookie flew above their area, looking curiously out the window as to place themselves to where they were, but also curious about the glow of one of the tall lamps.

The train was then ready and it settled off, fast, but somehow the inside of the train was made to make it relaxing, so they wouldn’t feel the rushing movements, and so it came easy to rest into the night, no matter the sceneries, no matter their entrance into the Scandinavian provinces of the Hearts kingdom.

 

Breakfast was served by some attendants, a luxury only available to those of their cart. Separate tables were presented for each, nowhere close to speaking to the other riders, who Feliciano had a distinct need to talk to and get to know. Ludwig kept catching him glancing back, to the point that it was not letting him enjoy his breakfast in peace.

“What’s so special about them that you can’t focus on your food and eat?” He asked, taking a piece of chocolate that Feliciano had ignored in favor of the women in the back.

“It’s just so silent and boring. We should spend time with them so we can all enjoy our ride,” he suggested. Now that he said it maybe he could finally commit to it and stand, let them join all together in a table.

Ludwig held him harshly by the arm, wanting to force him back on his seat. “This is not meant to be a vacation, Feliciano,” he reminded.

“It’s just a little chat Ludwig, it’s not going to hurt the trip." He removed himself from his hold, and tired of his commanding attitude, went forward to them ignoring his glare and trying reach to get him back.

“Salve Signore,” he greeted with open arms and a friendly smile to all.

Ludwig watched as the other four smiled and greeted him just as friendly, all accepting him easily to their tables. After getting sick of having to call each other from their distances, Feliciano suggested that they all unite their tables and sit together in the center. Ludwig reluctantly had to join, settling with his calm in drinking some coffee. The other five chatted happily, filling the once depressing empty wagon with stories, jokes, and any tiny little things that would get them to know each other in the time they had.

Both of them were loving couples from the Germanic province who were visiting the Diamond Kingdom for a romantic getaway. With the news spreading well across the kingdom, the four of them knew Ludwig and Feliciano’s reasoning for the trip, but they still asked how they were feeling about it, what they were expecting and if they had plans to do other things than just getting the Spheres of Validity. Feliciano did much of the answering, Ludwig sternly only looking out the window to the views, hoping they would be able to pass over the sea bridge soon. Too preoccupied they were with their conversation that they didn’t notice as the train took a sudden slowness, dwindling, only Ludwig suddenly being aware of it. At first, he thought it was just some momentary mechanical problem, but it continued on, shakes from time to time, then crashes and shouts. Feliciano and the women continued to speak unaware, and since he really wasn’t offering anything to the conversation, they wouldn’t mind if he stood to check this out. Pookie, after being bored with some sugar cubes he had been playing with, decided to fly off and follow the arising King.

Ludwig reached the very bottom of the wagon, a curtain covering a window that surely showed to the ones behind them. He only raised it slightly, watching to the other side, passengers all looking to their own back, nervous, panicking, some of the attendants becoming extremely nervous as they tried cover their own door.

What was going on? He was just about ready to open the door and offer his help, when he got his answer. A small crash, smoke arose, screams continued, the wagon became wild as they tried to find hiding spots, away from the three black cloaked figures that entered. Ludwig remembered those cloaks and symbols well, and panic easily settled in him watching as they searched, pushing people and threating with knives and swords. He instantly knew for what, and he had to run and warn, especially after they spotted him through the window.

Feliciano and the women had finally stood, those last noises enough of a clamor for them to notice.

“Ludwig, what’s going on?” Feliciano asked with clear concern. Pookie flew over to his arms for protection.

“Quickly! All of you, get your things!” He demanded, and so they all did, getting their trunks, for even if they weren’t told, they knew something was happening.

“But, Ludwig.” Feliciano still wanted to know, trying to hold two of his trunks.

They were too much, and Ludwig came to the realization that they’ll just have to leave some behind. What was important was bringing the trunk where the scepter was in.

“Come on, come on, come on,” he rushed them forward to the frontal door, where many of the attendants had come from.

He let the ladies enter first, and just as Ludwig and Feliciano were to go in, a sudden blast interrupted, and the men had finally reached what had been their wagon. Smoke filled the room and one of the empty compartments was destroyed. Luckily Ludwig wrapped an arm around Feliciano, covering him well with his back from any of the pieces that flew towards them.

As the fog cleared, Feliciano noticed the others, coming closer, jumping over anything that had fallen with their aim clearly on them.

“Lu-Lu-Ludwig!” Feliciano panicked, trying to move them both away.

Ludwig pushed him forward to the other wagon, closing the door behind him, making sure that the rest moved ahead enough so he could use magic. He created a strong shield, enough to stall them so they could rush forward. The other inhabitants who had been there continued with rush to the more frontal wagons, but at least leaving doors opened to let them all pass quickly. Ludwig didn’t move until the settling of shields were done, and Feliciano didn’t until Ludwig came and reached for him, both of them coming together in a surprising hold, rushing forward.

Three wagons up, Ludwig had placed four shields, one the cloak figures had destroyed, currently trying to tumble down the third. All the attendants, along with the four women, Feliciano and Ludwig, were now stuck in the last wagon, to which they had to share with the conductor, still having to drive this train no matter what was going on and control the magic that powered it, but he showed the same panic as the rest. Ludwig had to think something quick.

“Wha-what do they want?” Feliciano asked.

“Isn’t it obvious? They’re trying to stop us, Feliciano. Kill us and take the scepter with the Validity Spheres before we reach the field."

“Already? We just started!”

“That’s the journey for you.” Ludwig was getting exasperated, pacing the floors, still thinking.

“We have to attack them!” One attendant suggested.

“How can we without risking the lives of everybody here?”

“What else can we do? There’s nowhere else to go and those men would stop at nothing until they get the prince and the arising Queen,” one of the women said.

They continued fighting over what they should do, Ludwig wanting to get something sure in his own mind.

If they fought and tried to rid them in the train, there was a great risk to the passengers, risk that they could fail, risk that they could lose the scepter. He looked out a small window this wagon held, the train close to passing a large lake in the distance. He stared for the longest while until he decided.

“Feliciano and I will jump,” he declared, taking their things and placing them near the window, to take into their arms when it happened.

“What?” Feliciano was the first to ask incredulously. He looked out the window and spotted only but harsh ground and tall trees from below the track bridge.

“They’re only after us, and I will not risk the life of anybody else for this. It’s best if they follow us elsewhere.” Ludwig pointed the lake to Feliciano, hoping he’d understand where he wanted them to fall in.

It brought some sort of ease…but still!

“Ludwig, we’re nowhere near diamonds. We don’t know where we’ll be. If we fall there, where should we go? What if those guys come chasing after us?” Feliciano asked fearfully, helping him with the things still, Pookie now holding himself from Feliciano’s shoulder as they moved across the wagon.

“What’s the nearest station from here? Does it stop before the crossing of the Georgiatian sea?” Ludwig asked one of the attendants with order.

“Copenhagen, a couple of minutes and the sea bridge is reached.”

“We’ll just walk there,” Ludwig accepted, without thinking of the trouble of distance.

“What?” Feliciano shouted once again.

“It’s the best option right now. We’ll explain the situation and take the next available train to Amiens.”

“Your highness, it is still a risky-” A bang was heard, the third shield was down with only two to go.

“Give me a good map!” Ludwig ordered, and some of the assistants quickly went to find one, handing the arising King the biggest and best one.

“They’ll come chasing after us instead and leave the train alone. So Feliciano-” he grabbed his attention, Feliciano being so nervous and scared he was actually shivering, hands rubbing on his arms as if he was cold. Ludwig had to place his hands on his shoulder, focusing his glances and even being only on him. “Feliciano, I need you to focus!” And then he did something that he had only done back when they were children, and that was move away the fall of his bangs that were covering his teary and fearful eyes sweetly behind his ear, straightening him so he could only look up to him, with a caring look in his eyes that made Feliciano think for a moment that he got lost back in time. “We’re going to fall into the lake, swim as fast as we can with our stuff, and run, got it, we’re going to run! Don’t care about directions, we just need to get ourselves as far away from them as possible, got it? We did it once, we can do it again.” A sweet tone, a believing aura, Feliciano actually nodded, confident in his words, joining at his side, the lake coming ever closer, just as the second shield broke, with only one missing.

“We’ll help stall what we can,” one of the older women suggested, bravely standing strong, as if ready to use whatever little she had to offer help and defense to her rulers.

“Make sure that they saw where we went. Do what you can to push them off and follow us.” Ludwig wanted to make clear.

Ludwig pulled Feliciano closer, standing and calculating how exactly they should throw themselves out, just as the workers got some things that were thrown around the space to use as weapons. They all stood like warrior prepared to face war, and with their amounts, their faith, and the force ready in their preparation of their holds, Ludwig knew they would do well to drive them off the train and get it back on normal course.

The window was opened, rushing wind blowing on both his and Feliciano’s hair as he got on its side, bringing Feliciano with him with a strong hold of his waist, Pookie on his shoulder. Finally the lake was beneath them, Ludwig waiting for the exact moment to dive to be closer to a shore to swim to.

“Hold on to me, hide your eyes on my shoulder if you need to.” Feliciano instantly did so, holding tightly to him enough to darken everything else. “We’ll be all right, I assure you, no harm will come to either of us.” He told him lastly, finding the perfect spot, taking that forceful jump, along with the hold of their things and his arising Queen, just as he heard the bang of the last shield being destroyed.

They were quickly met with the smash of cold and harsh water, Ludwig laying against it so Feliciano didn’t had to go through the slap. Feliciano still held tightly to him as Ludwig swam to surface, their things floating to work as good items to grasp themselves to while Ludwig looked to which direction they should swim to. He chose north, with a quick shore coming into view, ready to paddle them quickly, but to his surprise, a sudden transformation occurred and Pookie was back to his normal lion size, offering help, both of them holding tightly to the animal, along with their things, as he quickly got them to shore. It was short, and by the time they reached the sandy ground, Pookie was back to a small kitty size that could perch itself easily at Feliciano’s shoulder.

“Really?” Ludwig scolded him, but they couldn’t question any longer.

The train passed, no other figures landing in the lake, but as it drove by, they noticed the group of cloak men fall into the forest. The fall to harsh ground would buy them some time, so Ludwig knew they had to use it.

“Come on.” Uncaring if they were cold and wet, Ludwig held Feliciano by the wrist and dragged him quickly onward, just as he said, without direction, with haste, what mattered was getting away from them.

The woods were dark, grim, and the cold air only stuck more to the drench of their clothes, skin and hair. No matter how tired Feliciano got, Ludwig pushed him onward, especially feeling this dark magic above them, surely by the men, and when Feliciano looked back, he noticed that they were being chased, with more than just the ones that were on the train.

“L-Ludwig,” Feliciano wanted to warn. 

"Just keep running,” he insisted with a shout, and Feliciano could do nothing more than to obey.

Magic infused arrows were being shot at them, luckily ones they avoided, Feliciano hiding Pookie inside his coat so he wouldn’t be harmed. Sadly it wasn’t the luck Ludwig was given. He was shot at his leg, tripping with a harsh groan. Of course Feliciano stopped and kneeled down to him to aid. “Ludwig! What happened?”

“My damn leg.” He was pissed.

“Ju-just ca-calm down, or it would get worst!”

“Calm down now?” He shouted.

With the coming shouts of the men, he forced himself to stand, despite the pain, wanting to continue, taking Feliciano’s hold once again and pulling them forward even with the slowness, his groans, the continuous pangs escalating through his whole leg now. The men were coming close, the symbols in their cloaks enough for Feliciano to see clearly. The arising Queen tried offering help with his own hold, but in the end it wasn’t enough, it was just the stalling the men needed to reach, for them to extend their arms, an array of ropes controlled skillfully flying into the air to instantly have wrapped around Feliciano until he fell to the floor, trapped in their tightening.

“Feliciano!” Ludwig shouted, trying what he could to rid of the ropes, but they were too tight, and with the amount of low energy he held, it wasn’t enough to break and free him.

New ropes were thrown and now they were trapped around him, laying him even more defeated on the ground. He only managed a free hand, which tried to keep a touch or some sort of hold on Feliciano. The men came close, to claim them, capture them as they surely wanted, and it flared Ludwig with great anger.

“Don’t you dare touch him! Don’t you dare do anything to him!” He growled with intense anger, but seeing as he was still tied and he couldn’t do anything but grip harshly at Feliciano’s coat, the men ignored the threat, taking Feliciano’s quivering figure to stand, forcing him to walk forward to the direction they wanted.

More men had to come to maintain Ludwig, who constantly trashed, trying to aim a kick or arm on them, his magic worthless, the ropes had something in them that stopped his connection with his power.

“I swear, if he gets the tiniest cut, I’ll make you all pay! Do you hear me! I won’t hesitate to cut off your heads if I have to!”

They ended hitting him in the back of his head to black him out and fall, making it easier for them to move, even if they had to carry his heavy body with difficulty. Feliciano screamed his name in concern, but it was muffled with a handkerchief wrapped around his mouth.

The men were more at ease, laughing with pride, pushing the two figures deeper into their woods, with way to their base, all for young purple eyes to witness in hiding.

Chapter Text

Ludwig groaned harshly as he began to awake, feeling all this new pain suddenly weight upon him, dizzying him, an effort to just focus his eyes in whatever place he found himself now. It was rocky, damp, two torches only, giving a dim lighting to his surroundings. Different things were scattered around him, like he was stuck in some utility closet. The only two things he recognized was one of his trunks and the scepter, thrown carelessly on the ground. The three orbs still glowed on its hold, giving him a breath of relief to know that they were not taken…yet.

“Ludwig?” Feliciano’s sweet voice, closely behind him. That’s when he noticed that they were both tied together, facing away from the other.

“Are you all right? Did they touch you? Did they do anything to you?” He immediately asked.

“No, they were kind of afraid to.”

“Why were they?”

“I don’t know, they were speaking a weird language, I barely understood them. Whatever it was, I knew it was the reason why they didn’t decide to kill us.”

That was a sort of relief. “Any idea to where we are?”

“They blindfolded me half way, I didn’t see, but we moved a long distance, I think we’re in a cave.”

Ludwig looked around and it seemed like it, and as he gave more ear, he heard echoes, of dripping water and dim voices. He tried moving out of the confinements, but as he expected, the rope was tight and it was a magic blocker, their power of no use to help them out of there.

“Why didn’t they take the scepter? Surely they’re looking for the spheres.”

“They didn’t recognize them. They threw it the moment they thought it was worthless. They were searching through the trunks we brought. They think we were carrying the actual spheres there.”

“All right, we have…some chance." He extended his leg to grab the scepter, inching it closer to himself just in case. Better to have that in his grasp more than anything if they somehow managed an escape. “Where’s Pookie?”

“I don’t know, I’m extremely worried about him.”

“Wasn’t he hiding in your coat?”

“I felt him fly off the moment I got wrapped in those ropes.”

Ludwig groaned. “To be an animal sent from the Aces, he’s not really doing anything.”

“Hey! I’m sure he’s trying!” Feliciano tried to hit him with his shoulder, insulted.

“Well he could have sent us some help.”

Not wanting to continue on the subject of the lion, he was silent as he searched, noticing that the only thing that created the walls of their imprisonment was simple wood. Ludwig thought that it they pushed enough, maybe they could have it fall over. They were still tied though, and they really needed to get rid of those ropes first. Their magic was what would help them go against the men with force and make the exit they wanted.

“Any ideas on how to get rid of this?” He moved his wrists.

“There’s a knife over there.” Feliciano pointed with his free foot to one that lay at the top of some crates in the corner of the room. It was far, they couldn’t possibly reach like this, but noticing that their legs weren’t that bound, maybe they could try something. Ludwig bounced, Feliciano was surprised, but it quickly showed what they could do when they moved an inch closer to the crates. They continued until Feliciano’s legs could easily tap the boxes. Now all he needed to do was reach up and he’d- there was a sudden rippling in the hardened walls, like water instead of rocks.

Feliciano quickly brought his foot down in fear, seeing as the rippling began to turn purple, until a figure fell skillfully on the box, picking up the knife for them. Pookie flew off the man’s shoulder, going over to cuddle at Feliciano’s cheek.

“Pookie! There you are!” He was so relieved, cuddling back into his own mane that he almost forgot about the person that had come.

He was young, surely a teenager, grayish white hair, shinning violet eyes, pale, no uniformed symbol or color in his clothes that was familiar to Feliciano or Ludwig.

“Your highness,” he bowed in respect to both, jumping down to the ground and quickly releasing them from their bounds. They relished on standing, on moving their legs and bodies as they wished, and the first thing Feliciano did was hug the stranger.

“Grazie mille!” He practically sang, to the discomfort of the teen.

“Feliciano!” Ludwig scolded, pulling him back. “We don’t know who this is, it could be a trick!” Ludwig glared, holding Feliciano close to him.

“Relax, I’m honestly here to help you both escape. If you don’t believe me-” the boy moved his shirt to reveal a special Heartian tattoo symbol on his shoulder, one specifically from Iceland, one of Hearts’s many distant islands. It worked as enough proof to show them that he was in no way connected to the men that captured them. “The name is Emil. Now, do you guys have everything you need and can you use a knife?” He brought back his shirt to hide the tattoo, inspecting the room, then throwing two knives he held in his flimsy vest, for Ludwig and Feliciano to grab. It caught them unguarded, but they still nodded and held the knives, although albeit questioning. Ludwig still took the surviving trunk, where he saved the scepter with some clothes and the book he was given by his grandfather.

“All right, here’s the plan,” he ushered them to a corner of the space, a little hole for him to see movement on the other side, guards placed there to watch the arising King and Queen. “I’m waiting for a signal, once I see it, we’ll come out and attack the men here. I’ll let you know if we can move any forward.”

“Signal? From who?” Ludwig questioned.

“You’ll meet them soon enough, but what’s important right now is getting you all out of here."

“Why can’t you conjure that magic you used to come in?” Feliciano wondered.

“I haven’t really mastered it. It was incredibly risky and some of these men could have sensed it, and we can’t call attention right now.” He still maintained his heavy sight on the room, until a familiar, large beaked bird in white and black, landed upon a distinct corner of the hall that was beyond the woodened wall. The men didn’t see any threat in it, just thought it was from the area and had managed an entrance looking for food. One man shooed it away, but it was enough for Emil to get the message.

“Now,” he commanded.

They prepared their knives, infused magic into it, took breaths, gathered strength and burst out. Emil was quick, dashing to knock unconscious two men, kicking and cutting with ease. Ludwig followed behind in offering strong punches and forceful lunges, especially with vengeance after they dared take the arising King and Queen so easily. Feliciano just…followed behind them, quivering, only giving a cut here and there with his fire infused knife, which was a little help to having all the men in the area down on the floor.

Luckily, with its great quickness, there was barely any sound but that of thuds, and as Emil glanced to another tunnel of the cave, they were too far from other groups for them to have noticed. He checked around until he got another signal, the bird once again.

“Come on,” he ushered the both of them to follow, Ludwig taking Feliciano’s hand dearly and leading them both behind Emil.

Emil quickly knocked out anyone that had been passing by those tunnels, leading them down different ones that spread through the whole ground or mountain. It had both the rulers realizing that the cave was practically like a maze, wondering how Emil made his way around it so surely. Occasionally they would find themselves in new rooms, new chambers, in which they had to attack, luckily small groups of men, in quietness as to not attract too much attention, but it didn’t work. Soon enough reinforcements were called and they were beginning to be chased down. Emil just knew how to move them about easily, following the constant signals of the bird, until in their running it settled perch on his shoulder, with calm even with its owners rapid movements and exalted nervousness and worry.

“We’re close, I’m sure of it! Okay, once we’re out we’re going to-”

All three came to a sudden halting stop when they saw what was before them. All the men in the area, in a large crowd, together, instantly facing to the three who had caused great damaged across the cave. The three of them stilled, knowing and fearing that they couldn’t go through this so easily. Each man took out a weapon or prepared some dark magic, devious smirks knowing of the victory that awaited them. They knew they weren’t supposed to be killing them, but they could still do enough damage to get them to stop with escapades and settle for the last time. Despite the heaviness, Emil still took a stance, Ludwig joining him, a more protective hold on Feliciano as he prepared to use a strong fire spell that could probably offer them some kind of escapade between them. He knew the exit would be coming close.

When they were ready for the lounge, that Ludwig didn’t know if he would survive or not, for a moment wishing he could have- there was a sudden rumbling, enough of a shake to cause rocks to fall, dust to arise, and even items that were there fall. Ludwig held Feliciano closer to him, fearing an earthquake, willing to use himself as a shield from anything that would fall. He was about to offer the same protection to Emil when he heard shouts of battle, happy as if they were already singing victory. It didn’t come from any of the men, since they stood just as confused about the commotions and sounds.

And that’s when something blew, Ludwig later realizing an entire wall of the cave. He brought Emil and Feliciano down just on time to not have any of the sudden boulders and rocks landing on them. It helped to bury many of the men, to distract them, to keep them in question and hazy as they tried to place themselves with the situation.

When the air cleared, Ludwig thought he was just hallucinating now, because in no way did a large ship just suddenly come in, with a large tripulation of men giving hollered screams, dressed in heavy wear, holding large axes and swords, raining down and attacking fiercely Khaos’s men.

“Wha-what?” Ludwig really tried to make sense, wondering if they should fall at ease or continue to shield Feliciano as he had done.

The brunette actually held large brightened eyes, excited with what he was seeing, bouncing and clapping his hands like it was all some show only prepared for him.

“Vikings!” Feliciano exclaimed.

“Joker Vikings,” Emil wanted to add.

To Ludwig, that was worst, but Feliciano didn’t mind it at all. In his teachings he had read the Jokers were not really as bad as people though, in fact it was better them than being captured by Khaos’s men.

“Emil! Emil! Emil!” A voice called in the plentitude of screams, of swinging axes, battle cries and even savage blood fest that Ludwig covered Feliciano’s eyes and ears to.

“Lukas! Over here!” Emil began to wave, catching the attention of one of the few slim figures.

Very light blond hair, pale, violet eyes, a distinct ruby encrusted cross parting part of his hair. Feliciano easily recognized it as a Norwegian province token given to high sorcerers. He saw it was worthy of his wear when he saw the man use a distinct spell of webs and lights, creating in a quick sphere around him to have a group of Khaos’s men flying off from his path when he released the force, giving him easier access to Emil.

“Are you all right? Did you do well? Did you get them?” He asked in fret, hands all over the younger to make sure nothing had befallen him.

“I’m fine! I told you it wasn’t going to be a big deal, here they are even,” he pointed to Ludwig and Feliciano.

Lukas bowed with respect to the both of them, “your highness.”

“Aces! That’s actually the Prince! And the arising Queen!” Came a sudden shout, the man clearer to them after he had rid another group of men with his powerful and large Axe.

Ludwig and Feliciano were instantly terrified. They never knew Axes could grow that large, so well crafted, dark and already wanting to cut with a single gleam. Not even Antonio’s collection was that intimidating. The person got closer, spiked blond hair and grinning smile, both as wild as the mess around them, towering high and holding well the strength in himself, the needed to just hold that ax and to also probably fight on well even without it.

“Bow down and show some respect,” Lukas scolded him.

“Oh, of course, your highness." He did the usual bowing, quite exaggerated. “Mathias Køhler, at your service.”

A sudden whistle was called, from a small man in the ship. “We don’t know if the ones that ran away are going to bring reinforcements. So I suggest you all hurry up and get up!” He called, a sweetness mixed in his commanding tone.

Most of Khaos’s men were gone, unconscious, had run away or even… lay dead. It had settled so well that Ludwig and Feliciano could be introduced to these men in tranquility.

“Please, your highness, come with us,” Mathias pointed to the ship.

Feliciano was ready to run off, but Ludwig was ever so hesitant, not feeling so confident in any kind of Jokers.

“Ludwig, come on,” Feliciano tried to convince him.

“Feliciano, can we be sure? I don’t know if-”

“Please your highness, you can trust us, we know what this journey means to all four kingdoms, and although our crimes, we are loyal to the crown and don’t have any kind of ill intents against any of you,” Lukas convinced, but Ludwig still faltered in his place.

“Hurry up! A scout just confirmed our guessing on more men coming and we don’t know if they’re more equipped and powerful, so we have to go, now!” The same man commanded once again from the ship.

Ludwig decided he was not going to deal with that threat alone, especially having to watch over Feliciano and the trunk that still held the scepter. If these Viking men threatened or proved too dangerous, Ludwig thought he would just have to plan an escape from them, but with their kindness, their help as they rushed towards the ship, he was starting to believe it would be very less likely.

Along with the arising King and Queen, the rest of the men of whatever crew this was began to run back, stepping wildly across the ship as they raised themselves back on its deck, trained and known. Ludwig was rather embarrassed that he had to use a rope ladder. Mathias offered to take the trunk, jumping with precision on the deck, waiting patiently for them to set foot.

The ship was big, as expected of such a large crew, ready to accommodate all of them, even the two new members. Once they made sure everyone was on board, anything that was used to keep the boat in the cave was raised. Ludwig and Feliciano watched impressed as all the men took out a sort of cross, similar to the one Lukas wore on his hair. By the call of the man that had shouted to them earlier, each one placed their own in some intricate hole for them, alighting, magic shinning in the entire boat in ancient runes. It ran all across every mark in the boat, making it shine into a rise that helped it to actually float, arising into the air naturally like it was the sea, out of the cave, through the thick woods that had hidden the cave from others. No one was amazed as the royals, who stared as the sails were freed, helping with the speed, the movements, to fly the further off the ground as Khaos’s men tried to run off behind it in the ground, throwing arrows, but the Vikings threw at them stronger ones, and before they knew it, they were gone, little ants forgotten to the woods, and now they focused on the new hills, skies and routes. Feliciano held over to the side of the deck, seeing as the ground grew further and further away from them, providing such a wonderful and beautiful sight. His legs began to fly off, trying to come closer to it, and Ludwig had to quickly hold him down and move him apart from the edge. The men moved in busy strides, working quickly on what they needed, practically ignoring the two powerful beings that currently stood on their floors.

“Were any of you hurt?” Lukas gave them the attention needed, coming with healers ready to offer their services.

“We’re fine-”

“Actually, he was shot in the leg,” Feliciano wanted them to know.

“It’s surely fine, I don’t feel it any longer.”

“It’s still necessary we check, your majesty, but if it’s not as bad, then it can wait, we need to hear Berwald’s orders."

“Berwald?”

The boat came into sudden stillness, with the heavy steps of a new figure coming from below the deck. All the men aligned themselves like the soldiers of their army, in respect to the new towering figure that came.

Feliciano thought that Ludwig had grown into a rather intimidating man, but this new man could very well be his competition. Blond hair, sea blue eyes covered in glasses, cutting and serious stare and features that made Feliciano tremble, holding to Ludwig’s arm, since all of a sudden he was rather accepting to all this closeness between them.

The boat was brought into silence, no sound from any other deck and the nature around them falling still like it was just for him. He looked among them to make sure they showed proper outlooks, even with their rough and messed clothing, faces, and hair. Ludwig and Feliciano noticed that he was the only one dressed in more appropriate wear; cut, clean, but yet not failing to show Viking, Scandinavian and also Swedish province symbols and culture.

He was done with his inspection, another more innocent like male joining his side, blond hair and violet eyes as the rest, sweet and even childlike. For a moment they forgot it was the person who had been insisting that they got on the boat earlier. Ludwig and Feliciano guessed he was like the second in command, both working together for the best of this crew. They finally stopped before them, bowing as they should and greeting with their ‘you highness’.

“Tha-than-thank-” Feliciano tried to word, taking a deep breath, looking into their kind eyes and replying in clear. “Thank you for saving us. If you wouldn’t have come, we don’t know what could have happened. Once we return to the castle, you shall all receive a well-deserved payment.”

“There is no need.” Berwald’s voice was as deep as he looked, yet with kindness still, enough for Feliciano to fall at ease with.

“Actually-” Mathias wanted to comment, but he was shut with a slap against his shoulder from Lukas.

“If someone should receive some kind of token is Emil,” Berwald pointed to him among the crowds, the boy not expecting this sudden recognition, blushing and rubbing his hands on his hair nervously. “For weeks we have been trying to find this specific hidden spot, managing maps and information of this base from spies and captures, but only Emil had the closest clue to where it could actually be located. Against our wishes, especially his older brother’s-” Berwald gazed over to Lukas “-he still went ahead and decided put himself at risk to prove his instinct was the correct. He spotted you both being captured and warned us immediately, we wouldn’t have believed him if it wasn’t for your St. Mark, whose magic helped us trace the cave better from your scents.”

Pookie finally perked up from the hidden spot he had taken in Feliciano’s jacket after their escape. Feliciano cuddled with him in thanks.

“We really appreciate all you’ve done, but we beg of you to take us to Copenhagen immediately. We have to catch the train that will take us to Amiens and continue on with the journey as normally,” Ludwig instantly wanted.

“Yeah, that’s not going to happen,” Mathias already said.

“What do you mean?” Feliciano asked.

“I’m sure Copenhagen is not that far from here, they couldn’t have taken us that far.”

“You’re right, they didn’t, but Copenhagen or your expected route to Paris is actually extremely dangerous right now for you two,” Mathias started.

“Of course not! It’s a well-guarded route that many Kings and Queens before us have taken on the journey to Paris in peace.”

“And look how well that started out,” Emil pointed out sarcastically. Lukas gave him a glare to not be so rude.

“There has been more insisting than ever for your capture, that much we learned from our spies,” Berwald began.

“Why is that?” Feliciano asked, hoping they would have a better answer for perhaps the reason why they didn’t kill them when they were in their grasps.

“We don’t know, it’s heavy guarded information that only the tops know about, but something is off, something is different this time, and more than ever Khaos’s men will be active and ruthless on trying to destroy the Spheres of Validity before they get to the confinement field,” Lukas informed, since he himself worked personally with the spies.

“Since the route was publically said to all four of the kingdoms, as a better warning and for the places to become more prepared, the crown still made it the easier for King Khaos to plan his attacks. Now the cities you will be in and the routes you will take will surely be heavily swarmed by his men,” Berwald continued.

“I mentioned before already, they’re heavily guarded and we can protect ourselves well,” Ludwig wanted to say.

“It doesn’t look like it when low ranked ones actually managed to get into your train and get you captured. We had to come along and save you two or else you would still be tied down there and who knows what could have happened to the Validity Spheres,” the second in command commented.

“Since those low ranked ones failed, yet close enough as to capture you both, it gives the confidence to the higher ups to try and probably be successful,” Berwald finalized, making it clear to both the royals since they settled into worried silence. “We can’t directly take you to Paris, but we can offer to make you a new route there, one they don’t know about, avoiding target cities, which will make your passage easier. But you both must be tired and hungry, I suggest you eat in our halls and rest for the night, tomorrow morning we’ll start the planning and hopefully get you to arrive to your next destination in two days.”

Ludwig and Feliciano had to agree to Berwald’s suggestion, nodding with approval since there really wasn’t much they could do for now. Ludwig did have a map, and he was determined to join them in their planning, but indeed he was weak and famished right now, and one look to Feliciano and he could tell he was in the same state. Berwald left along with the smaller man they later learned was named Tino, discussions of these plans already starting, men moving about the ship to help it continue steady on its wind road. Emil and Lukas decided on leading them to an assigned room they could share in the meantime, to place their things, get Ludwig’s wound healed and change from their still wet and ruined clothes. They would then join the rest of the men in dinner.

Chapter Text

Feliciano thought that their castle kitchen was a mess whenever there were events or important visitors came over, but it could never compare to this: Men gorging, toasting and feasting like they had just won a big war. Lukas later told him that it was actually a normal occurrence, one the sorcerer despised, enjoying from his meal with a blank and indifferent stare to everything around him. Ludwig and Feliciano didn’t know how they could eat peacefully with their drunken splendor- and look…now they started to sing. They had no idea how they actually finished their plates with all these distractions. Ludwig rolled his eyes and needed some peaceful air from all of this, standing and making way to the top deck. Feliciano gazed behind him, waiting only a slight while, distracted suddenly by Mathias’s own number of singing, a love song he could tell, which he constantly eased forward to Lukas, but the other would only glare with some command or scold to sit down and behave. Mathias never listened, and when he was about to begin another number, Feliciano decided to stand himself, for the freedom of the night air.

It was quite chilly, especially since they were floating above the air, but it was still a lovely sight, of beautiful hills, lakes, rivers and even small villages decorating the land from their above. Many stars glowed above them, dusted, colorful, seeming so close Feliciano raised a hand as if he could catch one. He stopped when he noticed Ludwig, arms over the side as he gazed to the sky, to the beauty around him, lost in thought surely. Feliciano hoped he hadn’t interrupted with his closeness, but it was hard for Ludwig to ignore him, he could easily catch him from the corner of his eyes, pretending that watching some bridge that went over a large river was more important than his arising Queen.

“They’re certainly festive,” Feliciano commented, hoping once again for some conversation.

“Lunatics more like it,” Ludwig had no problem with admitting.

“Those lunatics saved us,” Feliciano wanted to remind.

“They’re still deranged,” he sigh and leaned his head into his hand, trying to keep his gaze on a distant star, not on Feliciano, he knew he would stare too much, blush and make a fool of himself. No matter how much he tried to erase him, he could still feel him shivering, noticing that the sewn long sleeve shirt they gave him was thin.

“They should have given you something thicker, come over here.” Ludwig turned to him, removing the embroidered cloak they had given him, not minding at all to put it over Feliciano, making sure it covered him well, letting his hands remain far too long, staring into the figure he wanted to hold so much.

Feliciano felt his hands on him so loving, letting a hand raise to touch his own, as if to share the warmness he just gave him. “Thank you, and…thank you also for protecting and watching over me, it was…really nice.” There he went smiling up to him and he couldn’t hold his pale cheeks from growing red. Stop it, stop it, stop it.

“You…you are my arising Queen, to wed or not, it is in my duty to protect you,” he wanted to excuse, but no matter, Feliciano could see past his wall to know, smiling, not letting go of his hold still on his hand.

“Why in the world did you guys deny the marriage?” A sudden voice asked, scaring the arising King and Queen to letting go of whatever gaze, whatever hold. They turned to meet with Emil, who was just coming up from the dining hall, just as annoyed by the ruckus down there.

Ludwig and Feliciano stood nervously, silent, not daring to look at each other, as if they had been caught doing something horrible. Emil still stood awaiting an answer but it didn’t come out from their mouths.

“You two clearly love each other. I saw how protective and worried you got and how you kept each other close.”

They blushed, but instead of creating union, it only helped to separate them more, to ignore the other.

“It-It’s nothing you should concern yourself about. I’ll…I’ll…make sure the scepter is still in the trunk,” Ludwig excused, heading down once again to head to their room, leaving Feliciano and Emil in the same questioning stand, his cloak still wrapped around his arising Queen.

“Were you guys having a moment? I’m very sorry for ruining it,” Emil apologized.

“No, no, it’s all right, he always…gets like this, it’s nothing new,” Feliciano told him, hoping he wouldn’t feel so bad about it, and hoping he wouldn’t feel the sudden gloom he took, taking Ludwig’s earlier spot, gazing just as he was to the distances.

Emil joined him at his side, hoping it could work as some kind of comfort and also because he wanted to enjoy from this very delightful sight.

“So, Emil,” Feliciano turned to him with a smirk, hoping to converse with him. He needed to talk to someone, about anything really, he just didn’t want to feel lonely with such an empty deck. “Have you thought about what kind of prize you want?” He did want to show his appreciation somehow, and with the power of arising Queen, hopefully official Queen when he returned, he knew he could give it to him with ease.

“Oh…you were serious about it?”

“Of course I am. You saved our lives and helped to find a hidden base for Khaos’s men. You have to ask for something! I’m sure Ludwig and I can do what we can to give it to you.” He was sure.

Emil remained silent, gazing shyly to the ground for the longest while, but Feliciano still stood patiently, eyes only on him expecting an answer.

“Um…” he started, rubbing his wrists, surely an idea on his head, but he just didn’t know if he could word it, if he could admit it, in the place he was in even. “Do-do you know about the Luna Rani academy in Spades?”

“Of course, it’s the best school of magic in all the four kingdoms. Most of our power instructors were taught there,” he assured.

“Is it like…hard for Heartians to get accepted?”

“No, not really. Our kingdoms have agreements to let our people study there if they get accepted through the usual means.”

Emil fidgeted, pulling on his sleeves, biting his lips as to not blur out instantly what he wanted to say.

“Do you um…want to get into the Luna Rani Academy?” Feliciano guessed as much.

“I-I would love to! You have no idea how much, but…” he gazed about the boat, like in it was enough the chains that held him.

“You’re a joker?”

Emil sigh disappointedly, “That basically cuts my chances to anything in the kingdom.”

“Why don’t you denounce it? As part of the prize I can help you receive a Heartian registration reinstitution. As long as you were born in the lines of the Heart Kingdom, which I assume you did, with what your Icelandic tattoo and everything,” Feliciano remembered.

Emil didn’t answer, he remained in a rather melancholic silence, Feliciano trying to understand as much from it but it didn’t reach him.

“I won’t judge, you know you can tell me this,” Feliciano wanted to assure him, but Emil was still in thought.

It took breaths, a closing of his eyes, and the remembering of important memories with the heavy reminders. “Lukas and I owe a lot to this ship. If it wasn’t for it, I wouldn’t be talking to you right now,” he shivered, wrapping his arms around him as a comfort of the harsh beginning memories of his life. “Both our parents died when we were really young and Lukas had to try to do his best to take care of me by himself. In the process, he had a tendency of leaving me behind in Iceland so he could work and study in Norway, to then bring what he earned for me. After being denied a last test to earn his apprenticeship to a sorcerer because of his social standing, he grew rather vengeful of the crown and blamed it harshly on the kingdom. Then we were actually attacked by Heartian soldiers, kidnapped, for the purpose on wanting some magic from Lukas, one that he refused to give them, and so they treated us like slaves until we decided to.”

It brought Feliciano with great pity, wishing he could hug away those memories, fill him with all kinds of apologies from what those harsh men did. But Heartian soldiers doing those kinds of things? Nothing was written in their records and none had been active with such harsh commands. Not even Aldrich would have accepted something like that.

“We later found out that they were actual men of Khaos’s disguised.” It was a relief to Feliciano. He didn’t think he could live with the guilt of his own army doing something like that. “But it did a lot to flare Lukas’s anger with the kingdom, and when we were saved by Berwald and the rest, becoming a Joker offered a better chance than any of our provinces could offer. Sure, after finding out that the Heartian army had nothing to do with our capture, we could have relaxed, perhaps leave and Lukas could continue to try for that apprenticeship, but we ended up enjoying what we did here, that we could offer help, that Lukas could learn his magic better than any other school in Norway. It became our home, our people and I owe a lot to them…but…” he leaned more against the hold, a truth in his eyes that Feliciano knew would be a great relief for him to admit. “I don’t want to continue living like this, I actually want to be a normal Heartian, study my own magic, live peacefully, normally without having to run off from the law or constantly moving trying to make such hard missions that could risk my own life every day. I want the calmness of any normal person and not the harsh insisting of a ship, but I don’t want to live like I used to before we turned into Jokers. Sadly Lukas still sees me as a little kid and he won’t take my wishes seriously. He thinks this is the best for me, but I’m honestly tired of it.” Emil slammed his arms into the side walls, quickly trying to calm himself by rubbing his arms, hoping Feliciano understood enough, and he did, in his head concocting something that might actually help.

“Be right back!” He called, rushing over to his room.

From his things, he had one surviving sketchbook, wet, slightly ruined, but it was just enough. He tried to be as calm so Pookie could continue his rest on the bed, but no matter, he felt the arising Queen’s presence bustling through the room and he just had to follow him back to the deck to see what he was planning on doing. Feliciano placed the sketchbook upon the rail where Emil had been waiting for him, taking the very first empty page. He hadn’t actually started to use this one. Pookie flew around them both curiously and Emil tried to peek into what he could be writing.

“I’m making a reminder,” he told him, since he knew he wouldn’t be able to read since it was in Italian. “After we get the Validity Spheres from Diamonds, we’ll head over to Spades to get theirs. I’ll be staying at the capital where the Luna Rani Academy is in. I can make a recommendation that will make it much easier for them to accept you, but I need you write an essay about what you’ve gone through, what you want to do, write everything you know about magic and especially highlight what you did to save Ludwig and I. Do you think you can make it just before we have to leave the ship?” He stopped his excessive writing to look up to him, expecting a sure answer.

“I-I’ll try, but-”

“Listen, I don’t know when I’ll return to Berlin to be able to make your reinstitution, but it would be just enough time for you to speak to Lukas. Tell him all this you told me, make him understand and let him know that I’ll be doing what I can to make it possible. I’ll leave a note behind as proof and once you have your essay, I’ll save it here. I’ll see this notebook every day and remember it well across my entire journey, I won’t forget.”

Emil saw the heavy promise in his eyes and had no doubt that Feliciano would accomplish this. Emil nodded with confidence, trusting this chance, hands clenching and stretching ready for that essay he needed to write.

“But…Lukas would still want to keep being a Joker. What if I can’t see him or the rest again because-”

“I’ll make special permissions for them to move freely between Hearts and Spades for you, already wrote it down as well,” he pointed to it even though Emil couldn’t read the foreign language.

Emil had never felt this desire to hug someone so strongly, and the only thing holding him back was his respect to the arising King and Queen.

 

Ludwig and Feliciano had to share a very small bed. Sure, it would have been comfortable if they had been holding to each other close, cradled and cuddling, but in their state of relationship, the space they tried to keep between them only made it the more uncomfortable. At least Pookie made good use of it.

There was a sudden knock at the door, only opening slightly, for Emil to peek in and hope that he didn’t meet the two arising rulers in a compromising position. Oh good, they weren’t, he breathed out such a relief.

“Hey guys,” he called, noticing that they were stretching, settling their eyes to the room around them, sitting up, Pookie flying over them as if to help them in their waking.

“What is it, Emil?” Feliciano asked, just having finished, ready to even stand along with Ludwig as they got another set of clothing that the group had given them.

“First of all, it’s time to have breakfast, and second, once you’re done, Berwald expects you all to come to his quarters. We have to tell you guys about the new route.”

Their breakfast consisted of small open-faced sandwiches, cereal, and boiled eggs…something that was rare for the both of them, but they ate them gladly along with their drinks and were led by Emil to the room where the leaders of the ship would be waiting for them. They took their steps in hesitantly, hoping they weren’t interfering with whatever they were planning. Their place of meeting was a large room with a bedroom to the side, a large desk in the center, countless of maps, charts, globes and compasses decorating the walls, the tables, even the floors. Ludwig and Feliciano were more impressed by those items than Tino, Mathias, Lukas and Berwald hunching over the desk, where a large map of their area of Hearts and Diamonds was at its top. They were so dedicated in their watching, in their line placing, that they only spared the future rulers a quick glance before they continued with their business. They only moved to offer a small space so they could see down below like the rest of them, already in their map doodling different kinds of routes. Any close to entering into the French province was clearly discarded and the one they seemed to be wishing the most was passage through the Algerian province. Ludwig clearly spotted it and had to interfere.

“We cannot take this route,” he already denied.

“It’s the safest one,” Mathias tried to defend.

“Safest? You’ll be putting us through the Sahara desert, with no village or city in sight for miles.”

“Exactly, less likely Khaos’s men will find you two and a terrain they wouldn’t dare follow into,” Tino added.

“But…but, how will we survive? We lost almost everything with the attack and we don’t have anything to bring with us,” Feliciano questioned, quite scared.

“We’ll offer all the missing supplies; food, water, protection spells and others that might help you get water if you run out,” Lukas added.

“We have Diamond allies in this territory. We’ll send them messages to let them know about your arrival, I’m sure they will help you through the dessert. You’ll have stops in three cities: Cairo, Jerusalem and Tehran, from there a train station is available that can take you to Besancon in the French province, they’ll surely then grant you easier access to Paris from there,” Berwald told, pointing to all the lines, the cities marked and all the areas they would pass.

“This will make our journey longer. You’re making us give a large detour. It’s an unnecessary turn around the French province,” Ludwig angered, the rest fearing he would even smash the map in his fist.

“Hey, at least you’ll be in Diamonds already. It’ll be easier to try and contact King Francis,” Mathias convinced.

“And better late than being captured again or even killed by Khaos’s men,” Berwald reminded.

Ludwig took a close look to the map, hoping he could prove them wrong, but it was as they said, all the closer ports and cities through the French province would be heavily targeted. The only real and closest way was through the Arabic provinces, without giving them an even bigger detour through the damn Spades Kingdom. Nobody would expect them going through the Sahara desert and Ludwig though that if they tried to hurry as best as they could, then it wouldn’t leave them so behind. He sighed, thinking that they would have magic, these Vikings would give them supply, and although it meant dealing with other kind of Joker bandits, it was better than having to deal through this alone, less targeted and perhaps more at ease.

“Fine,” he ended up agreeing, to the delight of all in the cabin, even Feliciano who gave an excited clap.

“Then it’s settled.” Berwald picked up the map along with some charts, meaning to settle course to their next sure destination. “We’ll take you as far as the shores of the kingdom and the province. We have other missions and we cannot go any more ahead, but we’ll leave you with clear instructions,” Berwald commanded, heading out of the room with the rest behind him.

“Now I suggest you prepare, I will send the crews to get your supplies. You’ll be heading off in two days,” Tino added with just the command as Berwald, one that made him proud, a rare smile that Ludwig and Feliciano didn’t think he could even show.

“Anything else you want us to know?” Lukas asked.

Ludwig and Feliciano looked to each other, as if to remind if they were forgetting something. They shrugged since they really didn’t have anything else to say.

“There’s nothing to fear, I’m confident that our arising King and Queen will do well.”

 

Two days in the ship and they went pass more new terrains, fjords that Feliciano tried to sketch in his notebook, and a meeting of Killer whales right before they began their crossing of the Georgiatian Sea. From there on it was only large expanses of continuing water, all the same, nothing really new to Feliciano until they bypassed some distant island. His sketching went still, his focus on the waves and blue, quite tranquil no matter the insisting of the crew around him. It was in moments like these that he wondered….this was a ship…it could sail on the sea like any other, yet it continued to fly on the wind instead, perhaps just for show or because the crew preferred it that way. Well it was still nice and he did like the breezy sea wind through his hair, surely more powerful than anything he would feel if they were below with the waves crashing against its haul.

If he wasn’t starring into the views of the wind, he would have conversations with the crew, with small little snacks, at dinner or with hot drinks whenever it got too cold. He especially spoke with Emil, who he got the chance to learn more from, be exposed to the kind of incredible magic he could do, Feliciano showing himself what he knew which always got impressed aw from the group. He showed what he could to Emil and he gladly learned and tested himself for the deck to see.

Ludwig had decided to busying himself with the crew, and although he knew nothing of sailing, they had no problem with giving him some teachings. He quickly adapted well to everything, doing the jobs he was given as easily and knowledgeable as if he was a member like any other. He was part of the rhythm that moved this ship, pulling and releasing ropes and sails as proud as his future sitting as future King. Feliciano enjoyed the way strands of his slicked back blond hair flew along with the harsh wind, clear blue eyes gazing expectantly to the horizon, hold on the ship with a strong grip that was the only thing maintaining him from seeming to fly with the air. He looked so gorgeous, handsome. There was something in the way he slightly smiled when he was trying new work, functioning well in his first try, the expand of his body as he moved about, full of eager energy and force that Feliciano found himself blushing, licking his lips and even dimming his eyes, suddenly taken by his glowing, his want to be held in those strong arms. Their eyes met for a slight moment and Feliciano shook it away, distracting himself with another wave down below, his minds full of scolds for thinking such a way of a man that did not deserve this kind of admiration by himself.

By the next day, Feliciano’s eyes had finally met land, mostly dunes which the waves of the shore crashed towards. The air was stinging, a falling of heat that not even the rushing wind between them did enough to cool. Feliciano was between riding every piece of clothing he had on to catch a good cool breeze or placing even more things to avoid the dust and strong rays of sun from scratching harshly at his skin. He saw the boat become more active, the crew readying for a soon arrival. Everyone was out, even Emil who helped with the roping and managing to get the boat docking in no define port against the shores.

Feliciano was so tempted to help, to pull or even hold something if it meant being part of it as the rest. Everyone refused it, apparently work too harsh for the gentile arising Queen. Some dared say that his presence was enough, that his smile was perseverance, with winks and seductive grins that Feliciano could only smile sweetly to and walk away from, noticing then the heavy glares Ludwig gave them when he saw.

The boat began its descend, Emil coming over to give Ludwig and Feliciano some mantles they could use to protect their head from the harsh sand and heat. It was in that hold that he brought Feliciano his letter, in a pretty envelope with the same symbol he had tattooed on his shoulder.

“It’s three pages long, hopefully just enough to accept me,” he said.

“Oh they will, I’ll make sure of that, Emil,” Feliciano smiled surely.

They both shared in an appreciative hug and for once Emil didn’t mind it. Feliciano’s hold was as sweet as he was; soft, loving and even believing. They passed to each other the confidence they would respectively need for their own kinds of journey.

Soon enough the ship came to a halt, landing upon the soft sand, some boulders serving well as balancing the haul from tilting to one side. If it received any scratches, they didn’t mind, they could easily fix it with their kind of magic. Announcements were shouted in different Scandinavian languages across the deck, people moving about as they prepared for Ludwig and Feliciano’s exit, as well as Berwald’s instructions. A rope ladder was thrown overboard, giving the space for Ludwig and Feliciano to take slowly down. Feliciano waved farewells to all of them, hoping it would also be enough to show his thanks for all they did for them. They jumped suddenly to soft wet sand, shaking them slightly as they tried to adjust once again to the feeling of leveling ground. The five top leaders of the crew came down behind them, ushering them to move forward into the new terrain.

Further and further they moved away from the boat, testing the weight of the bags the arising King and Queen carried on their backs, Pookie taking rest in one of Feliciano’s bag pockets and the single surviving trunk in Ludwig’s hold. Feliciano was already tiring and they hadn’t even really started yet. They continued until they went up the path of one of the strong sand dunes, stopping suddenly before an old red and yellow brink, a little sign sticking out with some old Scandinavia and Arabic writing. Ludwig and Feliciano couldn’t understand it at all. They both looked forward, to miles and miles of sand, sun, heat and nothingness. It was terrifying and it made Feliciano shake and whimper.

“All right, here’s what you’re going to do,” Tino decided to explain, moving forward to where the brick started. He pointed exactly north, still to really make them both understand. It was in that moment that Lukas handed them a compass. “Keep going north and stay forward, no matter what stands in your way, no matter what you pass by or what you find. North, and don’t you dare move from that direction or you will be immediately lost and we might as well send Death letters to the King and Queen.”

It sounded grim and dreadful and it did not help with calming them down.

“There’s a reason we provided you both with water and food to last for a week, to keep you focused on the path and not get distracted,” Lukas said.

“I’ve heard horror stories of people that hallucinate lakes and go running off to try and reach them, never arriving, loosing themselves from the path, never returning…so stay hydrated,” Emil tried to ease, but Feliciano thought he was going to cry soon.

“Our messages should have arrived by now and our allies should be making their journey to try and meet you both at some point. It will still probably take you a day of walking and a night of making camp before they reach you two. Once you’re with them it’s only a matter of hours until you arrive to Cairo,” Berwald confided in them, giving them the space to move forward. Silence settled as they waited, as Ludwig and Feliciano understood, hesitantly moving forward, preparing their feet for the long walk this will surely be.

“It was fun to have you guys on the ship. Send messages from Cairo to let us know you arrived safely. I hope this isn’t the last time we see each other,” Mathias confided, with a wink and a salute, one to which Feliciano smiled in welcome.

“I’ll invite you all to the first ball Berlin holds once we return,” Feliciano promised, which actually earned expecting smiles from all of them, while Ludwig tried to hide a groan and a roll of his eyes.

“You better come back in one piece so it can happen,” Emil added.

“We will,” Feliciano promised, and with insisting from Ludwig they began their walk to the expanding horizon that seemed to taunt them. Occasionally they would look back, to the standing and watching figures of the five of them, waving in farewells and fortunes.

“Good luck, may the Aces be with you, your highness!” Were the last words Berwald’s voice shouted, before he turned back with the rest and headed down the hill to get back to their ship.

Ludwig and Feliciano were now alone, in all this expanse of nothing but sand, devoid of human action and presence, seeming untouched by anything ever.

As the minutes went by, they gazed back to see the ship taking flight once again to the sky, away from them, both giving it a wave just in case they saw them. They kept looking as some sort of consolation for the loneliness and danger they felt, continuing to traverse, the compass loyally in Ludwig’s hand with the arrow pointing north as it should.

Sadly, in one turn back, the ship was gone, they were by themselves, trying to keep positive and energized thoughts to continue going.

Like Tino’s suggestion. They kept their eyes straight, no distraction to the wasteland, to the looming death that seemed to surround them.

Chapter Text

Everything, from the passage of their morning, to the afternoon, even to the night, remained exactly the same. Sand dunes, more sand, maybe an occasional rock, boulder or dried up tree. The only sound was that of the wind blowing through their ears, their voices not partaking in some friendly chatter that many times Feliciano tried to start between them. Ludwig always answered with silence, his gaze to the continuing front and to the compass in his hand, still north.

Apparently speaking to Feliciano was considered one of the distractions that Tino had warned about.

Feliciano had settled speaking only with Pookie, who answered with cute little roars or a cuddling to either his shoulder or cheek. Ludwig tried to make their stops quick, only to replenish their bodies on water, food, refresh with cooling spells and then be insisting on Feliciano to move. So many times Ludwig had to stop because Feliciano was looming too far behind, tempted to just carry him the rest of the way, but Feliciano always managed to reach, to continue, trying to stand strong against the fatigue that would arise so he could prove himself to Ludwig. He didn’t need his scolds or his commands, especially with this heavy heat that only made everything more stressful.

When night had reached, the tiredness in them was one of needed sleep, and finally they could stop to make that rest. Ludwig was in charge of putting up a tent the Vikings had given them while Feliciano heated and prepared the food they were given. Not his ideal, but he shouldn’t complain when he was in the middle of a dessert and he didn’t have his cabinet of sauces and spices. They huddled together inside the tent, quite cool now, their focus on only the food Feliciano had served in their bowls. As soon as it was done, Feliciano settled outside with Ludwig, sitting, staring into the expanse of stars above them. Feliciano sketched it in his notebook, trying to remain in one page since it was the only book he had, needing to make it last the whole trip.

Despite being a dessert, there was a sudden beauty to it that deserved three more pages of art.

“Feliciano, go to sleep,” Ludwig insisted, not scolding, not mad, actually with concern, yet he didn’t stand, his stare still on the horizon, remaining strong in his watchful sitting.

“If I’m going to, you should as well,” Feliciano said back, not stopping at all his sketching, now wishing he could add some color.

“Someone has to keep watch.”

“For what? There’s nothing for miles. The only ones who know about us here are the jokers who will pick us up. You’ll be losing sleep for nothing.” Feliciano could get just as scolding and Ludwig was rather startled from it, trying hard to hide a grin.

“You never know what kind of bandits are out there. Don’t you remember the tales of Fawzi?”

As if those silly childish stories could be proof enough. Feliciano couldn’t believe this was coming out from Ludwig’s mouth.

“Of course, it was my father who read them to us.”

Vincenzo had an old book lying about the house from his own old family heritage of these very provinces which made him a Romani in other Kingdoms.

“Do you think Fawzi would appear with his sword of golden triumph to save us if the bandits of Brazia appeared to take our Spheres of Validity?” Feliciano wondered childishly, easing in like a secret between them as they used to do.

Ludwig actually found himself chuckling. “He’s the main hero of the Sahara Dessert, of course he will."

“But what about his weakness! The iron hatchet, wielded by the evil Tarik!”

“Little does anybody know Tarik himself also has a weakness,” Ludwig admitted proudly, which got shock from Feliciano.

“He does?”

“I found something in the castle long ago.” Ludwig ushered for him to come closer, to tell him in whispers even if they were the only ones there. “Fire from a Queen.”

Feliciano glowed. “Nothing to fear! I will protect us both then!” He proclaimed, standing with a proud and obnoxious pose, gaze to the air, foot on a rock and hands on his hips. “Brazia would think twice before messing with us!”

“You blew up the fire place the last time you tried to light up something.”

“My power is just the danger our enemies need to run.”

“I hope you know where to aim,”

“I will! I will be worthy!”

“Sit down! You’re being embarrassing!”

Feliciano laughed, wildly, alive and vibrant, another star from the many ones that hanged. Moments like these made Ludwig realize how beautiful Feliciano truly was, how much he still adored his smile, hoping he could say more to keep him this brimming. He let a small grin show, which had Feliciano hypnotized, silence between as they used it to admire.

No, Ludwig knew he couldn’t, he instantly shut it, turned away, soured his face well into his grown male features.

“Please…go to sleep,” he insisted once again, turned away, suddenly maddened.

Feliciano’s mood instantly shut down along with his change, disappointed that they couldn’t continue in this game, in these laughs, in enjoyment for the night.

Feliciano sighed disappointedly into his command, beginning his stand. “Only if you join me as well. I won’t let you miss your sleep.” Feliciano was not going to move until then, no matter how long Ludwig still sat on.

He thought that Feliciano would give up on this, head inside and forget, but to his surprise he didn’t, heavy eyes on him to let him know that yes he was still there and still waiting. Ludwig sighed and had to deny to this watching, standing, opening the flap to their tent and granting access to Feliciano first. Feliciano smiled gladly, proud that his own insisting worked, coming inside after being quickly followed by Ludwig.

Pookie rolled his eyes after witnessing this.

 

Ludwig and Feliciano slept in their own side of the tent, the center for Pookie to rest and where they lay their things. From the cool air of the night, the new day brought new intense heat, one that only caused them to turn and fret in whatever was left of their sleep. They should probably wake up, continue on the route, but tiredness was heavy on them and sleeping a little bit longer seemed like it wouldn’t do them much damage.

Pookie, having better sense than the two, suddenly awoke when he felt a distinct rumbling from afar. He looked around hoping he could better identify what it could be, but it was strange. He flew over to Feliciano hoping to wake him up, but the brunet shooed him away, hoping for more minutes of sleep. Pookie thought about biting him for a moment, but that was when the rumbling became clearer, the sounds potent, a coming presence that Ludwig and Feliciano, not even in their sleep, could ignore. They stood in fear, quickly dressing in what they could from what the Vikings gave them.

It came closer and closer, until Ludwig and Feliciano could identify shouts, human presence, a large force like that of an army. Feliciano was trembling in fear, gulping, wishing he had more guts to go out there and see what this could be; luckily he had Ludwig for that.

The vibrating stopped, shouts between whoever was out there being called in some Diamond dialect that they couldn’t understand. Feliciano was about ready to shout, but Ludwig quickly covered his mouth, holding him tight to him, an arm wrapped around his waist to keep him from moving, from causing more presence that would get these strangers to know. They remained like this, trying to guess what was happening outside with mere sounds, guessing bandits, soldiers, maybe even dark magicians or some branch of Khaos’s men. Silence reigned for so long that Feliciano wanted to hope that they had left without disturbance.

“Your highness!” One shouted, in a familiar tongue to them.

Yes, the person addressed to them respectively, but her tone was harsh, commanding, and fearsome that it only scared Feliciano the more.

“Stay here until I think it’s safe,” Ludwig warned him with a piercing glare, his hands tight on his arms hoping Feliciano would understand enough to stay put. He nodded and obeyed, and Ludwig, trusting that Feliciano would remain obedient to it, slowly began to head out of the tent.

The sun’s harshness welcomed him with a smack, so strong that Ludwig squinted, hand above his eyes to try and notice the figures that were present, powerful and even mystical as they stood above the sand, with covered and readied gear that made them impenetrable to whatever this dessert could challenge them with. Their heads and faces were covered with masks, goggles and mantels, all a singular color to match well with the colors of the dust and wind, some golden intricate designs at the edge to remind them of their original culture, their original province and kingdom, despite who they were, seen in the symbol they all had sewn into the front of their shirts.

They were Jokers.

Ludwig finally noticed behind them three other ship-like structures, the cause of surely all the rumbling they had heard earlier, unlike any he had seen. Large wood panels that extended flat, ending with two canoe-like boats underneath for them to sail the sand quicker and easily, decorated walls on top to serve as rooms for navigation, for resting, for eating, windows framing from which others stared to the Heartian arising King in their own sitting. Geometrical designs spread around every opening, with calligraphy of their language, ceilings that extended magnificently to keep shade to those who wanted to remain outside the walls, their legs falling down playfully, distances safe from having sand attack them, but a height that they could easily be killed from if they fell off in movement. All these people stared and only stood towards Ludwig’s direction, nothing but the rushing of the wind between them, creating the division that they knew they had to come across.

Ludwig took that passage, coming closer to them, and so one of their own approached, until they were before each other, unarmed and meeting in silence. As a show of trust, of reaching and of welcoming, the figure that seemed to be the leader removed her head gear, long waved dark brown hair flowing across her back, large brown eyes, dark skin with occasional golden dots, seeming granted by the magic of the sun. She looked exceptionally young, making Ludwig wonder if she was perhaps a mere teenager. Not the kind of person he expected as the leader of a distinct group of Jokers.

“Dua Hakim,” she introduced, with a bow, one to which Ludwig bowed just as respectively to.

“I assume you are the help contacted by Berwald.”

“We are indeed, and we are all sure that you are the arising King of Hearts, although I fail to see his highness the arising Queen of Hearts.” She gazed around the area, only spotting the tent and their burned firewood.

“Feliciano!” Ludwig simply called.

After a moment, Feliciano hesitantly headed out, shaking, still intimidated by their amounts, their strange wears and boat contraptions. He felt rather awkward as he tried to put on the scarf, jacket and vest the Vikings had given him, messily and clearly showing his nervousness at the situation.

“We will not give any kind of harm, we are here to offer our services and protection to the arising rulers of Hearts. Please, pick your things and come with us, we’ll take you across the province until we reach Tehran. Our next stop will be Cairo, where you will be able to send messengers to contact on what happened to both your kingdom and his majesty, King Francis.” Yet another joker Feliciano found himself easily falling into trust. After giving them more gazes, Feliciano could sense no malice from them, instead a welcoming aura that instantly he wanted to run to.

Two men came and helped them with taking down their tent and bringing their things inside one of the boats. Most of them easily jumped onboard, something that Ludwig and Feliciano didn’t think they could do and so they were given ladders to climb. Once all made sure that they were safe in their hold, they began their drive once again. Feliciano didn’t hold himself from having a chance to see how these boats exactly worked, so he ran over to one of the gazing balconies, where he noticed a man posted at each corner of the square, controlling with magic the sand around, seeming to transform them into waves that helped the boats move on as freely as it was in the sea. A beauty, movements, the calm of the crew like they were in any of their homes, it was all something never before seen to Feliciano and he quickly went to get his sketchbook to draw. Two pages he gave: To how these men sailed the dunes and to the art they gave to their walls and floor, having Feliciano in full wonderment for the rest of the trip. Ludwig remained inside, a rather dark corner away from the heat and the sand that now flied over the structure more wildly. He expected calm, but he was sharing that very room with three other covered figures who only stared on to him, unblinking and unmoving, making Ludwig regret his stay there for the moment. He gazed to Feliciano practically hanging from the balcony, a groan escaping. He should probably stand up and get him to sit still and behave, anything to distract himself from the heavy stares all these men or probably women gave him.

 

As the Vikings had told them, their arrival to Cairo was hours distance, just in time for the sun to begin its descend into a golden sunset in the horizon. Towers stood high before the sun, homes and buildings coming more into their vicinity, populating the dessert once again in presence, in liveliness, in sound. The boat hadn’t even stopped yet but Feliciano was eager to see, to walk these new streets, new buildings, markets, in designs never before seen to him, relying mostly on pattern and floral designs, simplistic, but extending beautifully and uniquely. Ludwig had to come up and hold Feliciano down before he would actually fall off, especially after he saw a gathering to witness some sort of jewel lightning in one of the structures.

The boat moved on ahead past whatever distraction, through richness, through important landmarks. The pyramids stood far in the distance, a golden marble shinning enough to see well even in their many miles apart. They were just like in the stories, encyclopedias or even reports their grandfathers read them. Rare, enchanting, a powerful presence of Aces as if the Diamond Ace was standing right above them, watching to the arising King and Queens of his sister Ace’s kingdom. It was a view Ludwig and Feliciano kept their stares on, beautiful, majestic, a reminder of power that made them want to bow down to. It was still in their vision even when they stopped, when the crew members began to shout and began their descend, jumping down as easily as they came up, but once again Ludwig and Feliciano had to use ladders placed for them. They stopped before a building that stood apart from the main of the city, a single bricked road before them that connected it back to its center. There was presence of the dessert around them, for the building seemed close to being engulfed by a tall sand dune. Still it was busy, alight, topped with even a tower with lighting gems that reminded everyone of the city and passing by that it was used, that people lived there, but for what, both Ludwig and Feliciano wanted to find out.

They stood before it, simply staring for the longest time, quite awkwardly to all the rest of the inhabitants.

“Um…your highness?” Dua came close, awakening, reminding. “Are you both all right? I’m sorry our water and food wasn’t well enough and not what you’re used to, but if anything you can eat something here that would be better."

“Oh no, it’s not that! Your food was fine enough-”

“We were just wondering what this building could be,” Ludwig made the question, still gazing on, hoping that he could define it himself before Dua explained.

“You could say it’s our base, but it also works as a messaging station, probably the quickest working one in all of the Diamond Kingdom. The owner is secretly a Joker,” she admitted with quite the ease.

“He is?” Feliciano wondered. It was pretty hard for a Joker to get a prestige title, if even a small one as that. Besides, both Ludwig and him just witnessed an entire gang of them move freely through the dessert and even the city without a gaze of questioning from the citizens.

“Everyone here thinks our symbols are just ones of the company, we just have a way of explaining things to not attract much attention and it surprisingly works,” she smirked and winked, clearly proud about it. “Now come on in, there’s dinner waiting and you guys need to start working on your letters.”

 

They were given a room, a pretty high one that gave a splendorous view of the city, the pyramids still at its distance. Feliciano couldn’t find it in him to rest yet, his sketchbook opened trying to capture this. If he grew distracted, counting the lights, the ones of both the ground and sky, he would let a hand fall to caress Pookie on his lap, resting already for the night. Ludwig wrote the letters by himself as he insisted to Feliciano, detailing well what had happened, their location, who they met and their current plan to make it through the Arabic provinces. He requested guidance and protection from Besancon to Paris as soon as they arrived, although he made clear that he didn’t know an exact date, to just be alert. In the one to his grandparents, he made sure to write they were okay despite the circumstances and that the staff with the Spheres of Validity was unharmed and in their hold, although they did lose the rest of their trunks.

“Am I really going to start scolding you every night about going to sleep,” Ludwig said just as he gave each letter his last signature.

“Just a couple of more minutes, this looks absolutely stunning!” Feliciano couldn’t depart from his window and not even Ludwig’s words were enough of a pull away from it.

Ludwig sealed both the letters, directions written on them. He also wrote a small little note meant to be sent to Berwald and his crew, letting them know they found their help and were well in their hold and protection.

They were ready to be given into the messaging system.

“Well, if you’re going to stay up, you could at least accompany me to hand in these messages, I still don’t know who were supposed to give them to,”

“Didn’t Dua give us a number when we were having dinner?” Feliciano stood, quite curious and eager.

“I was just thinking about it, so let’s head out and see right now.”

Each picked from a robe they were given and headed up the halls of the building, much of it deserted since many where already in their sleep or settling down into it. Ludwig and Feliciano were fearful that the messenger they were supposed to give this to were already off and gone, keeping the letters for the day later and only growing the anxiety their families and even Francis felt at home for not knowing anything. They climbed and climbed until they reached the very heights of the building, the yellow, the golden colors, the refinery growing much more, to shinning tiles with surely jewels and expensive crystals mended in the design. The number was above the largest door in the building, doubled, imperial to surely signify the power this person held in this domain. Feliciano stood behind Ludwig in defense and Ludwig took the decisive knock. They received a gentle voice, quiet and almost inaudible, Ludwig and Feliciano thinking that perhaps it was just the wind or muttering from the floors below. They heard as the doors were unlocked and so they took their passage, into a circled spacious room, full of letters and maps quite orderly placed in their spots. A rather small and young man was working with one of those many piles, gazing to the directions, the names, the places, once decided, sending some to other piles or throwing them over some distinctive tubes that were spread across the room, sucking them elsewhere. He looked up, not expecting these kinds of visitors. He finished his work with one letter, straightening the robes he wore along with some golden bracelets on his wrist.

“Your highness,” he bowed to them, “Gupta Muhammad Hassan, leader of this base, I was the one Berwald contacted to be able to address your welcome. Has everything been going well? Let me know if there’s anything you need me to work on.”

“Your people have done excellently. The city is beautiful and we wish we could thank you more,” Feliciano quickly complimented, which earned a smile from the small man.

“But we do ask that you send these letters immediately, with destination to the castle in Berlin and another to the one in Paris.” Ludwig handed them in, Gupta knowing instantly what he was supposed to do with them. With a slide of his hand, a special golden symbol appeared on top, official of the Diamond Kingdom, as well as a small one with his secret official tittle, and that was the symbol of their gang of Jokers.

“The latest this could arrive would be in three days, but I’ll try to make sure it will in two, I know the urgency.” With them both he moved forward to let it be sucked in by one of the tubes again, the duty settled to Ludwig. He was about to pull Feliciano to leave for the night, but his arising Queen had gone to inspect one of those many tubes, gazing down to them, wondering where exactly it was that the letters were taken.

“What are these?” His curiosity couldn’t help but ask, noticing them some buttons at the edge of the tubes, tempting for him to press.

“No, no, no, please your highness, don’t press that!” He stopped him before an accident could occur; Feliciano’s face was too close to it. “Extremely delicate and dangerous, any wrong doing could destroy it and it’s quiet hard for us to get funding to be able to fix them,” Gupta explained.

“No funding?” Feliciano continued to question.

“We do get some, but it’s not enough. The Diamond crown is rather reluctant to help other provinces other than France. Any of my pleads could take months to answer, and usually with negatives and refusals. Everything we hold we must make it last and fix what we can by ourselves. These tubes are rather rare, they spread well across the province, using magic to deliver letters by city to city. As we’re speaking, your letters have probably already arrived to Sanaa, where messengers are already preparing on their journeys to bring them to their respective place.” Gupta was rather proud about it, pointing easily to the contraptions that only made them shine the more in Feliciano’s eyes.

“Why would the kingdom not give them funding? If I knew one of my provinces held something like this, I would make it available in the entire kingdom!” Feliciano made sure.

“Well sadly your ruling does not cover our domain, but thank you, I take your words to heart.” He smiled and Feliciano shared one with him. “Was your visit only for the letters?”

“Yes, we should we be leaving for now, thank you once again for all your services,” Ludwig interrupted before Feliciano went on blabbering something that would leave them there for the entire night.

“Very well then, you’re scheduled to leave early in the morning to Jerusalem, so I suggest you take your rest, the journey that awaits you through the dessert is still a long one.”

They obeyed and bowed in approval, despite how much Feliciano wanted to stay, pouting, giving last missing gazes to all the letters and contraptions around him, wishing he had another day to really take a look at everything. He could make sketches, talk to Gupta, bring this to the Hearts Kingdom, to the castle in Paris, to be used, to be known.

 

The jokers were kind enough to give them a whole new trunk of things they could use. They were filled with new clothes, of yellows that were rather odd for them to wear, but while their stay in Diamond, it was only appropriate. At least they were varied in different styles of the Diamond provinces. The same crew offered to take their things and place them once again upon the sand boats they had gotten to know the day before. All three boats were joining along, for protection, for supplies, or simply eager for the adventure of this route to Tehran. Both Ludwig and Feliciano were fed with their breakfast, dressed in their protective gear from both the sun and heat, beautifully, styled, standing proudly as arising rulers between jokers. They awaited outside the building as the crew prepared the ships, both looking for a hint of Dua since she was the only one they really knew, but all the people there were covered, making it hard for them to tell. It was beginning to feel awkward standing there while others worked on for them, they started to think it was unfair and were about to suggest a way they could help.

“Lovely day, isn’t it?” A familiar voice joined them, looking proudly to the intense heat, dessert continuing onward, the city in the proximity. Sure, it had its own unique sense of beauty, but to Ludwig and Feliciano, it wasn’t the ideal, so the comment came out as odd.

“Um…” Feliciano tried to find an answer, turning to the figure and recognizing it as Gupta’s, prepared with wear similar to the rest of the Jokers, a bag in his hold.

“Are you going somewhere?” Feliciano asked curiously.

“I’m joining along,” he proclaimed.

“You’re coming with us?” Feliciano seemed too excited for a person he had only met briefly the night before.

“I need to make sure you are both rightfully taken care of. Your powerful rulers of another kingdom, with a lot on your shoulders to get these Validity Spheres and place them on the field. If anything happens, I rather it happen before my eyes so I can better deal with it.”

“Gupta, you doubt us too much.” There was Dua’s familiar voice, joining alongside them.

“It is not doubt, just extra precautions,” Gupta wanted to make her understand, but she still rolled her eyes, beginning to move forward to the boats, her own departure ready.

The rest knew it was time for them to board as well. Ladders were presented to them, and Gupta took them with finest, a prideful walk that made some groan, others chuckle. Gupta didn’t seem to mind it, he actually gave a small smile, ushering Ludwig and Feliciano to join him in his area of sitting, both taking a comfortable couch for the rest of the journey. The ladders were up, no one else came out calling for a joining, the sand rowers began to use their magic to bring movements to all the ships once again and they were off into the horizons.

As the last trip, it was slow, silent, with the same stares, no sound but of the ships hitting against the sand and occasional rocks they found. Gupta kept his full attention on a scroll he had brought, Ludwig deciding on reading the book his grandfather had given him, for now settling on self exercises to keep his magic well flooded within himself. Feliciano…was bored out of his mind. Drawing was not enough, he needed laughs, he needed movements, conversations, not this silence while being surrounded by people in such a close space.

There was a particular man sitting upon a wall, gazing out the window, hands tracing the design surrounding it rather dearly. He seemed just as bored as Feliciano, and so the arising Queen chose him as a target, standing, coming close, Pookie comfortably on his shoulder not minding at all his decision to befriend. Ludwig glared and kept a heavy eye on him, making sure that he wouldn’t do anything embarrassing or even insulting to these people.

“Ciao, could you perhaps help me with something?” Feliciano asked him, catching his immediate attention, although rather surprised that the arising Queen of Hearts would approach him. He was a simpleton, a joker even.

Feliciano took a sitting beside him, showing the sketch he had recently made of the interiors of the boat, trying to copy it to perfection.

“Did I do this well?” He pointed to the very designs around the different windows, hoping it was enough to compare to the wonder that was originally on the boat.

The man moved aside his goggles, his mantles for Feliciano to meet with golden brown eyes, tousled blackened hair, dark enchanting features that made him shine the more beautifully. Feliciano clearly blushed and Ludwig tried hard not to rip apart the book in his hand from the tight hold he had suddenly begun to give it.

“It’s wonderful, but-” He moved closer, taking one side of the sketchbook, letting Feliciano maintain the other one. “I would suggest you give more curves here and add a little bit more detail to this top,” he pointed and Feliciano quickly made the changes, together working and giving each other the company they needed to make the beginning of this new trip interesting.

Chapter Text

His name was Haris, just Ludwig and Feliciano’s age, from the Israeli province, having joined this Joker group after having lost his entire family in a raid by once again Khaos’s men. That time it had been because they were begging for a define version of a tale that was well known throughout these parts of the Diamond Kingdom. Haris told them that his ancestors had been contacted by the Diamond Ace himself with a tale that they passed down with exactness throughout the generations. King Khaos’s men wanted it desperately and so it had caused Haris’s loosing of them when they refused to word it to men they knew could use it for danger. This particular group of Jokers had found him and had taken him into his care after he had nothing else to look forward to.

“Do you know the tale?” Feliciano asked him curiously, leaning with a sweet begging in his eyes to know.

Haris smiled and leaned just as close, watching around himself as to not let others hear, not even Ludwig, who moved ever so closer to them the more Haris and Feliciano got nearer.

“I’m the last lone word of the tale." He was proud, with a smug and even a glowing in his eyes that Feliciano found alluring, much to Ludwig’s eye roll.

Feliciano took a great gasp, filling himself with enough reaction to show exactly the interest he had of this. “Can I know it? Can I know it?” He asked and begged like a child, crawling the ever closer to him, Ludwig near to scolding and moving him back. Haris chuckled, not seeming to mind of course, he had the attention of the arising Queen of Hearts all for him. The teasing smirk he had on made Ludwig feel like he was mocking him.

“Jerusalem actually has a mural dedicated to the story, I can explain it to you well once were there,” he promised, and it only made Feliciano the more anxious to get there.

After the opening Feliciano had made with Haris, others began to break their own shells, joining along in a circle of conversations, of laughs and cultural exchanges that even Ludwig was enjoying from.

Their arrival to Jerusalem was not as quick as it had been to Cairo. They spent an entire day and an entire night traveling, not giving themselves time to stop and stall. Luckily they were equipped with enough food and water to enjoy inside, the magicians taking turns so each could take their rest and their own helping to the food that was brought and presented.

They arrived to Jerusalem an early morning, the heat as intense as any other in the extend of the dessert. It was here that they decided on their stop, for movement to be given to their legs, re-supply, settle and rest well without the shaking and dizziness of the boats. Dua and Haris decided to act as tour guides around the city to Feliciano, later Ludwig after he realized Feliciano would have a lot of alone time with Haris if he didn’t. They both had visited enough to understand well the streets they walked in, the restaurants they ate, the sights, the few amount of art, but more importantly, the building that shone rather peculiarly on its own, the temple mount. It was to them the place that they thought the Diamond Ace first created the kingdom, its people, its creatures, its set of order and life. Entrance to the church inside was forbidden unless you were either a trained priest, the King, Queen, or Jack of the Diamond Kingdom. Still, there was a surrounding wall they could visit, decorated, acknowledged with prayers and love as a form of gratitude to their Ace. Dua and Harris didn’t pay much attention to all of it, they passed by crowds and helped Ludwig and Feliciano to push aside as they made their way to the true interest. Much to Feliciano’s surprise, it was actually a pretty deserted area, with enough space for him to move forward and gaze at its tallness that reigned with color, design, and story, unique in the entire wall and even city.

The four Aces were presented at its top, and below, a story seemed to be told, with only two figures, surrounded only by the items that tried to explain it. Feliciano couldn’t understand, but Haris gladly began to tell to light up its meaning.

“Long ago, our Ace of Diamonds had one day decided to take a peek through the doors that granted watching into our world. In this particular seeing, he saw the unfolding of a persecution, of a family being chased down, a young baby girl in their hold that they desperately tried to protect. The persecutors managed their holding, their attack, even the killing, but there was still the young baby girl. Although it was unbecoming for Aces to offer much help in the events of the human world unless it was those of their Kings, Queens and Jacks, he intervened and stopped any harm from coming to the girl. He learned her name was Zubaida, and he made sure she was taken to a family that took care of her, raised in a simple house hold where she lived with another adoptive sibling. Her sibling was jealous, cruel, and brought misery to the young girl every day ever since her arrival. She managed well to get her into trouble in the household, causing Zubaida to earn scolds and harsh punishments for them. It was a new temptation every day to run away, prayers to the Aces for escape, for relief, and the Diamond Ace answered by visiting, using the form of an angel, a vessel that could survive and be seen to the humans. He dressed himself as a blind beggar, testing Zubaida’s kindness, humility and even friendliness. She would always offer him help, give him food, talk on about topics that interested them both.

Each day the Ace would give her words of wisdoms, things to help her continue on, believe in a better future that he worked to give her by these chats and words. She looked forward to them each time, their friendship growing like that of a grandfather and his granddaughter, their walks through the village known to all, which caused stories for people to tell.

Years passed, Zubaida grew, a woman to which the kingdom could use to their advantage. War was alive, rampaging throughout the kingdom, and Zubaida offered her services for the defense of her province and kingdom. She settled off and left the small town she had grown up in, but not before promising to the old beggar the gift of lighting stones from whatever adventure this new path decided to take her on. She collected them from each of the provinces, even the kingdoms she visited, keeping it all in a chest, in it papers where she had written his sayings, the spells he taught her, all tied to a different stone that reminded her of them.

Years later, she returned to her village recognized as a great war hero, welcomed in celebration and honors that she would have never expected from them. Eager she was to meet with the old beggar, but then she learned that he had died shortly after leaving. She was devastated, the chest of stones and words a gift that she was never to give, a weeping that continued on for many days.

She then received the visit of another man, of her age, of beauty, of gentleness, presenting himself as a grandson of the beggar, seeking for the chest, for her own friendship, her love, later her hand, which she gladly took, their son then chosen to become the next King of the kingdom.”

As Haris told, he pointed to the symbols, the connections, making both Ludwig and Feliciano understand more the live story the mural was telling.

“But…wait.” Feliciano kept thinking, a question arising with those last words, Ludwig with the same wondering. “If the Ace of Diamonds was the beggar, he couldn’t have possibly died, and he couldn’t have had family enough for this sudden grandson to appear.”

Both Haris and Dua chuckled, knowing well, always delighted to reveal this particular part of the story.

“To this day, many actually believe that the handsome figure was just the Ace of Diamonds in another disguise, and thus the line of Bonnefoy use that excuse as to prove that their lineage is that of Aces and demi-gods,” Dua informed.

“But in actuality, it’s wrong.” Haris knew, and he confided well in the truth his family was told generations ago. “The Ace quickly returned to his realm after he had exceeded his allowed time with the humans. In his court, he told stories of Zubaida, of her progress in the journey, her gaining of the stones and any of the heroic acts she made. An angel by the name of Hosni, who was actually in charge of placing decorative stones around the celestial castle, was enamored with her stories, always faithful to listening to them whenever the Ace began his telling. They say he fell in love with her by simply hearing them, every night reaching the doors of passage, tempted to take peeks of her, fall down and join in her adventure. After Zubaida’s return to the village, the Ace seeing the great amount of loyalty Hosni held for her, granted him access to the human world, in return that he offered protection, love, and trust, just like he had done as a beggar, to her. He had done so well, even in helping to create a temple in honor of the Diamond Ace, using the very stones she had gotten on her journeys.”

Feliciano kept enamoring himself which each word of the story, eyes only on the mural as it seemed to come alive in his mind, those figures moving as if they were building that every temple around him.

“And where is this temple?” He wondered.

Haris sigh disappointedly, fault and anguish, close to tearing and gripping for a chance. “Not even my family knew where it was.” A tragedy that could be heard in the loss of life in his tone.

“Many speculate that it was destroyed during the war of the blackened decades,” Dua continued, sensing her friend’s dread. “Once it had a define location, but now a days there’s nothing but rubble there, no design, no building, not even a stone, Haris and I have gone ourselves.” They both pouted, the memory a reminder of misfortune.

“Are there any scrolls at least? Records? Anything?” Feliciano begged, hoping there was some sort of chance.

“Absolutely nothing. All traces of it completely disappeared, because of it. Some say that it never even existed.”

“But why? Why would it get destroyed? Why would somebody take down something so historic and important?” Feliciano found no meaning.

“Many says it was perhaps a design Hosni and Zubaida had made, something that angered, something that had to be hidden…” Silence settled as they tried to figure what it could be, as if a hint could be read in this mural instead.

“It was something that surely Khaos’s men would have loved to know themselves, and they thought that with my family they could.” Piercing pain was in Haris’s eyes, surely in his mind the flashes of that day passing before him, weakening him, even a slight shake that he tried to control with the griping of his fists.

Feliciano came close hoping he could give some sort of ailment, but a grab of his shoulder by Ludwig told him that it was best that he didn’t. He wasn’t sure how exactly he could react to it.

“At least the story is still alive, at least people know about Zubaida, she’s praised along with Hosni as surely the Ace of Diamonds wants. King Khaos could destroy her temple, but he cannot destroy her legacy,” Feliciano said hoping it could give him the relief, the breath that his body needed once again.

It worked well enough to stop his trembling, to let his figure compose straight, his eyes returning that gleam of hope, of expectation and wonder to fight on if even by himself. Like Zubaida’s legacy continued, it was in his to continue the story as his family had done well to do.

“And I hope nothing will halt it,” he declared, with the breath that finally returned him back to normal.

The rest were relieved.

“I think it’s time for lunch. How about we take you to have some falafel, I know of a place that makes the most excellent one in the city.”

Feliciano practically shouted with joy and eagerly moved them all forward, leaving the mural behind, but not out of their minds.

 

After that lunch, Gupta had found them and they headed back to their boats, once again off on the journey, content enough to know that their next stop at Tehran would be their last one.

Throughout most of the day their treading continued, but late in the night they had to make a stop. All the magicians were indeed too tired from their rowing and wanted some time to relax. They circled all the boats around an array of large boulders that they could take as a form of shelter, they prepared a fire from which they all centered around, where they cooked their food and shared it along with drinks and chatter. Of course, Ludwig and Feliciano joined, Feliciano enjoying from this air of feast and liveliness, while Ludwig frowned as he always did, not understanding how this was rest when they were simply fooling and wasting sleep time.

Some of the men and women took out instruments, drums, guitars, and flutes of their own, rare and weird for Ludwig and Feliciano, but still shinning beautiful and uniquely. They started playing, some humming along trying to mimic the very instruments, in union creating a melody that seemed to bring color to the nothingness of the dessert. Feliciano clapped along with some of the others, impressed then as some began to stand and join in dances around the fire. It was mostly those with the perfect amount of curves that joined, who their bodies had the flexibility to move like thin sheets of satin, like the waves of water or the passage of wind in these desserts.

Feliciano was trapped, their hips moving in quite the provocative ways that he was surprised no other was being so shaken or moved by. Sure, some whistles were blown, some callings heard, but it never interrupted, it continued, a calling and showing of nature that was best not to intervene in. Soon enough Feliciano found his foot tapping, his own claps going along with a rhythm that the group did not fail to miss. They all smirked, a conjunctive idea that Dua showed by coming close to Feliciano, offering her hands into welcome. Feliciano trembled, close to denying, he couldn’t possibly, he knew nothing, it was not his culture, what if he did something insulting?

“Come on! I’ll teach you,” Dua still offered, and Feliciano couldn’t hold himself from the temptation any longer.

With a smile, a whisper of words to Pookie so he could remain in his original sitting watching, he moved forward to join along with the rest of the spinning figures. Dua and Feliciano took their spot to practice, she showed him all the exact movements, both moving together, incorporating themselves with the rest with each new forwarding step.

To help them better move, many began removing much of their clothing, revealing arms, hips, and stomachs, some even their chests. Feliciano played along by removing many of his upper wear, his chest revealed to the cooling air, uncaring of the many wanting eyes he received, including those of his arising King.

To Ludwig, it was all scandalous, how Feliciano smirked, how his hands moved freely as if calling for someone to caress that creamy expanse of his skin. His back seemed to wave to him, a movement to his hips that Ludwig never thought he would blush or even drool about. And Feliciano continued on, uncaring to how heated he got Ludwig, gripping harshly the cup he still held with his drink, trying to look away, trying to find some distraction, but everything, even the music, seemed to be calling his eyes to his arising Queen, to his allure, to his smile, his beauty, even his jealousy as he saw him thread a teasing finger in Haris’s hair as he passed trying to find a place to sit. Ludwig felt this sudden need to punch him if he dared join him in that array of too revealing dancing. Luckily, Haris moved away, laughing, joining some other members who continued to eat while they gladly watched. Ludwig eased, deciding it was best he enjoyed as well, although his eyes only remained on Feliciano’s appetizing figure, thoughts coming unto his mind that he tried so hard to hide ever since his growing sexual urges.

Feliciano was a childhood friend, his arising Queen who denied his proposal, and he was-…just best to keep his thoughts away from such carnal and lustful thoughts, even with a continuing stare on him that Feliciano began to feel. In one moment their eyes met, and to both their surprises, neither looked away, they remained glued, readying, a certain power in them that had Feliciano moving the more seductively, the more arches, the widening of his mouth, of tongue licking his lips, and lastly, even a wink and a smile.

That did it to Ludwig. He looked away, he stood, he moved back to the boats to find some of the water basins and drench his head in it along with the dirty thoughts. Pookie seemed to be chuckling as he flew behind him. Ludwig decided then to inspect one of the trunks, checking on the Spheres of Validity, but instead, the first thing he met was the red collar Gilbert had given him, the one that cut reproduction magic if one wanted to- he slammed the trunk closed.

Of all the things that survived from the attack.

After pondering, trying to focus instead on training exercises in his book, his usual physical training, he returned back to the group, all the figure now sitting, in silent speaking, the music dimmed, the group slowly falling into tiredness.

“You never heard about Zubaida’s story?” Gupta asked Feliciano.

“Until I came here, no. Hearts tends to focus mostly on their own.”

“Understandable, many of the Hearts legends are incredible,” one complimented.

“Romulus’s tale is one of my favorites,” Dua said as she finished her last drink for the night.

“How do you feel about him being one of your ancestors?” Haris asked, close and near, angering Ludwig as always.

“It’s…really not something that changes anything about me. Like to all of you, Romulus’s tale is just another story from the many I’ve heard, although more in tied with me since he is one of my great grandfathers and a symbol of my family…but…that’s about it, I’m more curious about other things,”

“Like what?”

“Like…knowing about my great grandmother instead, Augusta.” The question was still alive in Feliciano’s mind even after the months that passed. It surprised Ludwig and earned a raise of his head.

Feliciano was still nowhere close to knowing, disgrace slouching him, slightly hating his ignorance and the very world’s for not letting her own story be more alive, for him to know, for him to see, and maybe he could finally get why…-he gazed over to Ludwig, who quickly turned away once he saw him trying to connect their eyes again. After that last smile and wink, it was best not to revive anything else between them.

“Romulus’s wife, his Queen at the time,” they all at least recognized, but no other words where shared of a beginning of a new story, an idea, a telling.

“Yes…I…need to know much more of her.” Feliciano gazed over to the mark on his finger, as if it could hold some hint, as if it could tell him. It was a mark given to him by the Aces after all, that all Queens held, surely even Augusta.

“Isn’t she the one about the song, the one…um, the one you Heartians are always singing!” Haris tried to remind.

“What’s it called, um, be mine, accept to be yours, accept to be-” Gupta continued to guess.

“Accept to be mine,” Feliciano corrected.

“Ah yes! That one!” Gupta pointed.

“That’s all it is, a song.” One only about her love and loyalty to Romulus.

“A lovely song still,” Dua dreamed.

The players began to try and play the song in their instruments from what they knew in memory, but in honesty it wasn’t tuned, it was lost, and even pretty hurtful to the ears. Feliciano had to save this before it became any worst.

From one of his well-protected pockets, he took out the golden chest, his music box, what he decided would always be on him, especially after the attack at the train. He opened, all silencing for the melody that began to play. Feliciano let it sound for the duration of the whole song, for the players to learn, to tune their instruments, blow and beat in the right ways that would fit along with the tiny thing in the arising Queen’s hands.

“I’ll journey and see beyond the lines of our kingdom,
Never a fear to be lost, never a fear to fall,
In pleasure, I will take the mysteries of what I could meet,
If you accept to be mine, my Queen.”

Feliciano found himself singing, once the chest went back to repeating the song after it first ended.

“No heat, no cold, will stop me of my search,
No sun, no rain to go against my strength,
Just promise me your hand,
And love me in our eternity.”

He wanted it to be a whisper, but he couldn’t control the feeling it gave him, which heightened his voice for all to hear, stopping once he noticed that an eerie silence settled, all eyes on him, attentive to his voice. He became shy, nearing to close the chest.

“Please, no!” Dua stopped him.

“Continue,” Haris asked him.

Confident, he smiled, and continued on, new found bravery that helped him enunciate the song.

“My sun, my moon, my land, my love,
I know it’s a journey you will overcome,
But I don’t need you to go so far,
I want you here to kiss me.

Would you want all the gold I will find for you?
Would you like the songs I will bring from afar for you?
Would you accept me as your shield?
And would you want me always by your side?”

The players began to join in Feliciano’s singing, just as beautiful as the chest, as loving, as serene, bringing to all quite a relaxation that made them all begin to lean down to the ground in rest.

“I don’t want any of the riches you will bring,
I don’t care for any of the songs,
I only want you to hold,
I only want your arms around me.

Bring me your love, your kisses, your loyalty,
Your passion, your hope, your defeat,
Your promise, your weakness, your strength,
I will keep it all in my heart.”

Ludwig was just as taken by the spell of his voice, by the familiarity of this song, memories of their dances, of the many times they sang. He couldn’t help it as he began to word it under his breath, truly silent, his eyes pretending to be ignorant to the figure that shone above everything with his singular song.

“I’ll journey and see beyond the lines of our kingdom,
Never a fear to be lost, never a fear to fall,
In pleasure, I will take the mysteries of what I could meet,
If you accept to be mine, my King.”

The players knew it was over, laying down the instruments, yawns shared, stretching, tired eyes that wanted nothing more than their beds. Feliciano closed his music chest and guessed it was time they should all head to sleep.

 

Some rested on their beds on the boats, others camped out on the ground, but they all awakened the same the next morning, some with headaches, with back pains, or their bodies hurting, potions shared between them to ail it. Ludwig and Feliciano this time helped with everything that was needed to pack back into the boats, the two of them now friendly in the group after the small feast last night. They chattered aimlessly between themselves, Ludwig distracted in his conversation with another fellow, but it didn’t stop his gaze from spotting something that flared him to his furthest anger.

Feliciano had been helping Haris with picking many of the tents, in the process, they had picked one together without noticing, pulling each other until they stumbled together, too close, laughing, Haris gracefully detangling Feliciano from himself with a single move of his arm, which maintained a hold, a smirk, a wink, one that reddened Feliciano’s cheeks. Feliciano moved away to work on something else, leaving Haris behind to look at features from Feliciano that was definitely not in his right to see. Ludwig instantly dropped what he was doing, harsh steps moving toward him, loud enough for the other to turn away from whatever he had been staring at. Haris grew fearful, for the look and stance Ludwig was directing at him showed nothing else but killing intent.

“Listen, I’ve had enough of this,” Ludwig harshly pointed, all his facial lines meeting in one pierce of anger that seemed to shine with the purest of fires. “I don’t know what game you’re playing at, or what you’re trying to achieve here, but it’s one you’re forbidden to and you’re threading too dangerously on. Feliciano is an arising Queen, my future Queen, and you will do well to stay in your line, not get any closer, or even spare him so much as a glance from now on, because I swear, I will-” he didn’t finish it, because that’s when he noticed the silence that fell, all the eyes that stared at him, dumbfounded and wide eyed to witness the arising King of Hearts get so defended, so maddening and well…-Harris could only chuckle despite.

“Easy, easy, you really need to calm down, your highness,” he seemed to mock, which maintained some still firing anger in Ludwig. “I admit, Feliciano is adorable and a pleasure to be around, but I am aware clearly that I should not let it go too far. There is nothing between us but teasing and maybe some small flirts, but not enough to worry, not enough for you to suddenly go rampaging.” Now Haris was clearly maddened, rolling his eyes, trying to keep calm in his voice; if he threaded too dangerously things could become more violent, and he really did not want it to reach that height. “As long as I’m concerned, Feliciano denied his marriage to you, and for now, you have no entitlement as to who he could be with. If I want to flirt with him, I will, because between the both of us, I actually know how to do it right without hurting him or slinging insults his way and still treat him like the respectable arising Queen he is.” He returned the same anger in his eyes, that Ludwig did well to stand strong against, both actually fearful to the other, but neither would hint it to all the eyes that stared to them. “Don’t go around preaching who he should be with or not after you failed yourself to reach that accord. If you really love him- as we all already know you do-” That was the push, that was the sudden weakness he showed, and Haris couldn’t help but grin at it. Really, it was so obvious. “You would stop being so possessive and jealous and actually do something righteous and loving to earn him as any man or woman should justly do,” he shouted in fierceness, hoping that it would be something that would remain well in his head, that would remind him, that would hopefully change something in his behavior that Haris found so annoying.

With a grunt he remembered he had work to do, so he moved away back to business, even with the several eyes on him that he tried to ignore. Ludwig could learn to be uncaring to the rest as well, but he could not ignore Feliciano’s, which he spotted as soon as Haris moved away.

It was startled, fearsome, a frozen expression in his spot, proof enough to Ludwig that he had seen and even heard all of this confrontation. The embarrassment really hit him then, the indiscretion, the trembling, the gripping. At least his anger had subsided, but in it replaced embarrassment and fault, a wish to return everything and not make him seem like the heartless fool he already knew Feliciano saw him as.

The brunet came closer, nervous steps, hoping he could tell him something, hoping he could make him realize. “I’m sorry but…he was right,” Feliciano was courageous enough to admit.

Ludwig only nodded, too embarrassed to look him in the eye at the moment, anybody’s eyes actually. “You don’t need to apologize for it…if anything I should be the one to…” their eyes met, and Ludwig was lost, he was conflicted, he was weak, he wanted to erase, he wanted to distract, so he turned once again, forget it as everything. Feliciano sighed disappointedly and tried to hide his groan. “Let’s just…get on the boats and…leave.”

Feliciano agreed to that, both deciding to board together, if even with distance between them.

It was only one more stop.

Chapter Text

It was an awkward ride, one in which neither Haris nor Ludwig spoke or even stood in Feliciano’s proximity. He rolled his eyes at this behavior, settling instead on speaking with Gupta, of Egypt, of ancient stories of the Arabic provinces and how it played into part with the rest of the other provinces. As Gupta told, Feliciano sketched in his notebook, becoming creative and adding details that wondered many who sat by him. Feliciano asked about the messaging tubes, which Gupta explained to detail their mechanisms so Feliciano could replicate in his notebook.

“If I may ask, what are you doing this for?”

“To show King Francis! If he knows of their importance and how amazing they are, he’ll surely fund it more and maybe you can use it in more provinces around the kingdom. Once I’m back, I’ll see if I can add it to all of Hearts as well.”

Gupta was flattered, although a part of him still doubted, still wanted to get Feliciano to stop his generosity, but what could it hurt to try. He shrugged and let it all be. Either nothing will make a change, or things continued as they were, which he had no problem with anyways.

It was another day of traveling, all ending with a night approach to Tehran. Being close to the border of the French province, Tehran had a mix of dessert and yellow fauna that was peculiar and quite a relief to both Ludwig and Feliciano, who were used to this kind of flourishing nature. It stood with a backdrop of hardened mountains, covered in white snow, their night arrival giving them a chance to see the tall buildings light up one by one like shimmering stones. It was the biggest of all the cities they had visited, its grandness rather intimidating, like any turn would give them something new, but new ways to lose themselves in. Luckily they had the Joker group, who now had to sail on with different insignias and flags to not be discovered. Sand rower boats were not uncommon in the city, the very streets were prepared for them, which is why they still continued their riding even through these dense populations, busier streets, a fast pace that reminded Ludwig and Feliciano of Berlin. They continued until they arrived to their final spot, the goal of this detour, and that was the train station.

With no announcement of their arrivals, the locals walked on like any other night in the city, not paying mind to even these travelers who stood on their own with their dirty wears and singular uniforms. Ludwig and Feliciano admitted that it was more comfortable to take down their things, to walk down the station at ease, with new trunks, new clothes, new bags, and even the rest of the group behind as guardians and watchers. No one recognized them, Ludwig and Feliciano thinking it had to do with the missing of red and hearts symbols in their clothing, their covered heads, even their calm as they moved forward down the station. It was the same way as they got their tickets, as they reached the area they were to board. Other men gave the offer of picking their things, ushering into the wagon that was meant to be theirs, just about ready to take. Ludwig and Feliciano took out theirs scarfs and any of their covering, trusting the sudden emptiness in the area as everyone busied and got distracted with getting on their train.

“You’ve all been so wonderful!” Feliciano complimented, with deep emotions, of sorrows of having to depart.

“Promise you’ll write,” Dua answered with the same fault, offering her arms and herself for an embrace, which Feliciano gladly took, comfort in it of a dear friend.

“We’ll offer reports back to Berlin,” Gupta assured.

“But please, also write and let us know you arrived to Paris well.” Haris offered his own embrace and Feliciano let himself join along in one, and to his surprise, Ludwig didn’t do or say anything. It didn’t go to more than that, Feliciano moved away, bright promise in his eyes and even in his movements as he turned and made way for his boarding, Pookie taking rest in his curls now, confident and sure for a safe trip this time.

It was Ludwig’s turn to wish his goodbyes, with handshakes, bows, and even simple thanks in his eyes. It was the same that he wanted to show Haris, as to not let any kind of resentments be alive between them. When he stood before him, ready, even with the still present anger in their eyes, Haris took a harsh grip of Ludwig’s shoulder. Everyone was expecting the worst, getting ready to depart whatever this could form into, but nothing of the sort awakened. Haris only pulled Ludwig near, enough for his mouth to lean into his ear, to whisper in menace.

“I hope you take into consideration what I told you. Feliciano is a beautiful person, inside and out, the kind that any would fight and protect even against the wrath of all the kingdoms. I see you love him, there’s devotion, commitment…as he does for you. You two have a strong bond that Khaos would think twice before attacking. I sense he will be a Queen to be remembered for the ages, and you still have enough time to prove yourself to him, to be just as an amazing and remembered King.” His grip then strengthened, Ludwig fearing he would even claw against the fabric and break. “I hope the next time I see you, you’re getting married to him and you are both being crowned powerful leaders.” And just like that he pushed him, looking away uncaringly, giving all the space for him to leave.

Ludwig was rather struck, hazed, suddenly forgetting where he was even standing. A bell reminded him, rushing quick to board once he noticed that the doors were soon to close. He waved to them all, taking his seat next to Feliciano, who joined along in goodbyes, continuing even as the train began its movements, until it dashed off the station, the joker group behind them.

They were finally off surely to France.

As soon as the train left the station, Ludwig and Feliciano used the night ride to sleep, only to be awakened the early morning to French welcomes, signs showing them their arrival to Besancon. Here they saw the surrounding and activity that they had missed throughout the Arabic provinces. Crowds already awaited them, waves and shouts, all to which Ludwig and Feliciano were hurried across by countless of guards until they arrived at a secluded area where their coach was awaiting them. The only words they shared with the guards were those of relief for their arrival, telling them on how the kingdom rushed once King Francis received the letters. All the kingdoms had been worried, all remaining a watchful eye to Besancon to make sure that they both arrived as safely as they started. It explained the big celebratory air and the amount of people there. They didn’t play much part in it though, they had Ludwig and Feliciano settling in the coach ride quick to their next stop, Paris.

It took them an entire day of riding, their arrival to Paris late in the night, but what a chance it gave them at this hour. Shimmering, glowing, like a feast of stars and shine, as golden and yellow as the national colors, showcasing light, competing with the stars, large, beautiful, a class and richness that Feliciano admitted Berlin stood very differently from. He wished he could have stopped the coach to give him a better chance to sketch that first gleam into the city, but the rush was still evident, one that really didn’t give Ludwig or Feliciano the real chance to see and admire as it was meant to.

The buildings didn’t tower here in crafted art, in fact, the only one that did was the metal and yellow diamond encrusted landmark of the Eifel tower, which like the castle in Berlin, could be noticeable from whatever point in the city you stood from. It was rather weird that their palace didn’t stand up as high as that, but grounded, squared, but indeed large, brightening high in gold and exaggerated extravagancies that even Ludwig and Feliciano thought was too much for the royals of the kingdom. The guards made sure that no crowd accumulated at its entrance, quickly working to get the royals down, even ushering them down the halls of the highest golden opulence and art that compared to the ones in the Berlin castle. Feliciano wished he could depart from the guards’ harsh grips and powerful eyes and really look at the art one by one as he usually did back in his own castle. To the guards it didn’t matter, they pushed, they pulled, all until they reached grandiose double doors, crafted with similar stories of the ones Ludwig and Feliciano had seen as they had gone through the Arabic provinces, only with characteristics and figures more similar to the citizens of the French and Swiss provinces. They opened, Ludwig and Feliciano momentarily blinded by the harsh light that illuminated. The room extended in their welcome, shinning in gold, in whites, in marble, yellow, heavy flags and symbols hanging from every available spot, being careful not to hide the paintings and intricate designs carved into pillars, ceilings, corners, even the large three thrones at the bottom, just as excessively carved as the whole room, with large golden rays behind all three to make it seem like a new coming sun was arising right from these seats of power. Ludwig and Feliciano easily understood that this was supposed to be the throne room, much larger than their own in Hearts, more heavily decorated, more majestic, more riches. They had to admit that they were rather jealous.

The guards closed the doors behind them, leaving them both alone, suddenly confused, but it didn’t last long when they heard rushing steps coming to replace the fault of presence.

“You have finally arrived!” They recognized Francis’s cheering voice, coming with hurry, trying to make his entrance just as shinning as the very room.

It would have been amazing and very Francis-like…if he didn’t come to them naked with only but a long silk robe trailing behind him like a golden river…actually this was very Francis-like now that Ludwig though about it.

“Thank the Aces! You have no idea of the pleasure I feel at seeing you two arrive well! You must immediately speak to me about what happened! Feliciano, dear, are you-”

“Could you cover yourself? For Aces’ sake, this is your throne room, you’re supposed to be receiving guests in a palace, not a brothel!” Ludwig suddenly shouted, bringing Feliciano forward into his embrace, covering his arising Queen’s eyes from this high indecency.

Francis looked deeply insulted about this, taking a high breath, a harsh grip of his hand on his chest. “I greet you like this, an image that any would beg to witness in their lifetime and yet you scorn and push it away! It is my castle and I decide to greet my guests however wish!”

“That’s really cool. I want to do something like that in the Hearts castle, Ludwig.”

“We certainly will not! There is no need to constantly be showing yourself like this unless specific occasions, but this is none! Feliciano and I just returned from a train attack in our kingdom, saved by Joker Vikings, then having to confide on a group of Joker bandits across the desserts of the Arabic provinces, and you dare greet us with that thing!” Ludwig pointed directly to Francis’s free penis and hairy legs. Once again Francis looked insulted, but he still struck a pose hoping to change the arising King’s mind.

“Oh for fucks sake, I can’t believe you actually did this," another voice joined, arming himself with a sword, preparing the pommel to hit his King to order if it was necessary.

“Francis, I’m sure there are other chances for these kinds of moments, but right now, it was rather inappropriate.” A young girl joined as well, Ludwig and Feliciano spotting as Vash and Lili entered, wearing more appropriate yellow dresses and suits.

Children embarrassed about an adult’s doing, it looked rather comical to Feliciano as he tried to suppress a chuckle.

“I just wanted them to know that they can get comfortable,” Francis pouted.

“Scarred them you did,” Vash had no problem with harshly admitting.

“I preferred that you didn’t show it this way. I’ll write it down for the next time we have guests,” Lili already organized and planned, with an ever refine air of queen grace.

She moved forward, offering her bows and kinds eyes as greeting to these royals, and of course, her cousin Ludwig. “Welcome to Paris, welcome to our palace. We’re deeply sorry for the kind of journey you both had to suddenly take, we should have been more careful when we prepared our route of arrival. You dealt with what you could honorably, as King and Queen should. We will make your stay here for the next couple of days as comfortable as we can in tribute to it. Please, make yourself at homes, don’t be afraid to seek anything you want, whatever it is, we will do our best to attend.”

What grand maturity for her age, a strong Queenly dealing despite being in her arising years, amazing tributes that already made her fitting for the job. Feliciano was eager for the day she would grow into a regal Queen, one he would be happy and proud to work alongside with and share in a tittle.

“Thank you, you’re all so kind, we’ll make good use of it!” Feliciano appreciated it all, giving another bow of thanks. As he did so, Pookie took the position as a chance to fly off, draw himself near to the arising Diamond Queen, nuzzling her, purring and cuddling like any small kitten would do. Sure, it was surprising, but Lili found herself giving him the same amount of pets and cuddles, finding it incredibly adorable.

“Who is this?” She asked, with glee that let one see the truth of her age.

“This is Pookie, he decided to join us on the trip somehow,” Feliciano quickly explained.

“Oh, I thought he was some sort of past pet."

“I rather not think it. We speculate it might have been sent by the Aces,” Ludwig told, hoping Lili could easily understand that she had to treat the creature with more respect.

Her eyes had momentarily widened and she suddenly stilled, afraid suddenly that this little winged lion could grow and devour her into bits. But how could it? It was being so cute, begging for more cuddles and touches, wanting rest, food, and surely any kind of pampering. Lili took it into a welcoming and friendly embrace, creature of the Aces or not.

“We will lead you to your room ” Vash ushered them away, wanting instant peace after all this, one Ludwig wanted as well.

 

Their stay in Paris was meant for four days, a little too much Ludwig thought, who wanted the new Spheres of Validity made instantly the next morning so they could leave to the Spades Kingdom that very night. But no, Feliciano wanted a tour of the city and Francis happily obliged to give him one. Ludwig joined along if only to watch over Feliciano since Francis tended to be just as spaced as him…and as touchy. Scenic walks, artistic buildings, rivers with proud bridges of gold, all trees and flowers trimmed to hang by the walls in perfect harmony, one the movement of the streets went along with, one Francis and Feliciano did well to easily match as they ran, as they skipped, as they twirled, hanged, pointed, even sang. It was all annoying and hard for Ludwig to follow, but he still trailed behind, a scoff here and there that Francis and Feliciano did well to ignore. Sometimes, when Feliciano pointed to beautiful flowered balconies, had Ludwig try Crème brûlée, or pulled him so he could tell him some romantic tale to a wall, grove, or balcony, Ludwig would actually fall at ease to these pulls by Feliciano, smiling and forming if even a small part of it. It didn’t escape Francis’s sights, who would snicker, make notes and plot with evil grins. They would return exhausted, but with an exquisite dinner prepared by the high rated chefs of the palace awaiting them. Francis insisted that they should only be served by the best, proud of the moans and alighted eyes as they took their bites and tastes.

Feliciano at one point grew very interested with the gardens of the palace, if the lateness, if they were tired, and Francis still stood up and lead him forward, glad to show him. They took their time, there were a variety of flowers, of trees, of statues, fountains, and even mazes that led to hidden beautiful groves, stories that had Feliciano’s eyes alight, hurriedly drawing on his sketchbook. This time, Ludwig watched on, from the heights of a large balcony, where he intended not to leave from until Feliciano returned back from his viewing. He didn’t care about all this excess, this flamboyancy and gold, his eyes were only on his arising Queen, watching, trying to tell himself that his smile was not shinning his being, that the way his curls bounced and how he alighted and rushed quickly down rocked roads wasn’t raising the beat of his heart, the gripping of his hands around a glass he was drinking, holding from letting this fountain of emotions pour, which will make him blush, make him accept, make him run down there and…

“-Lovely night isn’t it?” Another figure joined, the delicate figure of the arising Queen of Diamonds, his young cousin, standing gorgeously beside him, gazing on to the proud beauty of the gardens, taking the fresh air and the beautiful stars of the sky, if even slightly hazed by the lights of the city.

“Uh…yeah, yeah it is,” Ludwig quickly uttered, breaking his heavy gaze on Feliciano, settling on the horizons, nothing in particular.

Lili still noticed, chuckling dimly, a playful smirk and look in her eyes that was rare for Ludwig to see in her, one that he didn’t even expect. “Feliciano is beautiful too,” Lili dared point out.

Ludwig chocked on his drink, deciding on stopping, placing the glass elsewhere, trying to get his earlier strong composure, trying to seem unfazed, but Lili could see past it.

“He’s going to be the Italian Queen your kingdom dreamed of having, and you’re the powerful German King the kingdom needs. I’m glad I’ll be able to see your reign, watch it grow, hope that you’re both an inspiration to a whole new line of rulers,” she dreamed, but Ludwig could only scoff.

“If we are ever crowned."

“Oh but you will."

“Not until we find a way to cancel our engagement from the Aces…or until Feliciano decides to go through with the marriage, which is unlikely.”

“Unlikely? You protected him well in your attack and capture, in your passage through the Sahara desert, you even joined them along in a tour around the city.” She pointed to them just as they headed out from a line of bushes, Feliciano interested in seeing a whole area of peonies closer to the entrance of the castle, where they could be seen more clearly to Lili and Ludwig.

“It’s still not enough…I didn’t…” He was admitting this, he was being honest, he was coming in accord with it, surely from an air of trust that Lili emanated, that Ludwig could confide in. “I didn’t treat him as I should, especially with our tittles, especially after we were dear friends when we were children. I’ve done many wrongs, I proved well enough to him that it cannot return to that, that he cannot see me with the expected lights of the kingdom, which is why he refused the marriage.”

“But didn’t you want it?”

He was silent for a long while, the only sound between them being the air that blew, Ludwig hoping it could give him a good answer. “It’s what should be done for the good of the kingdom, I’m only compliant to do as should be expected of me.” With point, with finality, like there was nothing else that needed to be discussed, but Lili was determined to not leave it at that.

“I’m not asking the kingdom, I’m asking you. Did you want this?” She pushed on, with a sudden seriousness and intensity that Ludwig never knew she could utter. “If you can admit that you’ve done him wrong, that you can see it, why can’t you change it? Why can’t you really show him that things could be like they used to? I’m sure Feliciano would give you a chance if you really proved yourself once again. It can’t be that hard, you have all this time by yourselves now.” Lili still hoped on to change his mind.

He remained just as strong to her pestering, only giving her a small scolding glare, enough in it to tell her that she shouldn’t thread on this, that she should turn back before it could get any worst.

Wind blowing, trees rustling, shouts and laughs from Francis or Feliciano interrupting any calm nature uttered for them in their higher place. After the longing settled enough, petrified as a statue, Ludwig finally broke it with a tired sigh, a hanging in his eyes, depth and greyness that did well to take any shinning color away from him.

This was the exact same thing his grandfather had asked some time ago, and he would only answer the same way as he had done.

“Nothing you should concern about, nothing you should know, nothing you can understand. This is my situation to handle and I will deal with it as properly as I can. That’s all I’m going to say.”

And indeed it was. Lili did not receive another word, not even a whisper.

 

The next day, Francis and Feliciano decided to spend their day at the palace, in easy paces as they explored the halls, hidden or open ones, but all showcasing gold and art, shine and diamonds, perfect sunlight to go along with the bounce of their steps.

“I’ve visited all four palaces of the four main capitals of each kingdom, and mine, there is nothing like it. More elegance than any other, beauty and refinery. Don’t you think so?” Francis asked Feliciano as they entered one of his study rooms.

“It is beautiful, but I simply cannot betray my own castle. It’s like you said, there’s nothing like your castle. Just as my own stands special, it’s my own home and I wouldn’t choose any other.”

Francis had to understand, so he didn’t say anything else, ushering Feliciano to explore the books in his study room instead, along with Pookie, who flew about the whole room inspecting everything just as Feliciano.

“Everything you need to know about the kingdom is right here. I also have picture books that I’m sure you’ll be interested in."

“Which reminds me!” It was the perfect time to talk about this, Pookie settling back in Feliciano’s shoulder to give him some support. He took out his sketchbook, leafing through all kinds of drawings about his journey up till now, settling then in the pictures he had drawn about Gupta’s tube messaging system.

“I really need you to see this! This could do wonders to your kingdom, and the others too! It was created by Gupta Muhammad Hassan of the Egyptian province of the Diamond Kingdom.”

They both took sitting in one of the many desks, with Feliciano pointing, explaining, Francis truly interested and wondered, asking questions, even plotting ways it could be added to the castle, how they could make connection tubes to Hearts and Spades.

“Gupta told me the monarchy never really showed interest in this.”

“How could it be possible I was never shown? My messengers never sent me anything like this,” Francis pointed, quite disappointed. This could have served well from long ago.

“What about the Queen and Jack?”

“No matter what Vash might say, they are in fact just teenagers and sometimes it’s best I do not drown them in so much work when they are still learning and accommodating to this lifestyle. For now, everything is sent to me unless I deem it fine for Lili and Vash to deal with.” He studied the drawings more, putting more of his mind into it, seeing if there was something he could even improve, but as they were was enough.

“You think it was the messengers then?” Feliciano wondered.

“To be honest, we just have an ancient system that really doesn’t like to accept anything well from the Arabic provinces. Has to do with a civil war that was fought in the kingdom long ago.” As King, he should really begin work to eradicate it. “It is true that in the palace we tend to focus mostly on the smaller and closer provinces to the capital, those more to the east tend to deal with most things by themselves. Thanks to the civil war, even more after the war of the blackened decades, trust was just easily lost.” Silence settled as Francis felt like the fault was in his own hand, product of lines and centuries that caused this.

“It’s never too late to try and fix it. You should reunite the main leaders of each of these provinces and start by creating this. Quicker and closer communication can help and thus it can strengthen your kingdom. Who knows what might happen that you might need your combined efforts. I’m confident that you could do this well, Francis,” Feliciano said rather wisely, with the maturity of a Queen.

Francis couldn’t help but feel proud. Feliciano had grown, handsome and beautiful, standing tall and sure, yet he still rubbed his hair like the child he had met him as, that still shone in his cheeks, eyes, and smile. “You’re growing my little one,” Francis told him, finishing in writing his notes, making his own sketches in one of his empty notebooks. “I’ll take a better look at this and start the process to contact this Gupta. We will immediately start work on this and it would be amazing to have his presence here for it.” He really moved away, confident in its doing, preparing papers, planning which parts of the castle to go to start with these messages.

“I’m glad I could bring this forward, and I’m so glad you’re giving it this chance.” Feliciano even bowed, the proudness bouncing in his aura.

“Indeed, now-” He still had some other plans to work on, and after sending these messages, he could start to work with the little arising Queen of Hearts. “Feliciano, my dear, there’s something I would really like for you to try.” He caught Feliciano’s wide interest and curiosity, already moving forward, easing into whatever this could be.

“What is it?”

Francis only smirked and led him forward into new halls.

Chapter Text

Like Francis and Feliciano, Ludwig had decided on remaining in the palace for the day. With this free time, he strolled the gardens, drawn by its beauty like any other, taking sitting in one of the many banks to continue his reading from his book.

He had been practicing some small wind spells when he spotted an exercise in the very section in which an arising King and Queen (or just King and Queen) could use to start the combining and mending of their power. It was another wind spell, one both he and even Feliciano had to know well before they could try to do it together.

Yes, he could speak with him about this, they could start to do it.

With how things were looking, it was starting to become a dire need that they started learning well how to use the combination of their power. What if they were attacked again? What if something else went wrong on the journey? What if something happens once they reached the holding field? What if…he had to close the book before his mind could wander off in that aspect. It was getting late, a servant had come to tell him that dinner was served, and he walked eagerly to it hoping it could bring him some mental peace.

He had eaten with only the presence of his cousins, Francis and Feliciano never appearing even for when dessert was served. Once he was done, he settled off to go find them, trying to look calm and ordered, but inside, there was rage, one he was ready to direct to the King of Diamonds.

He was reaching the living quarters, a place he rather not find Feliciano alone with Francis in, but it was his first clue to reaching them. Just as he was ready to knock one of the large doors, Francis instead opened wide, extending, showing off behind him a very large closet (Okay, so apparently this wasn’t his rooms), with suits, coats, pants, shoes, robes, jewelry, armor, seals, sashes, just about everything needed for the outer appearance of a King and space and mirrors to strut and show. Ludwig would have been more impressed…if Francis hadn’t dared shown himself naked once again, with only but that large silk golden robe he had worn the night they had arrived.

“Mon chéri, Ludwig, you have finally found us!” He exalted, with flair and dramatization that had Ludwig rolling and adverting eyes, completely uninterested, much to Francis hurt of pride.

“Where is Feliciano?” Ludwig instantly asked.

“What makes you think he’s here?” He seemed to challenge.

“He’s been with you all day and I’m sure you were both ready to spend the entire night doing nonsense that will make him loose needed sleep. Besides, I can see Pookie.” Ludwig pointed to the little lion resting in one of the many sofas of the room, shinning in comfort and peace, proof enough to Ludwig that they hadn’t done anything illicit.

Francis, instead of being disappointed, grinned, his whole body looking like it was chuckling. “Well, if you insist to know, I only recommend you come inside and see.” He moved aside to present him entrance, but Ludwig was always so hesitant, raising an eyebrow and maintaining his still put place in the hall. “Come in, come in! This is a room of peace, confidence, power, creativity-” he took his arm and pulled him in, to a depth of the room away from any escape. Ludwig thought it was incredible how easily he succumbed to it, letting himself be placed by Francis in a designated spot, away from hangers and shelves, to an open space with even pillars, carpets, flags and views into the city. Francis excelled in even the way he had to show off his wardrobe, the lights of the city outside the window a reminder of the eyes he was trying to look well to. Ludwig couldn’t believe this, he didn’t think a person’s ego could reach such heights of plethora.

“-and romance,” he whispered lastly, too close to Ludwig’s ear, the breaths one he quickly brushed away when Francis settled off to give his attention to some other curtained entrance.

“Feli, my dear, have you finally finished?” He called.

“Mhm, it’s true what you said Francis-” Feliciano pushed open the curtains and revealed himself, heading out with ease and confidence to his wear. “It’s so soft and breezy.” He twirled, showing his own long silk robe, in red, sewn with shinning symbols of the Hearts Kingdom to match with him, to dance along as he span the room proud. He wore a red flower crown on his hair, some dangling red jeweled necklaces along with his own promise cross. Only simplistic details, it was worthless to add more when the robe itself held all that was needed for attention. It was just like Francis’s, as long, as shinning and…as exposing.

“It’s stunning! I’m so glad you had one made for me! I only hope I can make some space in the-” Feliciano stopped the embraces of himself, of trying to reach every length, dropping it all to its usual bareness when his eyes locked with Ludwig. “Oh…Ludwig! What do you think? Francis insisted that I wore it and I’m happy I did. I absolutely love it!” He extended it to show, which in turn had the frontal opening growing, letting the collar and sleeves fall slightly down his shoulders, caressing his skin softly, taunting Ludwig to see the way his body shone in perfection along the robe.

Ludwig was halted in a haze, widened eyes in lost wonder, traveling across every inch of Feliciano’s skin that he hadn’t seen in years. He had grown to the expected splendors, slimmed but with ample softness in areas that made him the more seducing, the more exquisite and alluring. Never did Ludwig feel this need to extend his hands, to touch, kiss, bite and make it all his as it should.

Did Feliciano notice the longing look he gave him? Because he was starting to look back just as transfixed, loving this attention he was receiving from his arising King, hands trailing over his own shoulder, his face, his curls, granting a chance for Ludwig to look and admire as he wanted.

As one last torturous teasing, Feliciano reached down and played with the promise necklace, a reminder to Ludwig of what could be his, of what he could have to proudly love…if only he learned, if only he could be more accepting.

“It’s uh…it’s uh…” Ludwig was speechless, any word he had taken by being lost in the glistening of his brown eyes, on the expectant expression that wanted the finality to those words, the answer to his question. “Nice…yeah um…nice, uh…Francis, you did a good job.”

Feliciano was disappointed but…it was something, only Francis didn’t seem to mind it, since the stubborn German prince actually gave him a compliment, if even simple.

“I just had it commissioned, the true artists were the designers and sewers, and Feliciano here who wears it divinely.” He took his hand and spun him in giggles and vitality. “If anything we can get your sizes right now and have one made for you, Ludwig.” Francis even got the measurement tape ready.

“I rather not, not my style.” Ludwig raised his hand and halted Francis from whatever movement to complete this.

“Nonsense, this kind robe is for all, even if somebody of your robustness and unseemly features.”

It only made Ludwig want to have one less.

“Enough, I came to take Feliciano to have his dinner. It’s becoming late and he should soon be resting.”

“Or you just finally want him for yourself after not having him the whole day.” Neither Francis and Feliciano could tell if the flaring red Ludwig took was a blush or strengthening anger. “But you are right, it is getting late, my precious must go to be well fed and have good rest.” Francis cooed to Feliciano, trying to distract from any growing hostility, but he seemed to worsen it with the way he caressed Feliciano’s chin and nuzzled their noses together.

Ludwig gripped his fist and tried hard not to suddenly punch Francis out of this…but he had learned his lesson with Haris and he had to really hold himself if he didn’t want to worsen it.

“I’ll have the dinner served in your room,” Francis proclaimed, with one last spin pushing Feliciano into Ludwig’s protective arms the moment he saw he could trip. The result was not only having a feel of the fabric, but also an arm around free skin, as soft, as rich, and as tempting to wrap himself around it as the silk.

“In-in our room? The dining room should be enough.”

“Nonsense! It’s a beautiful night, something by the balcony is more than enough, and you two should take advantage of it.”

“I already ate.”

“Then eat again! My cooks can serve more than enough. Go on, I’ll give the orders to have everything set in a couple of minutes.”

Feliciano nodded instantly, not minding at all, using the grip he had on Ludwig’s arm to shush him into denying this. “Thank you, Francis! I’ll see you tomorrow morning then?”

“Of course, it is the last day! We make our Spheres of Validity and you have your departure that very night. We must make use of whatever little free time we have.”

Before Ludwig could say a word, Feliciano glistened Francis with a big smile and a bow, and with his still strong hold on Ludwig’s arm, he pulled him out of the room, in a hurried dash like they were running from imminent terror. It was hard for Ludwig to keep up, especially with the robe behind Feliciano blinding or making him trip in their hurry.

 

Like Francis had said, indeed it was a beautiful night, stars shimmering, not a cloud in sight, the view of the city an addition of picturesque that Ludwig had to admit was relaxing and even enchanting. As suggested, they had their dinner by the balcony, presented to them in a cart while they sat in a long comfortable sofa. They had brought Feliciano a smoked trout salad, ham deviled eggs, onion confit, fougasse, and French toast with raspberry jam as a dessert, the only thing Ludwig took from since his earlier dinner had just been enough.

At first, he kept his distance from him, leaving him in his picking and eating, in his eyes taken by the views, by the architecture, even the cooling breeze that played around them. Perhaps they were too tired, perhaps it had just been a long day, perhaps Francis had put something in the fine wine he gave them with the dinner, or there was just some spell in the winds of this kingdom. Slowly, they neared to each other, a centimeter a second, in silence, in leaning, all until Feliciano could place his hands on Ludwig’s thighs and he could rest down on the grown potent of his shoulder. Sure, it had grown, much stronger and bigger than in their childhood, but still it was the same comfort, the same belonging, the same trust, he could rest there with all certitude no matter what might happen in the surroundings. Feliciano let out such a breath of relief, like this simple touch had returned to him any missing peace, like he was transported back in time to the feeling, but giving a chance this time for something new.

“Are you really going to keep wearing that?” Ludwig asked rather sweetly, looking down to notice that Feliciano was still dressed in the robe, his position doing enough to hide, but not the clarity of his chest and the length and softness of his legs.

Feliciano nodded, with a smile he even rubbed against his arm. “It’s so cozy, I think I’m going to wear it to sleep.” He even yawned as if to assure it.

“Won’t you get tangled in it?”

“No, it’s too soft and silky for it."

“I still better not find you on the floor the next morning.”

Feliciano giggled, “I won’t, besides, you’ll be there to catch me if it happens…won’t you?”

Ludwig starred down to him, not being able to look away, loving the way his lips parted, how his cheeks shone, the ever present shine in his eyes, but still tired and hoping for dream, lost in whatever sudden closeness they got at the moment. He let his hands slowly fall from the back of the sofa, Aces knew how hard he tried to keep it back there, but Feliciano’s skin and body seemed to call and he fell forward to it, letting his hand roam on his arm, comforting and accepting, easing Feliciano more into his hold.

“I haven’t let anything happen to you on this journey, and that’s something I will continue to make sure as it goes along.” He looked away, because he couldn’t give him more of a grasp, this couldn’t grow, he couldn’t settle into the temptation of kissing him, of telling him he loved him, he was already trespassing a line he had set for himself as it was, and to be honest, he was disappointed that he let this happen.

“I…shouldn’t be…doing this with you,” he finally worded, but none of them still stopped their movements. Ludwig’s hand continued to caress on his arm, and now Feliciano’s hands and fingers traced at his chest.

“Why though?” Feliciano questioned, dejection evident, but still settling his head more into his chest and the nape of his neck, hoping it could convince him more, hoping he could say, hoping he could finally know.

Silence only continued, because as always, Ludwig couldn’t say anything, he couldn’t explain, Feliciano wouldn’t understand, he would do something rash, something he had prepared long ago to not happen. He was planning to simply move out of it as he always did, beginning to move his hand away, to sitting straight, stand and make his way back into the room and forget he let this moment of weakness.

“No,” Feliciano stopped, grabbing the hand and placing it back where it was, back into its movements, its gentility and even love. Ludwig let himself be carried into it, caged once again to him, doing as he wished, as he himself longed to do.

“I know you don’t care…I know this will later mean nothing to you…but, please, let me enjoy this for now, let us stay like this, let me rest with you.” He cradled more into his hold, even wrapping his arms around him, and Ludwig did the same, continuing his caresses, both his hands now working on him, relaxing him into coming sleep.

Ludwig sighed, he gave up for the night, yearning to tell him that he had no idea what he would be willing to do for him. He held him tight as he would have liked to do every night, making sure Feliciano was easing over so slowly into sleep, eyes closed, breath slow, composure falling weak knowing he was resting in the shield of Ludwig’s arms. Ludwig leaned to place a gentle kiss on the top of his head, so dim Feliciano could have confused it as a harsh breeze in his sleep.

“You never stopped feeling so nice, Ludwig,” Feliciano uttered sleepily, his last trace of consciousness gone in that last breath of his name.

Like this, Ludwig didn’t know how he could go to sleep, when his mind was reacting, denying, fighting, all throughout still maintaining that hold Feliciano had gone to sleep in.

This was becoming worst, his plan was failing, but his heart was beating and it had been a while since he had felt this relax, this at peace, like he was ready to spend the rest of his days just like this. He yearned for that, maybe he really shouldn’t stand, maybe he should just give up to sleeping in this air with him like this, but the reminder repeated on his head, the horizon seemed to palpitate with the continuing journey, to where it led, to what he had to do.

With a sigh, he decided that he had given Feliciano enough, he was getting tired himself, any longer and he could relax into the idea of sharing the same bed. No, no, no, he bit his lip every time the desire grew stronger. He picked Feliciano up in his arms, being extra careful that his steps weren’t harsh enough to stir and wake him. He lay him to rest on his bed, taking the flower crown to place in the bedside table along with any other jewelry that seemed uncomfortable. He settled himself to sleep quickly after in his own bed, but not before gazing strongly to the face he adored, the figure of the most he loved, beautiful, captivating, his perseverance to continue and fight on.

He promised himself that these would be his last thoughts of devotion and love. He would settle them more on his mission from the next morning on.

 

Although they wouldn’t leave until late in the night, their luggage was packed and ready, added with a few new things Francis had gifted them. Dressed in appropriate suits of yellows, whites and creams of the kingdom, after their breakfast, they headed to the throne room, where it was expected that Francis, Lili and Vash would create the Spheres of Validity. When Francis entered, he came appropriately dressed, with a cape, jewels, and even a proud crown. Vash and Lili came as just, with their own regality and flowers, making the three shine together as united rulers that their people could put their trust in. Ludwig and Feliciano bowed to their welcome, and they did just the same, admiring that the yellows of their kingdom looked just as fine on the Heartian arising monarchs.

“We are finally here and what a time! With a king of the Beilschmidt line and a queen of Romulus line,” Francis announced, with high pride, expanded arms that Ludwig was afraid he would use to hug them both and he really did not need that from him.

“I really hope what we can do is enough,” Lili worried.

Vash and her were still new to the usage of their powers, something that had to do mostly with their young age, but it was just how things were done in the Diamond Kingdom and how it coincided with the refreshing energy of this boundary in the Club Kingdom. The siblings had read the spells the night before enough times, and although nervous, they still kept easy breaths to not keep the others concerned.

“You will do fine,” Feliciano told them, with a confident smile and a proud standing.

Yes, yes they would.

“All right, I shall get the orbs then.” Francis went ahead and picked them up from a standing chest, all three empty glasses shinning as the ones Feliciano and Ludwig had to fill back in Berlin.

Francis handed each one, remaining with his own, smiling despite the tension that surrounded. “Vash, why don’t you begin?” He suggested.

Vash stiffed, but ended up nodding, moving ahead, taking place in a tiled design on their floors. It was a starry night…just as the one in Berlin, Feliciano noticed. Sure, the colors were different, the stars shone in different angles and lines, but it was the same concept, the same story, the same night. Feliciano could have wondered more about it if he hadn’t been distracted by Vash beginning the spell.

A strong hold, a twirling movement in his hands, color beginning to alight in the orb, filling, glowing in Vash’s eyes, a slight rising from the floor, and then out of nowhere, gone, he was wobbling back on the floor, trying to keep his standing, Lili offering her help while he tried to rub out the pain in his head. His sphere was a bumblebee yellow, solid, more like a paint ball that was ready to throw in a childhood game.

Francis then decided that it should be his turn, hoping he could control his outward appearance well and not look like some magical hazard, but that was not possible. As quickly as he bonded himself to the orb to begin its magic giving, his hands moved on by themselves, filling in its yellow, in its white, his hair moved everywhere in a mess, he floated, his eyes alighted, halted to the power and what the orb wanted. When it was done, he stumbled down on the floor like the rest, trying to smooth his hair, his clothes, wondering if perhaps he could use some forgetting spell so they wouldn’t remember how messed he turned for this. His own orb shone quite beautifully, in a glittery daffodil with white ribbons that fell in designed curves. Francis was rather proud of it and they all truthfully admired it. Sure, it was nice, but none had been as beautiful and as rare as Feliciano’s.

With it being Lili’s turn now, and being a Queen (if even an arising one), Ludwig hoped to see something similar and that it was just something that all Queens did. She took the longest to prepare, easing breaths, trying to relax and remain with her Queenly aura. The magic that arose from her was more controlled than the other two, one that left her still even as she rose, even as the energy poured into the orb, as her silhouette glowed for her closed eyes, falling just as still as it settled, only then did she open her eyes with pain, rubbing it away just as Vash had done. No…she didn’t go through the same thing Feliciano had done, she hadn’t shone that much, didn’t glow to a blinding, or revealed weird symbols, wings and halos on her body. Her sphere, although beautiful, was a simplistic glittering cream, no gold, no other colors, no rarity, just another Sphere of Validity. Well…there were still two other Queens left that had a chance of showing something different, but for now, all the Spheres were done and presented towards Ludwig. He nodded, moving before him his staff. He took a position, turned and held it just in the places his grandfather had taught him. With a slight of his own magic, he brought it to the staff, and the Spheres disappeared from the hold of the Diamond monarchs, taking their places in the handle with the others from the Heart Kingdom.

Three reds, three yellows, six dark sockets and two kingdoms to go.

“Ah, finally!” Francis clapped, proud of the conclusion.

“I believe, since our purpose here is done, Feliciano and I should be taking our leave,” Ludwig wanted to postpone.

“Oh no, no, no, the carriage is not set to depart till the late hours of the night,” Francis wanted to ease.

“It’s all according to the newly planned route, by your suggestion, we avoided big cities and common roads,” Lili filled in.

“We’re confident that you will have no such meeting with Khaos’s men as you started,” Vash assured.

“Is it still really necessary to wait for this carriage so late?” Ludwig still wanted to hope.

“It is. We avoid common hours they attack, as well as alerting a big city like Paris. In the excitement, crowds could spread the news and unknowingly lead it to the wrong ears,” Vash said.

“So please, enjoy what’s left of the day with us,” Francis settled.

“Then, I want to spend it checking these new routes you planned, I don’t want to be left with any surprises and I need to make sure it’s appropriate for the both of us.”

They had to cede him the chance. They bowed and agreed, ushering to follow them out to the room where they had planned this. Ludwig went on ahead without a glance to Feliciano, simply expecting him to follow behind.

Feliciano sighed…he shouldn’t be surprised about this, it should have been obvious that it was to happen. Although Ludwig still insisted to do things together, he kept his distance this time, barely making eye contact, all a result, all a way of him trying to push it away. Maybe he shouldn’t have done what he did last night, maybe he really should have moved away, maybe Ludwig’s reaction was just pity, a small moment of granting kindness. Pookie nuzzled into his cheek sensing this coming dread, hoping he could replace it with his caring. Feliciano giggled, petting the little St. Mark, distracted in him as he followed behind the rest through the halls.

“It was something at least. Hopefully there’s still time in the trip to change this and learn some more,” he whispered with hope, and the little lion seemed to wink in confidence.

Chapter Text

There was a spread of islands between the Diamond and Spade Kingdom called the Oralee. Some of these belonged to the Diamond Kingdom, others to Spades. They were so many it was pretty easy to lose yourself between them if you didn’t have a good map or a clear direction planned for you, as it was in Ludwig and Feliciano’s case. Usually, most Kings and Queens that did this journey would take a boat from Paris that landed them in London, from which they would then take a train to Washington. That was what Khaos’s men expected, especially when that boat ride was several days long, making it easier to take control and harder for Ludwig and Feliciano to establish contact if something did happen. Passage through the Oralee islands meant having to take a carriage, walking, camping, contacting natives, taking several boat rides, passing and stopping in different kinds of islands. Complicated but sure to lose anybody who would tried to chase them. It would be longer of course, it meant entrance through the Hindu province instead of the English province, but it was their best chance and Ludwig was determined to make their thread as short and quick as possible.

He had Feliciano and him punctual to their carriage arrival, even helping the servants in placing their things while Feliciano worked on wishing goodbyes to the Diamond monarchs.

“Safe travels, don’t forget to message,” Francis wished them, embracing Feliciano and giving loving caresses on his back. Ludwig wished his own in bows and handshakes, only to Lili did he actually give an embrace.

The carriage door was shut, the horses were given the signal, and they were off, Feliciano never stopping his waving to the three until they gave a turn and were gone from his vision. By orders to keep their departure well hidden, curtains were drawn back, leaving Ludwig and Feliciano to the interior of the coach, only but a single lamp on the wall to light only their presence. Maybe they could speak, maybe Feliciano could mention- when he glanced towards Ludwig, he was already turning to his wall, back to him, trying to make himself comfortable on his side of the coach to rest. The horses were going to go on for the rest of the night, the best they could do for now was sleep, they would need the energy for all the walking that was expectant of them the next day.

So much for a chat, Feliciano sighed.

He let Pookie lay on his lap and he petted him for as long as he could in his sleep, making himself just as comfortable in his own side.

 

In the morning, they had a breakfast of bread, cheese, tomatoes and a delicious cherry drink, all which Francis had saved for them for this carriage trip. It was silent, with an occasional compliment or an asking for little bags of jam and chocolate that they shared between each other. Even when they were done, they settled their attention on the views the now opened curtains showed to them. The city was far behind them and they had the beauty of the French province countryside for them. Yellow flowers, white cobbled villages, hills of gold, the blue of the sky, of the rivers, of the lakes, completing, inspiring Feliciano to sketch, beautiful things that Ludwig could not ignore, peeking by the sides, each time moving closer, hoping for a better look. Too close he had reached that when Feliciano turned to him, their faces lay close enough for them to feel their breaths against their skin. Ludwig instantly went back to his corner, looking on, pretending like it wasn’t that obvious that he had been starring at Feliciano’s sketches. Feliciano found it rather adorable, chuckling, smiling to him even if he didn’t dare glance back. He continued on with his sketch only to stop when the coach came to a final halt.

Feliciano closed the book, ready to stand and head out, but Ludwig stopped him by raising a hand, blocking his way as he came down first, inspecting well their surroundings. Yes, there was nothing else but the farmhouse, just as Francis had promised them.

“Your highness,” one man had called, rushing down the gardens of his yards to reach them.

“You must be Mousier Pierre,” Ludwig recognized.

“I am more than pleased to make your acquaintance.” He bowed rather excessively, nervous and shaking, avoiding his eyes but also making sure that everything was presentable, including the stones that decorated the front.

“You have a very lovely home.”

Ludwig turned to notice that Feliciano came down from the coach without waiting for his approval, gazing in wonder to not only the house, but its beautiful surroundings, the trees, the river, the hills, the fields. It was such a fresh and nice break from the stuffiness of the coach.

“Th-thank you, your highness.” His bow this time was not as shaking, managing a true smile.

“Yes, yes it is lively, sir, now if you would kindly bring us the lunch and the items King Francis had asked for you to give us.”

“Certainly.” Another bow and he rushed to the gardens to get a table, a mantel to place it over, going as far as to get a vase with a beautiful sunflower, refine plates and glasses, settling lastly with a picnic basket he picked from inside the home.

Feliciano rolled his eyes, he was never going to like the excessiveness people went just to serve them. As he continued letting his eye trace the form of the house, his eyes caught shinning little yellow eyes, ginger braids, a floral dress, peeking through the door, fascinated by the presence that was basically at her doorsteps, wanting to gaze on even with a mother trying to pull her back inside. Feliciano gave her a wave, along with a sweet smile, and the girl panicked, closing the door and finally letting herself be guided away.

“Do we have to eat alone?” Feliciano questioned.

“Francis didn’t give any specifications.” Ludwig didn’t know what Feliciano was planning.

The basket the man had brought them was a large one, Feliciano knew he would leave many things behind even with his big appetite, and he was sure Ludwig would do the same.

“Mousier, you have placed everything so well. There’s more than enough food and space, why don’t’ you and your family join us?” Feliciano suggested, much to the surprise of Ludwig and the man.

“I-I don’t think it would be appropriate.”

“Indeed,” Ludwig tried to stop.

“Nonsense! Please, we would really like the company, and it’s better than having your family remain in the house on a beautiful day like this. Go on, go on, tell them.” Feliciano took his seat decided.

“A-all right then.” He bowed and went back into the house with the news, the girl rushing off first, although the closer she came, the shier she turned, hesitant in her steps, her gaze strongly on Feliciano, hands behind her back.

“Hello, you have a very lovely dress today. What’s your name?” Feliciano asked as kind as ever.

“Justine,” she shyly answered with constant sways.

“A beautiful name to match! Come sit beside me and share in what your family made, it all looks delicious.” Feliciano pulled her chair like any gentleman would.

“I helped with the crêpes.” She was growing excited, jumping on her seat.

“They smell amazing, did you use lemon? It looks like it.”

She nodded ecstatically.

It was the first thing he took a bite from, and he glowed with honest delight, loving and sharing them with her.

Ludwig had taken his seat, trying to ignore this scene and its sweetness. The man’s wife then headed out, a basket with a walnut bread in her hands, alight, and Feliciano welcomed her into the table, already conversing and chatting like old friends. Ludwig grew more impressed by Feliciano’s talent to befriend anyone so easily each day, honestly wishing he could possess a gift as that, but as ever, he stayed in his seat, eyes only on the table and the crêpe he took for himself.

The man came back with drinks this time, of vanilla and almond that made an excellent touch. Along the crêpes and the walnut bread, they also had bouillabaisse and cassoulet, excellent and having Feliciano taking seconds. They laughed, they shared recipes, and after a question about diets and exercises, even Ludwig joined in, Feliciano proud that he was easing up to these kinds of people, opening and letting himself smile that wonderful form that had Feliciano’s heart faltering and releasing dreamy sighs. Before he could stare on, before Ludwig could even direct a smile to his direction, Justine had asked for a stroll through the gardens of the house, Feliciano complying, wishing to know of the many yellow floras that surrounded this farm land.

There were roses, tulips, dahlias, peonies, and many more that Feliciano couldn’t name. They picked and picked, throwing petals to run by, not minding at all as they dropped on their clothing. They placed on their hair, in the right spots not to fall as they continued to explore. Sadly Feliciano had a duty he needed to return to.

He spotted as the couple now handed Ludwig some other items: maps, tents, hiking materials, a large basket of food and water, even a wagon to carry it all well along with the trunks and bags they still had mounted in the coach. He apologized to Justine and hurried off to help Ludwig with getting their things down from the coach and handing the horses to the Blanc family. Feliciano petted and thanked them for the service they offered in their journey. Time was upon them to leave the house, the continuing winding road into the woods looking haunting and aggravating to Feliciano as he starred on.

“Best of luck,” the woman wished.

“As his majesty, King Francis said, continue on the paved road until it ends, only then will you follow the symbols on the map, through the swamp until you meet with a Michelle Mancham, who will lead you well through the rest of the Oralee islands.”

Both Ludwig and Feliciano nodded, understanding well, grasping their things, pointing the direction to leave. Feliciano gave one last kiss and embrace to Justine, and with a willing and finished gaze to Ludwig, both started on their walking.

Ludwig offered to pull the wagon, insisting that Feliciano just carried some of the bags on his back to ease the weight and to not make it twinge so harshly. The Blanc family stayed watching them, waving and shouting suggestions until light seemed to vanish them, now nothing but growing trees, darkened yellow woods and this mysterious road.

They continued their thread for the rest of the day, Ludwig not allowing stops, only drinks while their feet kept on moving. Feliciano, by the darkening of the sky, by the rising of the moon, was exhausted, tempted to slump over any tree if Ludwig hadn’t kept glaring at him to go on.

Finally the road came to a stop, hazing into grass, nothing else to give them a clue, only a lot of clustered trees that didn’t seem to give any kind of opening or welcoming into something else. Ludwig knew the map talked about this, but the faint light from the lamp was not enough to see, plus to be honest he was getting tired and he knew Feliciano was swinging ready to take any soft ground as his resting spot.

“We’ll make camp here,” Ludwig declared finally letting go of the handle to the wagon, picking the bag with the tent and starting to prepare. He handed the fire materials to Feliciano, along with the basket of food, entrusting him with their dinner. Feliciano always managed to get a new sense of waking whenever food was involved, instantly setting to work.

Ludwig was done and Feliciano finished along, the smell coming from the pot appetizing and pulling Ludwig in, to sit right beside Feliciano, just as he poured a bowl of the soup and handed it to him, with a serving smile that Ludwig found himself reciprocating with his own. A little faint red on their cheeks and they turned away, Feliciano focusing on his own bowl serving and eating.

Even though they weren’t camping at a dessert this time, the same loneliness reigned, even with the chirping, the rustling of different small animals or what the faint breeze moved. They didn’t help either by remaining silent, even as they finished their bowls, gazes lost between the darkness of trees, hoping for something exciting to come between and alight their night. Pookie’s transformation seemed to be enough, a glowing, growing and growing until he was in his normal lion size, creating a sort of resting place right behind Feliciano. Of course he had been startled, this was only the second time Pookie transformed like this on their journey, but his fur was still a comfortable one, growing inward and out as it breathed in its rest, his wings working as a good shield over its master. Feliciano found himself easing, finding the best position, thinking of just resting here for the night. Ludwig was not going to allow it, who watched impressed at the change and couldn’t remove his eyes. Pookie was indeed majestic and it was still hard to see how it was possible that the Aces decided to send him to mere arising monarchs. He sighs, a part of him thinking that perhaps it was just something else that they still had to continue to guess and realize. That’s when he remembered.

He grabbed his bag and went straight for the book, searching for the pages he had marked, going over them, still thinking if it really was safe to start. Feliciano’s power surely hadn’t dwindled, his own could not compete even with his early training. If something did happen, he only had a pamphlet of healing spells…but what if the damage was worst?

He shut the thoughts from his head. They had to start somehow. It was inevitable in their positions and he couldn’t let it wait any longer.

“Don’t get so comfortable, we’re not done yet,” he warned, noticing that Feliciano was lolling himself ever deeper into Pookie’s now large embrace. He jolted as soon as he heard the kind of tone Ludwig held, ready to hear…whatever it was that they were supposed to finish…what was it? Ludwig didn’t say, he was reading from the book still, and he really didn’t face him until he brought it to a slight close, maintaining a finger to keep a hold of the page.

“What is it that we’re not done with?” Feliciano questioned.

“Power training,” Ludwig quickly explained, standing and joining Feliciano by his side, taking his own recline over Pookie, the St. Mark didn’t seem to mind. “We need to start learning how to properly mend our power and magic.”

“But you threatened me to never use my power around-”

“Things are different this time.” He quickly opened the book, placing one side on Feliciano’s lap, the other on his own, giving them a deeper closeness, a feeling of relieving, for it was just like this how they used to get together whenever they were to read or watch art books in their childhood.

“We’ll start with a wind spell. Less likely we can get hurt and one of the simplest. I’ve already taught myself how to do this, but you have to learn it yourself as well.” He pointed to the paragraph where it was mentioned, along with diagrams that explained the certain movements and figures one should hold in their hands.

“Oh, this is an Adino,” Feliciano recognized.

“Your instructors taught you this then?”

“No, but they did mention and told me some basics on how to start.”

“Do you think you can do it by yourself?”

“Um…maybe if I finish reading this.” He took the book to better see, getting the rest of the completion he hadn’t been told. It seemed simple enough, he had confidence to try it out.

“Okay,” he breathed, he clapped his hands, concentrated, placed his palm before him, closing his eyes and focusing on his inner magic, reaching the parts that better dealt with air, releasing it out as it should… but sadly it exploded in a torrent of wind upward that shook the trees around them, had birds flying, Pookie, Ludwig and Feliciano’s hairs raising in peaks. They looked ridiculous, and Feliciano couldn’t help but laugh.

“Let’s try again, this time concentrate on lessening. This is supposed to be a simple whirlwind on the palm of your hand, Feliciano,” Ludwig scolded, working to stabilize his hair and helping Pookie who was in the same predicament.

Ludwig needed to distract himself, afraid that he would end up laughing as well.

“Okay, okay.” Feliciano decided to go right to it after he settled his own curls. He ordered himself once again to that concentration, only extending his arm once the power began its release. A powerful rush of wind came out again, but it was only slight, one that blew around them like any normal strong breeze. It was still not the spell.

“Again,” Ludwig commanded.

A deep breath, Feliciano focusing even stronger on something small. He went at it once again, arm extending and finally a whirlwind circulated in his hold, a large one that if Feliciano let it grow any bigger it could turn into a tornado.

“You’re doing well, you just need to dwindle it,” Ludwig advised, noticing that at least Feliciano was doing it as the book said, just not the right size.

While it still continued to spin, Feliciano gave a new concentration, settling his gaze and mind until he managed to lessen and lessen it and it was but a mere little thing that Feliciano could twist and turn however he wanted without blowing anything to another part of the woods.

“Excellent,” Ludwig complimented. “Is it hard for you to maintain it like this?”

“A little. It’s just sometimes hard to control any of my large releases. Even as I do this I feel tempted to make it bigger.”

“Don’t, keep it at this very intensity. You have to learn to do little things as this, it helps you better with control and patience with your own power.” As he said this, Ludwig took his own breath, extending his hand just as Feliciano, ready to start. He created his own whirlwind simply, with no wrong doings or mistakes in his first try, mostly because he did enough practice back in Paris.

“Now we’re going to mend, the most basics of spells. I doubt we can hurt ourselves with this, but Feliciano, I need you to focus, I need you with this same intensity and control, any higher and you can release something that I won’t be able to take,” he advised strongly and Feliciano nodded although hesitant, but he did keep that focus, on the spin, on the small coolness in his palm, watching as Ludwig’s hand reached close to his own, the wind intensifying, close to colliding, but not just yet.

“Breathe…” Ludwig commanded, in a whisper as calming as the very breeze they concocted, one Feliciano could trust himself to do just as he ordered. “Now…I want you to look into my eyes as we do this.”

Feliciano flushed, turned away, not sure if he could be strong enough to look into those eyes and not expect a wanting, a desire, surely something that could disrupt whatever magic they were trying to create together. It was a nervousness Ludwig easily saw, but he confused the feelings for something he thought he could easily convince him to settle.

“I’m not going to do anything to you, it’s just a better way of concentrating, of letting our magic flow with more ease,” he tried to convince, but Feliciano was still tentative, biting his lips, telling himself to just hold down any passion, any need, just magic, just only think about magic.

Thinking it could better help Feliciano, Ludwig moved closer, an arm behind him, replacing the leaning of Pookie, near enough to lay his forehead upon his if he wanted. With a gulp, Feliciano finally raised his head up, instantly locking with that deep blue, nothing but them, his expression, in the slight alighting that confirmed the beginning of magical passing between them. Their hands moved involuntarily closer, the wind there beginning to unite as their gazes, beginning their intertwining, the slight breeze that blew upward, one they created together. Closer and closer their faces inched, just as both their whirlwinds began their collide, their official mending decreed in the intense glow of their eyes, now lost in each other, and no matter what Feliciano had done to hold his emotions from this, there was something of pleasure mixed into it. To their surprise, Feliciano still maintained with that small release, their magic settling until together, in the hold of their hands, they created a larger whirlwind, fueled only with their united magic.

To be honest, neither cared over such a petty trick, their eyes were too beautiful to withstand, the feeling a heightening that they enjoyed, that they wished they could have more of, that they could truly let themselves dive in.

It was euphoric, powerful, both almost moaned to it.

The whirlwind began to grow in their carelessness, threatening. It was only when they spotted it at the edge of their eyes did they instantly stopped by letting go, letting it disappear in a rush through the camp and area, to join along with the rest of the winds of the woods, but it didn’t severe the connection they still had in their eyes.

There was no magic this time, it was not controlling their closeness, how their foreheads rested upon each other, how they could feel clearly their breaths against their lips, how Ludwig raised his free hand at the back of Feliciano’s neck, feeling the softness of his brown hair, threaded like curled silk between his fingers. Feliciano’s breath hitched, eyes began to seal, feeling as Ludwig neared, as he turned, as he readied, leaving expectations of a different kind of magic to occur between them.

Feliciano wanted that kiss, never had he thought there would come a moment in which he would desire it so much. The last time they shared in one, even if nine years ago, even as mere ten-year-olds, when their lips touched like that, there came an intense burning that spread through their bodies in raging sparks, alighting like new coming stars in a night sky, but still with gentility, softness, and simply one of the most elated feelings Feliciano had ever gone through in his life.

What he would do to go through it again, to meet their lips like that once again, to let release a promise of something strong still flaring inside them. But it halted, just like always, a reminder always reached Ludwig’s mind on time, which lessened his hold, which had him moving back, with a defeated sigh, regret heavy even in the way he stood, keeping his gaze distant, away from letting any of the lingering continue, from having Feliciano dream and believe in something that he just couldn’t let it be alive between them.

“Ludwig…” Feliciano tried to call, reaching a hand that he hoped was enough to pull him back, still wanting a chance.

“Sleep, we have to make it through the swamp tomorrow.” Without a care he turned away, into the tent, surely taking immediate sleep on his way to forgetting and annulling. No other rustling, no other movement, all lights inside the tent hushed, Ludwig went to sleep and there was no way of getting that moment back.

Feliciano heavily sighed, falling down into Pookie’s fur with obvious hurt, cuddling and embracing himself, trying not to let it affect him so much, but it did, tears edged at his eyes and he shivered as he felt the cold around him more intensely. Pookie turned to him, saddened to see him like this, wishing he could say, that he could explain, but all he could do was lean and comfort him with his own nuzzling, moving to give him more comfort, letting his wings embrace him like blankets to warm him. Pookie only wished it could also protect him from any kind of sadness, from one that was so repetitive from Ludwig.

Feliciano kept thinking that there was a chance with each new brink they met, that he could give a push that would make him his, make him show those feelings that he knew were locked inside him, but as always, Ludwig moved back before he could give that leap. The pain should have numbed by now, it should be something he was used to, but as always, the pain that rang across him was clear, feeling a new kind of betrayal each time.

His hand somehow made its way to one of his pockets, taking out the little musical chest, opening with the relaxing music, one he could focus on as he took his rest with Pookie, with the shelter of his wings, eyes closing and trying to think of only the song, only the song.

It was a melody Ludwig tried to focus on from the secureness of the tent, clear to him even with its distance, haunting him, scolding for what he did, for what he almost let happen. He couldn’t believe he was letting himself fall so easily. Did he have to continue to repeat the images in his head, torturing him into the bleakness he had to settle to survive this? Didn’t he already know what could happen to Feliciano, what was meant to happen to him?

He was getting weak, with beg, with want for an escape from this. He wanted that chance that he tossed away as heartless as he learned to be, send it all to hell and run over there to show Feliciano exactly what it was he felt for him in every detail.

No, no, no, no, he groaned, he gripped harshly to his sheets and mat. He couldn’t be so selfish, he couldn’t let Feliciano reach completely the grasp of his heart. This was for him, it was all for him, and hopefully afterwards he would understand.

The last time he felt this desire to cry was when he had first received the letter that changed the course of how his life was meant to go, but he pierced the inclination in whatever physical pain he could to not let himself succumb to such weakness.

The music, the still playing music, think of lullabies, think of children running in fields, Feliciano and him running in those fields, daydreaming a future in which the circumstances could have been different, one in which he could have been with him as he truly wanted.

Chapter Text

Ludwig wakes him up early, just as soon as the sun edges in the horizon. Silent, in avoiding glances, they pack everything. Feliciano prepares them a breakfast consisting mostly of fruits, and as soon as everything is set, they start making way. Pookie by now returned to his small self, switching places with Feliciano’s shoulder, his head, or on the top of the wagon, watching their things and making sure nothing falls off or disappears.

The terrain becomes harder to traverse with the wagon as they begin their entering into the swamp, as the ground mushes under their feet, as they try to find ways to pass through small openings where tree roots entangle elegantly in. Many times Feliciano was tempted to stop and sketch all of this, but Ludwig kept pestering them on to continue, eyes heavy settled on the map, a pen in hand as he marked the places they already met, were currently trying to find and establishing their route. So far they were doing well, meeting up with everything as they should, now if only it could be easier to bring their wagon across.

Currently they were trying to get over a large root, well mostly Feliciano, Ludwig had passed it easily as well as brought the wagon well to his side. It was a tall one, Feliciano kept bouncing and trying to grasp enough to pass, but it was becoming futile and Ludwig was loosening his patience, rolling his eyes and giving exasperated sighs as he waited on the other side. Finally, Feliciano gave one push that had him standing, with promise of jumping easily to the continuing route, but in one movement he slipped, a heavy danger of hitting his head to unconsciousness or even breaking a leg, but luckily Ludwig had grasped a tight hold of his hand before that could happen, pulling him to stand on his secure grounds.

“Thank you,” Feliciano told him, trying to ease the hand away, but Ludwig ended up keeping it, harsh no matter the pull Feliciano tried to take. It was needed, they had to keep bouncing puddles, growing brooks, sinking ground, even hills and intimidating tree roots, and the grasp of their hands kept a hold that had them moving together in simplicity.

The map told them at a point that they finally reached a stretch that they just had to continue straight, a ground that was strong and dry with no dangers or obstacles to be presented for at least a half an hour walk. Even so, as they continued on with quite the gentility, side by side with no words or glances to each other, the only thing that kept them together was that still hold, grasping and in no way something that they could just ignore no matter the distractions of the swamp around them. Yes, Feliciano admitted that this hold was dear, one that seemed to pass him strength, soft and loving even with the hardened grip, but what was the point if there wouldn’t be any meaning, if Ludwig was just going to pull him away and direct his gaze forward and give no explanations to what he just did. Feliciano agreed that he shouldn’t submit himself to this any longer, pull away just as he would do, uncaring and nonchalant, both his hands meeting in his own grasp, trying to cover well under the dark Heartian cloak he wore to cover himself from the cold air that was arising in this area.

“Why do you have to keep doing this?” Feliciano practically scolded, looking away with an intensity of hurt, not wanting Ludwig to see it.

Ludwig griped the air as if trying to pull his hold back, but when all he received was the air, he decided to keep his own hands hanging under his own cloak. Why was he so disappointed anyways? Feliciano did the right thing by letting go, by keeping this distance, as he was supposed to and should by his own personal duty.

“It’s just a way to help you keep leveling here, Feliciano.”

“I’m not talking about that!” He suddenly shouted, echoing in the expanses, in his power silencing everything until anything else they had to say between each other could be heard clear. “Why do you keep…showing me that there…might be something, that you do…care for me, and then…always push me away, forget everything and pretend it didn’t happen. I-I’m sick of it! I just wish you could be clearer about this, I wish you could truly be honest with your feelings for me and that you would stick with it, and not be so harsh about it the next day.” He shivered, wishing he could hide himself more in the cloak, and Ludwig feared he was tearing, ones he tried to wash away with the fabric of the robe. Ludwig only sighed, heartbreakingly leaving them in silence for the continuation of that walk. Feliciano felt like hitting his back, wanting to shout insults of betrayal and move ahead of him, not caring if he would get lost or separate from him.

It was in moments like these that made him miss Berlin, where he had his own space and privacy to run away from him as he wished whenever these things happened, even if they did share a room and had to work in a lot of things together.

“I already told you…I can’t tell you, and these are just…escapes of what I…truly wish I was able to do more often with you.” Ludwig remained with his gaze still as forward, but even as he wasn’t seeing, he could feel Feliciano’s eyes burning into his back, still questioning and hoping, but yet a faint blush to what he did reveal. “But I cannot let them impose so often. I have a duty that I need to uphold and I can’t let myself get distracted, you should be doing the same…this is not meant to be enjoyed, this a journey to keep all the kingdoms safe and we can’t keep letting our feelings come between that.”

“But we need them,” Feliciano interrupted him, wishing he could say more, that he could convince, but Ludwig seemed to move further ahead, keeping that very distance from even his words, but close enough to keep watch and not let them drift away. “Were'nt you so adamant about getting married? And doesn’t the kingdom need our relationship strong to prosper? Then why can’t we give this journey the chance to fix things as well. I did tell you that I would give you chance if you changed. Ludwig…” The way he said his name, it was almost like it stilled him to his control. “I know you have to…hold something dear to me…I know a part of you still holds our promises, it shows in the way you keep letting these moments escape.” Ludwig eyes froze as if he had caught him red handed.

No matter what he did, he hated it was this obvious, that Feliciano could face him about it, reminding him of how much he was failing and betraying his goal. He wished he could shut any other words, pretend like he wasn’t hearing this, but alone in a swamp with nothing else but their voices, Ludwig couldn’t easily escape from this.

“Yes, we do have an important duty to fulfill in this trip, but give it its opportunity to fulfill the duty between us as well. I really want us to have something strong, new and different from that of our childhood. I really want us to be the King and Queen our kingdom can look up to and remember. I know…I know you have the potential, please, just give up to everything and…be with me, let this all loose and forget about the tight responsibilities.” He wished he could reach his hand to grasp him, to really let the words sink into him. “Whatever it is you’re trying to hide, it can’t be that bad as to not-”

“It is,” Ludwig suddenly imposed, somehow angry about all this, a tone harsh and colliding between the trees and even resounding in the water. “It really is, and I don’t need you telling me how is it that I’m supposed to deal with this when you don’t understand. Don’t…don’t try to change my mind, I’m doing this for-” you, for you, “-my own personal reasons and you should keep your head focus on simply reaching our destinations as we should currently. I’m sorry if I am this way, that I hurt you…that I hurt myself. I will try to keep things in the clear as it should be. Believe it or not, it pains me to know I cause you this and…the last I want is to see you hurt…no matter…how much I’ve already done so.” But in the end, there would be meaning, and Feliciano would be grateful.

To this, Feliciano rolled his eyes, it only made him more lost. He was still unsure, it was still unclear, but he got these words from him and somewhat they were enough for now.

They continued on, in the distance watching as the ground moisten, more roots, more obstacles with water that would soon come their way and make their hiking much harder.

“…can I still know?” Feliciano dared ask.

“No.” Without space to even think about it, Ludwig turned to him, just as they reached a reclining bank, nothing but muggy water separating them from continuing. Ludwig offered his hand for Feliciano to take, for that continuing help they needed to go on forward. “Whatever it is, Feliciano, don’t think about it and just… enjoy from whatever times I let myself be free to you. I admit they’re…meaningful and keep…fresh hope in my mind and heart. I ask that you are patient with me sometimes and that…you always learn to forgive.” He hoped this hint was enough, and part of Ludwig was desperate that he got the hidden message, the call that shouted for Feliciano to know, to reveal. Feliciano didn’t receive it, he remained skeptical, eyes heavy on the offered hand wondering if he should really accept this, keep with these holds, these games, and hopefully in the future… maybe there was a chance that Ludwig just hadn’t seen yet. Damn the fact that he indeed was a forgiving person, one that was willing to give Ludwig the continuing hope of revealing, of enjoying, until finally they could live a promised love. Feliciano was determined to show him, to convince him, and with accepting this hold, letting himself be driven close to him, like Ludwig had his goal, Feliciano grew his very own, and that was to make Ludwig understand that no matter what was holding him, there was a way he could still defeat it so their love could reign more.

Ludwig used a solidifying spell on the water, creating a simple glass walk mostly for the wagon. He pulled Feliciano so he could ride his back, keeping an impressive hold on both his arising Queen and the wagon as he traversed. The weight meant nothing, not when Feliciano was nuzzled on his shoulder, soft and caressing, hands occasionally tracing as a way to calm, and it worked. There was no faltering to his spell and to his hold as he walked on.

Later they found another bank, Ludwig could stop his spell, he could let Feliciano on the ground once again, easy ground, hands held for if anything tricked them, no matter how calming the rest of their threading for the day went on. They found a spot to rest for the night, both having to come inside the tent to sleep after dinner since Pookie this time didn’t want to transform. It was cold, especially after having rain fall down during the night, both having to take out heavier blankets that they had thought they would only use for Clubs.

The rain brought a heavy mist in the morning, one that was hard for them to work with as they dismounted the tent and ate their breakfast. Despite it, they had to continue on, Feliciano wanting a turn in following the map. Ludwig let him and he did a pretty good job, finding the landmarks, the routes and marking as he had done the last two days. He could relax trusting that he wouldn’t get them lost.

At one point, the mist became too heavy, the trees seemed to darken in fearsome intensity, startling them whenever they were surprised with one the foggy air had hidden to their proximity. It was becoming harder and harder to notice their steps, the surroundings blurring into white, leaving no chance for Feliciano to spot a mark. Ludwig raised a lamp to try and help, but it did nothing, they were stuck, and if they moved any further, there was the danger of losing themselves from the trail.

“What should we do?” Feliciano asked.

Ludwig gazed around, finding nothing, absolutely nothing to give him an idea. “I think we should stay put and hope this clears soon,” was all he could suggest for now.

They let the minutes pass but the mist only seemed to intensify, Feliciano having to reach and take a good hold of Ludwig’s arms so he wouldn’t lose him. They brought each other closer, especially when their ears caught sudden rustling. Feliciano instantly panicked, driving himself to Ludwig’s chest and having his arms wrap around him. Ludwig didn’t mind it, he wrapped his own arms around his small figure, attentive to anything that could arise, now when the rustling got intense, nearing. They were already thinking the worst, Khaos’s men, bandits, pirates, taking an opportune moment from the fact that they were alone, with no sight, no clue as to what anybody could do to them. The rustling then joined with sounds of tapping, a whoosh that neared to them, surely coming to the only presence alighted by the lamp still in Ludwig’s grasp.

“Hold it,” Ludwig whispered to Feliciano, and he did, with both his hands, shaking along with his own nervousness, trying to hide the light along with himself in the protectiveness of Ludwig’s arms.

Ludwig took a look to one of the trunks in the wagon, it was at the bottom, he couldn’t get a weapon in time, which meant having to deal with magic. He focused, prepared an intense burning fire spell, his arm ready to aim, eyes trying to catch any movement, any silhouette. Only the tapping and the rustling continued, Feliciano closing his eyes and burying them into Ludwig’s chest.

Silence…and then…a large bending pole pierced right to the ground before them, a shooting sound that had them both jumping, even a little scream from Feliciano. Ludwig instantly took his aim to destroy the pole before anything could reach them, the fire in his hand growing and burning intensely to light up the area in red, only seeking destruction and protection for Feliciano.

“Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, hold it!” A shout came, a feminine voice, finally sliding to the end of the pole to stand before the arising monarchs. She wore a simple robe, marked with a mix of Diamond and Spade symbols, the only thing tying it together being some sashes and other materials that gave it more form, matching well with the dark skinned girl, young, a teenager, curly hair tied in two pony tails with clear blue ribbons. She was quite the eccentric person to meet on a misty day at a swamp.

“Pardon, your highness," she bowed, with practice reverence and one Ludwig and Feliciano returned, their fear beginning to slip away, sensing no kind of danger from this young girl. “Michelle Mancham! I believe his majesty, King Francis, told you two about myself.” Ah yes, he did, and what a relief it was to finally meet her.

Feliciano didn’t fear this mist anymore, this loneliness, he could move apart from Ludwig’s hold, smiling with friendly gleam to this girl. “Francis didn’t tell us you would be so beautiful,” he instantly complimented, much to Ludwig’s nuisance.

The girl chuckled, a faint blush, bowing once again in thanks. “You are quite the charm yourself, your highness.” It was Feliciano’s turn to blush and giggle, while Ludwig remained as stoic, uncaring.

“You have almost reached the end of the swamp alone, a great feet to those of the area, but from now you will have my help. Were only an hour’s walk away to our next destination.” She pointed excitedly to the distance, like the mist was not there giving them a sense of dread still.

“Um…” Feliciano wanted to question how exactly she was planning on getting them ahead when nothing could be seen.

“Just follow me and do exactly as I do.” She took a hold of the pole, which instantly left its bend, shortening until it was but a simple stick which she could twirl and move however she wished. With knowing steps, she dived into the mist, finding the tree she was looking for. With magic, a few movements, the pole grew, taking its rest upon the tree, growing high to reach the branches, steps growing to its side to make it the more easier. Michelle then took out a wand, wood like it was taken from any of the dying trees, mended with jewels and bands to give it a more unique touch for herself. She swung with knowing practice, a composing music that gave the wagon vivacity, flowing it along to join in whatever altitude the pole reached. Ludwig and Feliciano still couldn’t see it, the mist was still too heavy, it was almost like she made their stuff disappear.

“Come along now.” And she went up, into nothingness, with smiles, liveliness and nothing to fear, while Ludwig and Feliciano remained on the ground still pensive as to what they were supposed to do.

“Guys…really, we’re on a tight schedule here,” she ushered from the top and Feliciano finally headed by taking his own steps, trying, feeling the balance sure before he made his way up, followed quickly by Ludwig.

It really didn’t go as high as they thought, it made them reach a platform, to the top of the swamp were things became much clearer, the mist rolling under them as they took this safe grounding. This wasn’t the only platform, long suspended bridges connected several of them, some small, some large as to even hold little cabin houses, all around them in a well-built network. It was incredible how a sudden mist like this was enough to hide this entire structure.

“Hey!” They heard Michelle call, waving and already standing from a far off platform, in her grasp the wagon with their stuff, pointing to the first long bridge they needed to traverse.

Ludwig and Feliciano went annoyingly slow, still unsure, new to this and what could occur, but once they realized that the bridges were safe, that Michelle could see more confidence in them…she began to run.

“Come on! Come on! Come on!” They had no other choice but to join her pace, running along behind her, through various bridges, all kinds of platforms, but Michelle refused to give them any kind of stop or rest. Pookie seemed to chuckle at them from his comfortable position still at the top of the wagon, no matter how harshly Michelle moved it. At one point she left it for it to be returned to Ludwig’s hold, stepping aside and taking out her pole, letting it grow, piercing it to the grounds, then swinging herself with it deeper into the mist. Ludwig and Feliciano remained still watching, impressed and wondered.

“Don’t just stand around! Go on!” She kept on quickening, bouncing along through the dying mist, clearer for them to see in the distance and follow.

She kept them forward, moving at such paces throughout the whole day, only stopping when they got too fatigue, having to hydrate, rest their bodies to start again in the coming minutes. The day darkened with the three still on their feat, one that Feliciano was sure he would faint and fall to, into the ground beneath these walkthroughs and give up to total exhaustion. His vision was fading, his feet were faltering, he slumped more and more, and he swore it was magic that was keeping him moving. Everything just seemed so lost that he didn’t notice as they came to a verge, one where fresh air joined, blowing apart his hair, a new color, a new sky.

“Feliciano!” Ludwig called, bringing him into his arms before he leaped into the drop that landed into the rocky shore, intimidating waves crashing anything in its approach. It was the spray that awoke Feliciano enough to realize that there was no mist anymore, the trees surrounding them not that of a swamp but of a forest. Before them was the vast ocean, in the distance peaks that blended well with the darkness of the sky. Feliciano looked up to see a beautiful starry night, gleaming with promise, with victory to their passing through the swamp and welcoming to the new phase. Michelle, after one last swing from her pole, she lessened it and now stood alongside them, a breath of relief to have finally headed out and into the openings she knew and felt at home at.

“Those are the Seychelles islands, my home, the entrance to the Oralee," she pointed to the peaks in the distance.

“How are we getting over there?” Feliciano questioned, not wanting to think they had to swim.

Michelle pointed to the side and they noticed the port town, a small one, but with enough lights, action, noise, entrance and departure of boats to make it boisterous as a city should. They went down the platforms and took a well-established route, safe with presence of locals walking along, homes and shops to the sides, growing until they found themselves in the center of the town. So beautiful and quaint, friendly and scenic, it reminded Feliciano of his home village and he hoped to have more time there, but quickly Michelle lead them to the busy port, where she already got them tickets with only but an hour to wait before they had to board. Michelle led them to finally rest in the sitting of a waiting area while she offered to get them some dinner. Feliciano was about to offer to join her but she headed off before he could suggest it, having no choice but to remain there, leaving this village unexplored. He sighed, looking back, seeing that he at least had a wonderful view of it. He took out his sketchbook and did his usual, sitting close to Ludwig so he didn’t have to peek discreetly. This time he kept a watchful eye, not turning away even when Feliciano glanced to him, wanting to see his reactions whenever he added something that was given more form and detail.

“Why don’t you color them?” Ludwig questioned, after having noticed that the majority of his sketches were done in the plainness of his pencil. Not that it wasn’t bad, but he knew how well Feliciano worked with colors and how much he liked it, the shades, the gradients, the glow that made them realistic and like little portals to that moment when he first saw them in person.

“My coloring pencils were in one of the trunks we lost in the train attack,” he remembered with gloom, a deep sigh to losing them, knowing they had been good ones that he had bought himself in Berlin.

Ludwig couldn’t give him any sympathies for Michelle had returned then with food, which Feliciano devoured desperately after having skipped lunch in favor of doing all that running and moving them ahead. In between they chatted, learning that Michelle once used to live at the castle in Paris, on a sort of internship learning more about royal connections. While there she befriended Francis well, who practically treated her like a daughter, and the arising Queen Lili like a fellow sister. She visited when she could, for her time in the palace had been one she truly enjoyed and hoped to repeat. For now she focused mostly on helping foreign travelers with the passage of the Oralee, knowing all the islands well, those close and far from her own and how to lead to destinations in any part of the Spade Kingdom where the islands finished. She went on with many tales of her kinds of adventures throughout them, making them see that she was indeed well prepared to take the Heartian royals across. Any more of her stories were cut when horns announced the boarding for the boat that was to sail to the Polynesian region of the Oralee, where they would make port in the island of Samoa. They wasted no time, taking their things, Michelle holding only a single bag which she was confident had enough; if anything she could restack in any of the islands they were to visit.

The boat was large, enough to accommodate the large groups that came, to sustain their activity, for food, for entertainment, and of course, their rooms. There were no prestige ones here, they all got the same room treatment and Feliciano was glad about that. The room Ludwig and him shared was right across Michelle’s, for them to go to if they needed anything or they just had concerning questions. She suggested they took their rest immediately, in the late morning they had a particular way of setting off to their next island and they needed to have the energy for it. They headed in, the room small, but at least each had their own bed and sufficient enough space to leave their wagon. Without waiting they instantly set off to prepare themselves to sleep, washing what they could, picking their bed, trying them out, laying and surely readying their eyes for that rest.

“Do you…still want coloring pencils?” Ludwig asked, breaking for once the silence.

Feliciano was surprised, but he tried not to show it as much, wanting to give Ludwig the confidence to start out their conversations just like this more often. “Well…it’s all right if I don’t have them, but it be nice-…well to be honest…I really do miss dealing with colors and I really want my sketches to have more vibrancy, but maybe in Washington I’ll have the chance to get some," he smiled, trying to hide the longing, but Ludwig easily saw pass it.

They could indeed wait until Washington…but- …he nodded, turning his gaze to the ceiling, settling and ready for sleep. Feliciano found his comfortable spot, releasing a delighted sigh as he sunk into it.

“Good night,” he actually wished, now Ludwig’s turn to be surprised, turning to him, only to see that Feliciano was already set into his sleep, eyes closed and only his breaths to give him movement in his dreams.

“Night,” he still wished as well, turning and wanting his own, a little glow after those last words for the day.

Despite how small it was, it was sweet, it was releasing, a little start to how the routine of their nights could change.

Chapter Text

They arrived to Samoa a late morning as they had been promised. It was a beautiful island, one that had Feliciano wondered in delight as he stared to their approach through the room window. Tall singular mountains of green, a blue sea, white sand, a little simple town to make port, not the mess of people Ludwig and Feliciano were already used to.

As they came down, the sun shone a nice intense, one that had Ludwig and Feliciano ridding their jackets and cloaks, deciding it was best to stay in simple clothes while they were in the Oralee. It was a comfortable one, of summer, of days to spend splashing in those pristine waters. Michelle was ahead of them, serving already as their guide, Ludwig and Feliciano glad since they were indeed lost as to what they should do next.

As they headed outside the port, now into the town, Michelle spotted a figure, a familiar one that had her dashing, running, waving and crushing into the embrace of another female. They bounced and their faces were full of greetings, words catching up with the length they hadn’t seen each other, all a jumble that Ludwig and Feliciano couldn’t understand, easing behind them but not wanting to interrupt, even though they were already standing there pretty awkwardly.

“Oh, I have to introduce, your highness, this is Sefina Lopamaua, Samoan native and will join along with the passage,” Michelle introduced in proudness, the young girl bowing in clear excitement to be working with arising royals.

“It is an honor,” she said.

“Honor is ours, your island is absolutely beautiful. I hope we get to see much more,” Feliciano complimented, his eyes still gazing around, finding flowers, unique buildings, houses, distanced waterfalls and even the sparkle as waves crashed against the shore.

“Thank you so much, your highness, and we will. There are many other islands were going to see that I’m sure you will enjoy as much. Come along then, we immediately have to set off.” She began her leading through the town, then taking a deeper route into the forests, away from the small commotion of people and visitors, to the privacy of only them as they were the only ones on the trail.

“Hey, what about these guys. Have they arrived yet?” Michelle wondered, walking ahead to join Sefina’s side.

Sefina rolled her eyes, knowing who she was talking about. “Last night actually, insisted on staying in my place and not leaving me with any ounce of sleep,” she groaned and rubbed her head.

“As expected,” Michelle laughed, leaving Ludwig and Feliciano in the doubt.

They were not explained anything, just to follow on, in a long thread that took them hours. Finally, by lunch time, as Feliciano’s stomach could tell, they reached the edge of a flowing river, a woodened platform, Sefina disappointed to see that there was nothing there yet.

“I can’t believe these guys,” she groans, stomping her feet, easing close to the platform, hoping to find something, just well hidden and away from her vision. Nothing, there’s nothing of what they promised they would bring by this hour. Sefina groaned loudly once again, Michelle coming to offer her a counseling pat on her shoulder.

“Well I am hungry, why don’t we make something right now while we wait?” Feliciano suggested, already picking the trunk and basket with all their ingredients and food utensils. Sefina agreed, hoping it could distract her from any more growing anger.

Feliciano made them an involtini, a plate neither of them had tried before since its availability was only in the Italian province in Hearts, but in turn, Sefina made a coconut rice of the area and Ludwig and Feliciano adored it, surprisingly making a good companion to the involtini. Michelle offered some fruits and it was a nice tranquil lunch between them…until shouting laughs joined, rustling, a large amount of tapping poles as this group made their way between the trees, in a mess of shouts among themselves. The four of them kept watchful eyes, until finally, a child, no older than thirteen, came along with a big smile, with her own pole, dressed in her own robes of blue, sashes and silver clips. Other than the pole, she also held, in a tight hold like it was a dear friend, a large canoe, with quiet the ease, jumping right over them with her own special twirls before she finally landed, throwing the canoe over to the platform by the river, lessening her pole, turning to the four with a smile and then chanting: “I won!”

“Well some of us weren’t carrying only one canoe!” This time a boy joined, older, dressed in yellows, around Michelle and Sefina’s age, with similar looks to the girl, with his own pole, carrying this time two canoes with easy strength towards the same place.

“Rosangeliz! Emmanuel! This wasn’t even supposed to be a competition in the first place!” Three last figures came, two seeming Ludwig and Feliciano’s age, one particular figure looking much older, standing surely and proud as the leader, holding the most canoes, three to be precise, while the others only held one. They all met in the same platform to place the rest of the canoes, looking like quite a mess, but the entire group was now presented, all bowing after the eldest insisted that they should before the royals in their mist.

“On behalf of my brothers and sisters, I apologize for such a rude entrance, your highness.”

“Oh it’s nothing to worry about, you all seemed like you were having fun,” Feliciano commented with his ever cheerful smile, forgiven and curious to their presence and the many canoes.

“Well now that we’re all here, does it mean we can continue ahead?” Sefina questioned to them, standing and already making her way to prepare.

“Of course, we can leave this very instant,” the eldest said, making way for her.

All worked to place the canoes on the water, some already boarded, leaving only three empty ones tied to the platform while they finished.

“Um…what are we going to do?” Feliciano asked after Michelle ushered him and Ludwig to stand up and come close.

“We’re taking these canoes to travel throughout the rest of the islands,” she explained happily, seeing no difficulties and dangers, she was surely used to traveling like this already.

“Canoes? Through the whole left of the Oralee?” Ludwig questioned, spotting at the end of the river open ocean, the next island but a far off dark peak. Was it even safe? Can these canoes take the force of the waters they would meet? The rest could tell and feel the newcomers’ unease, as expected from foreigners. Some rolled their eyes, others chuckled at such weakness showed by powerful beings.

“Don’t worry, our ancestors have traveled like this throughout the Oralee for centuries, the knowledge passed down to us and tested to make sure we are capable just as our forefathers. You are in good hands, just follow our orders and you will do fine,” one of the woman composed surely, her calming tone and expression reminiscent of a mother. She pointed to the empty canoes, marked with Heartian symbols, just for them. The youngest of the group, holding the oars, began to hand them in, even throwing Ludwig and Feliciano’s. That little girl already began paddling her canoe in the water with finesse, in zigzags, laughing, turning and twisting, clearly showing that this was art she knew well along with her brothers and sisters. To Ludwig and Feliciano, it didn’t seem like they had any other choice, so they had to accept, gazing to each other, nodding to that sureness, letting any relieving sighs escape before they began their own boarding.

The teachings they gave were little, nothing really assuring, but they wasted no time in bringing them forward, out into the open where the river ended, sun shining on them brightly, waves for now ones they could control, that let them admire the clear transparency, the green hills they left behind and the new ones that were coming ahead. The wagon was left, all their luggage tied in a protective cloak in Ludwig’s canoe. Pookie now made Feliciano’s hair his standing, looking quite fearful to all the deep waters he was surrounded with.

“You should pay attention guys, Carlos is going to explain some last things before we set off,” Michelle warned, close to them to make sure they didn’t drift apart and that they were rowing as they should.

The eldest, who they identified was this Carlos, raised his arm to catch everyone’s attention. “All right, we have to take them to the Indian province in Spades, which you all know means going through the Polynesian Region and the Caribbean Region. It’s one of the longest threads through the Oralee but the one we know the most. We will meet with a lot of open ocean like this, but a trick were going to add is entering through the rivers of different islands for quicker access and for hiding, we rather be sure to not meet any kind of threat from Khaos’s men. Are we all clear?” They all nodded, some excitedly, others with fearful trembles. “Your highness, just make sure to stay close to the group. If anything happens, we’ll be here to solve what we can.”

“Just remember the techniques we taught you,” the motherly woman said.

Like that they started, forward and onward, in laughter, in expectations and in courage. Despite how fearful Feliciano had been in the beginning, he ended falling into ease once they passed the rivers of the first island, once he got more control of the canoes, of the waters he befriended, their waves not so intimidating anymore. It was the same for Ludwig, who quickly got the hang of it, in quickened paces to match with the rest of the group. Michelle decided on remaining in the back, striking conversation with Feliciano from time to time, which the rest would add with their own remarks, having the group laughing no matter the sudden harshness the currents would take, but it was never enough to turn them away or drift them apart.

Feliciano was enamored with the crystalline of the waters, of the different fauna they met in each of the islands, of the new animals that took rest, mixing of Diamond reign and Spades reign, of new cultures, of new people, who humbly offered them stay for the nights, in little cabin houses that made Feliciano feel like he was more at tune with the liveliness of these natures. So many nights he would try to sketch everything he saw in the day, only to be scolded by Ludwig, who wanted him to have his rest for the other rounds of rowing they would do for the next days. They were still nowhere near official lines of Spades.

One afternoon, they passed a herd of Spadian whales, clear and beautiful with markings that gave them their names, looking up to these new rowers with curiosity. Feliciano waved to them, wishing to drown them in compliments of their beauty. They would only swim by indifferent, but Feliciano couldn’t hold it, he had to take out his sketchbook, stopping his rowing and letting the current move him along with the rest to capture the moment completely.

“Feliciano, pay attention ,” Ludwig scolded, never leaving his sight from him.

“I am, I just really need to draw this,” he still insisted.

“If you turn over or start drifting apart, don’t start crying.”

“Of course I will, and since you’re my overly worried and protective king, I’m confident you will quickly come to save me and make sure I stay on the route even if I was painting on a canvas,” he commented with a proud smile as he just finished a particular fin.

“Haha,” Ludwig rolled his eyes, beginning to row forward ahead once Feliciano shut the sketchbook and went back to his rowing.

A day later, a proud flag showed their official entrance into the Spade Kingdom, still a row of islands to pass, but they were at the ends of the Caribbean region. Only three more days of sailing and they were on Indian shores. They all shouted in victory at the news, raising their oars and chanting pledges of the kingdom…well those in the group who were from the Spades side of the Oralee. After that decree they moved on ahead, through an island once again, with more wild rivers, more birds flying over them and creatures taking peeks through the woods.

“Hey, I recognize this place,” Emmanuel noticed.

“Don’t tell me were by the Danika River,” Sefina managed to see.

“And you know what that means,” Anthone smirked.

“The fish challenge!” Rosangeliz announced loudly, hollering and raising her oar in a chant. The rest began to shout in their excitement, going on with banters on who was going to win and why, recalling past wins and losses, gained advantages and how they could use it this time.

“What’s the fish challenge?” Feliciano asked, since he and Ludwig were the only ones left out of knowing.

“The Danika river is plentiful in fish of all kinds, so much that they even jump out, but it’s also one of the most challenging rivers, with falls, fast currents, even boulders and rocks that make the trek the more dangerous,” Nadia explained.

“So there’s a game!” Rosangeliz proclaimed.

“Okay, so basically-” Anthone fixed his dreadlocks more into a bun, clearly preparing himself, “-the point of the game is to catch as many fishes as possible and keep them in your canoe. The more rare the fish is, the more points you get.”

“Sounds…rather simple,” Ludwig dared comment.

“Oh no, no, no, definitely not.” Michelle was almost insulted.

“It’s like Nadia mentioned, the river is wild, it’s normal for people even with experience to lose things or even be tipped off. One of the biggest challenges is keeping the fishes inside your canoe,” Carlos continued, preparing his oar, stopping them before the entrance so they all had their chance to start fairly.

“I once had a whole pile, but one jump had them flying and I only managed to hold two in my hands,” Anthone remembered with dread.

“If I recall, that was the one I won, right?” Emmanuel wanted to remind.

“Because you used a net!”

“That was completely unfair,” Nadia agreed.

“Definitely no nets allowed this time,” Sefina added.

“Aaawww,” Rosangeliz complained, having to place her own net back to its compartment.

“Can I play?” Feliciano asked, quite excited himself.

“Feliciano,” Ludwig scolded in a growl.

“Of course! We’re always eager for new participants. Just be careful all right, like we mentioned, it gets really dangerous. Just make sure not to stay too close to the banks,” Michelle advised.

“Do you want to play too, your highness?” Nadia asked Ludwig.

“I would prefer not to.”

They all groaned.

“Come on!”

“It will be fun!”

“Yeah!”

“Don’t be such a codfish!”

“Join us, it’s no harm!”

“Thank you all for the kind offer but I rather not be distracted by something so childish.”

“Or you’re just afraid about how easily I’ll beat you,” Feliciano challenged with a smirk.

They all laughed and grinned, confident in Feliciano’s words.

“You? Oh no, if I were to participate, I assure you the victory could might as well be handed to me this instant.”

“Oh please, Ludwig, I know for a fact that this is the first time you have ever rowed a boat."

“Just as I know that this is also yours.”

“Yeah, but at least I have good arm movement."

“And I have good direction!”

“It’s not enough. I can spot a lot of things way better than you can."

“And I can maintain a better hold of anything,” he pointed to the fact that all their stuff were still tied to his canoe.

“If you’re so confident, then why don’t you participate and prove it?”

“Fine, I will, and once I beat you, I want an apology and full acceptance of my winning, along with reverences and praises,” he threatened, quite playfully, taking his side by Feliciano, as Carlos was readying their entrance.

“Fine then, and if I win, I want your adoration and even kisses.”

Ludwig laughed, but prepared his oar, his stature, for full on dedication to this. The rest laughed and clapped, taking their positions.

“Glad we are to have you join us, your highness. Now, as tradition calls, I’ll be the first one to head in, and with that the game officially begins and it ends once we reach the Kapil River. The only rule is to stop if any of us are in grave danger. Ready, set-” Feliciano shot Ludwig a playful smirk, readying to sink him, even splashing some water at him from his oar, Ludwig in turn splashed at him with his hand, earning both a chuckle, “-and go!”

The river took Carlos in a clean swipe, the current rushing him off quicker than the fastest horses. Turn by turn it took the rest, until all were in its grasp, no one saved by its wild sprays, the occasional gushes of water, which at turned landed them a fish, Anthone the first to have one in his haul. They bounced, they twisted, meeting small falls, their canoes smashing constantly against small or large boulders, but lucky their material was strong enough to withstand, to keep them continuous, fishes bouncing before them as they promised. Each took their chance to extend their free hand and take to their secureness several, each earning their own sufficient pile.

As they went half through it, that’s when things became dirty and they all started getting creative with how exactly they could assure their winning. Pookie, knowing that he was too at risk on Feliciano’s head, decided on helping him maintain the pile safe on the canoes’ flooring, having to withstand the temptation to take one of those delicious fishes into his mouth.

“No, no, no, no, no Pookie, I can’t have you compromising,” Feliciano joked, just as he used his oar to bring about three.

He glanced to the others, spotting as Ludwig tried to keep in his arms a pretty large one, but a bounce had made him loose it, along with several small ones that had been inside his haul. Feliciano laughed, making it obvious that he had seen that, then with pride pointed to the shinning pile he had untouched. It was just the distraction to not notice a boulder he instantly crashed on, spinning him along with the currents, making him loose many in all directions, some even flew to Rosangeliz’s canoe adding to her own points. Feliciano groaned heavily once he was back to the proper direction, but it made it Ludwig’s turn to laugh, rowing by him, extending his arm and actually taking one from Feliciano’s messed pile to add to his own.

“Hey! No fair! You’re being a thief!” Feliciano shouted.

“There are no rules that say I shouldn’t,” Ludwig defended, giving him one last smirk before continuing ahead.

Oh no, Feliciano was not going to leave it at that, he was determined. He found his oar and went on ahead, continuing with his catching, making sure to be the closest to Ludwig. The rest didn’t matter anymore, the competition seemed to be only between them as they pushed, as they stole, as they splashed, taking their targets, shouting along banters, but in joy, in loud laughs that echoed enjoyment to the rest. They were genuinely having fun, distracted in only them, in how they could bring more grins and shouts with their crashes and teasing that they didn’t notice approaching sharp rocks that Carlos had forgotten to warn them about. Knowing, the rest simply rowed aside, hoping that Ludwig and Feliciano followed their lead, but both were lost in the gleam of their eyes, Ludwig only managed to move aside by a hair, but it wasn’t the same luck for Feliciano. He was heading straight to their approach, through them with what knows his chances of survival.

Ludwig instantly went to the saving. He pushed his canoe aside and jumped, taking landing in one of the rocks to then jump at Feliciano’s side at his own canoe, who completely stopped rowing and instead took a tight holding of Pookie, preparing for his canoe to be smashed to pieces and for him to just swim the rest of the way, if he could even manage.

They were in the clutches, and although they did smash occasionally into the rocks, Ludwig tried to keep the boat forward, avoiding the sharpest rocks, taking the heaviest falls with strength, turning, twisting them all the way until they got to the calmer exit. Feliciano had settled as a ball unto Ludwig’s chest, keeping Pookie close, gripping from time to time at the safety of his skin, but once it all settled, that they sailed in line, no new sprays, no falls, harsh currents, rocks, or even jumping fishes, Feliciano finally sat, although still maintaining a strong hold of Ludwig while Pookie settled on flying around them to make sure they were fine.

“Are you all right?” Ludwig caressed his arm, the side of his face, wet but no cuts or bruises.

“Ye-yes, I’m fine,” he nodded, sitting well before him, noticing that they were finally in another river, more serene and steady, the last trace of the Danika but a small waterfall behind them. “See, I can always trust you to come save me no matter what,” Feliciano smiled with deep appreciation, a beautiful one that Ludwig neared to, grinning himself and admitting in his mind that yes, he was the overly worried and protective king that will always be there for him. In their eyes, in those smiles, in that still hold, they seemed to forget about the rest who were just…staring, wondering if they even knew they were there.

“You two are so sweet,” Nadia complimented, which woke them from their dreamy stupor, embarrassingly moving away even if they were still in the same canoe. Ludwig looked around for his, which at that very moment finally fell from the waterfall, upside down, all his fish free, their stuff now loose and floating along on the river. He groaned, but with Feliciano’s help, they set it up right and got their things. They would surely dry them well in their next stop.

They continued in silence until they stopped for a late lunch, where they counted for fishes that they needed to cook and proclaimed Feliciano the winner. He jumped and shouted with the rest of the group and even Ludwig clapped at his success. It was while they waited for the fish to be done that Ludwig thought about how he actually had fun playing that game with them, even if he lost after trying to save Feliciano.

“I was a kid the last time I laughed like that,” Ludwig admitted to Feliciano as they had some bread.

“Really?” Feliciano wondered, saddened that it took him this long to finally let himself have fun like that, even if grown, even if with such duties as becoming king in the future.

“Well, as an arising King you really can’t let yourself have the time for such things. You have to be focused, attentive and ignore such frivolous things that aren’t beneficial for your kingdom,” he admitted.

“Although it is important to do everything you can for the wellbeing of your kingdom, it doesn’t mean that you have to completely cut your own happiness. When chances like this appear, there’s no problem with taking part of them. I think our kingdom would really appreciate to know their King can be happy, that he can have fun and be more approachable to his people. It shows more positivity than you think,” Feliciano smiled, trusting him into these outburst. “You really should laugh more Ludwig, you have a beautiful smile,” he admitted with a faint blush, but his gaze still remnant on him to see Ludwig’s eyes widen, to share a similar blush and then thank him and accept with that very lovely smile.

Their lunch was quick, soon they were back on the river, to arrive at the dimming of the day at a quaint little town. They were kind to give them supplies, a plentiful dinner and even little cabin houses for them to stay. Ludwig and Feliciano were given one right at the edge of the river, kind of distant from the merriment and fullness of the town, but still quite a relaxing place to lay down and sketch. The cabin did not have walls, but just thick curtains that they could rise as they wished. Feliciano had all the ones facing the river, the hills and the forest, raised, even if the late night, even if he could have easy approach by animals or whatever sickening winds. He didn’t care, it was a wonderful view, a refreshing air, and even if he had a nice comfortable bed, he lay on the soft wood of the floor, a simple blanket over his lower body, his sketchbook before him, Pookie on the edge, his tail swishing even as he rested. Feliciano smiled, he made sure to add him to the picture.

Heavy steps, the entrance curtain was moved, Ludwig arrived, after saying he had to go stock some stuff to their own supplies after dinner. He did bring a bag with all those things, leaving it by their luggage at the door, but one particular wrapping he kept on his hands, approaching Feliciano.

“I believe you still owe me something,” Feliciano reminded with a smirk, as he turned to welcome him.

Ludwig gazed around him wondering. He had forgotten.

“I won the fish challenge, and I did say I wanted your adorations and kisses as my prize,” he cheekily said, expecting them that very instant.

“Oh, of course, your wonderful and extravagant highness, the most fairest in all the kingdoms, why the very Aces envy at your beauty, in your magnificent skills that no other painter or musician could compare. I should sit down and write this very instant a long elegy about all your triumphs,” Ludwig bowed jokingly, earning a fit of laughter from his arising Queen. He kneeled, offering then the wrapped package. “All joking aside, I…brought you something.” He presented it forward, Feliciano gazing curiously for the longest while. It was just rather odd to receive gifts from Ludwig like this now. He still ended up taking it, uncovering until he was presented with a box of colored pencils. It wasn’t anything like the ones he used to have, but Feliciano could tell it was from good materials in the island that could color delightfully as any other. It would surely make do for the rest of the journey.

“Ludwig…dear Aces, thank you so much! They’re wonderful! I wish I could show my appreciation more.” He gazed up to him with enough splendor, hugging the box to show how dearly it was that he had really wanted them and how it now completed his sketching materials.

“Don’t fret, just thought it would be better for your sketches, also to have them now instead of waiting until Washington.” He sat, taking his spot near to him, gazing in front to quite the beautiful scene.

Feliciano placed the pencils before him, going back on his sketches to begin his coloring, choosing a past one of a view he had captured when they were flying over the Scandinavian provinces with the joker Vikings… that’s when he remembered.

“Don’t think I haven’t noticed,” he pointed.

“I thought my words of adoration were enough.”

“I said kisses too, Ludwig,” he smirked.

Ludwig flushed, trying to make it seem like he was uninterested by rolling his eyes. “Do I…do I really have to?”

“Mhm.” And Feliciano tapped his cheek, still, closing his eyes and awaiting for the approach.

Ludwig was hesitant and for a moment he wondered if he should just walk away, but Feliciano looked so peaceful, his frame so beautiful, his cheek there for the offering, surely to be as soft, a little reminder of that first kiss they had shared long ago. He finally neared, slow, nervous, but he managed to lay a simple one, enough of a sensation to have them reeling, for Feliciano to give a little moan, already lost to the feel of those lips on his skin.

“There,” Ludwig concluded, sitting back again, still blushing over how easily he let himself fall to that request.

“I said kisses,” Feliciano smirked, his feet swaying, clearly waiting for more.

“Ugh, be specific then. How many?”

“Hmmmmm,” he wondered childishly. “Ten!”

Ludwig rolled his eyes, “fine.”

He laid just as Feliciano, neared ever closer, and confidently, he began to lay them, letting themselves that bliss, for Feliciano to smile with an occasional moan, for Ludwig to even lay them as a smile. At one point he even lost count, surely going more than that ten. Each became long, an excuse for Ludwig to feel this skin against his lips, heavenly and full and both still wanted more. Feliciano turned his face then, just as Ludwig was nearing for another, but he stopped before they could crash, letting their breaths mingle, their foreheads lay against each other, teasing with temptation, but Ludwig just couldn’t and he let a disappointed sigh to let him know just how upset he was that he had to deny the paradise of his lips. He instead raised his hand, caressing at his chin, pulling his face down until he could lay that final kiss on his forehead.

“There, that’s enough kisses,” he smiled, resting his hands on the floor and looking forward, slumping as Feliciano tried to distract any of his disappointments by beginning to color.

Ludwig settled by remaining as he was, staring to the process of Feliciano’s painting like a sort of mental therapy, cooling whatever storms and aches in his head. Feliciano had just finished painting one of the high mountains they have spotted, in the very same tint it would glow in the night. He was reaching now for a darker blue color to paint that very sky, with the add of whites, purples and other blues to remember the true splendor of the stars and clouds.

“You’ve gotten better, if that’s even possible. When we were ten you were already painting canvases like the murals in the castle. I can’t imagine the extent of what you can do now.”

Feliciano smiled and chuckled, adding then some shine to the glow of the crescent moon. “I just never stopped. I kept on reading and Nonno even got me more art books from the around the kingdom, there were also things I found in the castle when I moved in. My inspiration as well my curiosity grew, I started trying out new things and exploring new ideas. I can actually make sculptures and mosaics now,” he grinned proudly.

“Amazing,” Ludwig complimented.

“Mhm…what about you?” Feliciano was curious.

Ludwig was startled back slightly, thinking and realizing that he never really pursued a hobby like this. Those past nine years his grandfather completely dedicated to teaching him everything about the Kingship, testing and cramming him up in his study room for hours about all kinds of things concerning the position. He already knew how to make all kinds of agreements by the time he was fourteen, proclamations and pledges by heart, any other times used for preparing him in skills of combat, war and strengthening his body and mind for it to fit along with his early power activation. Such things as art and music they pushed to the side, even if his own interest for them, how he wanted to indulge in the philosophy collection of any of the libraries, in the countless of stories about the Aces and in playing music boxes from the best composers of history. His only chance for freedom was training the army dogs and even so it had duty tied to it.

“The last time I touched any kind of art supply was when I was looking for the paint jar collection to send for your twelfth birthday,” he remembered, any other moments just not granted.

“Really? So…you basically haven’t drawn or painted anything…since we were kids?” Feliciano wondered.

“I believe so,” Ludwig easily agreed.

The arising queen could not accept this.

“We’re changing that right now!” He put the colored pencils between them, clearly to choose, pointing to the picture to the side, a Norwegian village they had flown over, spectacular, to detail, alive to the point that Ludwig swore he could see the figures moving.

“I canno. My abilities had remained the same as they were back then, I will only ruin it.”

“You won’t! I’m sure I will still like it. I’ll help you if you’re unsure about what to do, but really, color how you wish,” Feliciano insisted.

“I can’t-”

“Please, do this with me!” He pouted, with a glint in his eyes, a shine to his skin and lips, Ludwig wondering if he had hypnotized him to accept.

He sighed and finally agreed, taking a green one, figuring he could start with the mountains, but as he inched his hand close, he hesitated, wondering if it was right to paint it all green, he remembered red in those hills too. What if this wasn’t even the right green? Where should he even start. Should he go for the edges, the top, the center? The end of the pencil was tapping into his hand as he thought on to pressure, a sign of concern that Feliciano spotted as his gaze never left his hand movements curious to how he wanted to start. Feliciano sighed and brought his hand forward, clasping his, a surprising jolt that had them both gazing to their eyes, Feliciano erupting with a confident smile.

“I’ll help,” he guided, bringing his hand to finally touch the paper, for that green to begin its filling, the grasped hand giving Ludwig the confidence to go ahead, knowing that if anything, Feliciano’s hold was there to aid.

For that little time before they headed off to sleep, they enjoyed, they smiled, a growing familiar air, a tight hold that never left, even when Ludwig changed colors, when Feliciano himself wanted to continue with his own picture. It was a needed hold, comforting and relieving, of past friendship and the chance for a new one to grow.

Chapter Text

After those three days, no more islands were spotted, but a meet of large land, their first entrance into the main shores of the Spade Kingdom, more precisely, the Indian province. It was dense jungle, blues, greens and no village, town or city to welcome them. It was rather fearful for both Ludwig and Feliciano, who throughout the days they had spent in the Oralee were used to meeting abundance of people and life no matter where they stopped. It must have been the same the rest felt, for eeriness settled between them, slowing their strokes as they all gazed to the desolation, trying to find a place to make the dock they had been promised.

In the distance they began to hear a shout, a calling, all keeping their eyes attentive to this, until finally, they spotted, at the very end of the bay, a single cabin house, a small little thing that surely held but one room. At its side stood a man, waving vigorously, anything to try and grab the attention of the coming group. They answered to it and they all began a hastened rowing, until finally their canoes met the sand of this land and they could all come down and let their feet touch this very small beach. They all came forward to this man, who bowed and offered a letter for the arising King and Queen of Hearts. Ludwig quickly ripped it apart and began reading, one from the organizers at the Spadian castle concerning how they were going to be dealing with their route from there to Washington.

“This cabin is small, but I will do what I can to make it comfortable to the Oralee guides until you are ready to leave tomorrow,” the man suggested, offering the door for them to come in as they pleased.

“For us only?” Sefina questioned.

“What about Ludwig and Feliciano?” Nadia wondered.

“We already have to go ahead,” Ludwig affirmed. "Half an hour walk from here a carriage with horses is already waiting, and we can’t stall. Were already late as it is.”

They all saddened, for it meant that they had to wish goodbye. Feliciano, as emotional as he was, took his turn thanking each one, embracing and kissing them as if they were long life friends. Ludwig instead took supplies the man had already prepared for them, ordering their luggage into bags that had been sent, having to leave the trunks and baskets. Ludwig wrapped the scepter in a special cloak, well hidden at the bottom of one of his bags. By the time he gave Feliciano his own to carry, he was done with his farewells, Ludwig giving his own with simple words and a strong bow.

“Good luck,” Michelle wished them.

“Don’t forget about us!” Rosangeliz waved.

“May the Aces bless the rest of your journey,” Carlos hoped.

Ludwig and Feliciano began this new trek on land, Feliciano constantly looking back to wave at them, to hear their shouts of promise, all until the hill they were going downward on blocked any other gaze between them. It was once again only Ludwig, Feliciano and Pookie, who was now on Feliciano’s shoulder, watching well around him, especially between the trees for any kind of danger. Feliciano made sure to always stay directly on Ludwig’s side, the jungle seemed even denser here, lonely, loud shrilling noises of different animals causing quite a haunting feeling. Feliciano ended up taking Ludwig’s arm as a sort of comfort, to cease any fear, any trembling. Ludwig was here, Ludwig was here, he kept repeating to himself.

In the late afternoon they came upon a small little house with a quaint little family just like the Blanc in Diamonds who gave them a carriage with horses. It was not the eloquence of the past coaches they had borrowed in their journey, with it being mostly cringing wood, some hay with blankets as beds, but it was large and spacious enough with two good horses to bring it along. The letter had specified that they were meant to travel what was left of that day, the whole night, even the next day, until they arrived to Bilaspur, where it said they would meet with a Neeraja Patel who was in charge of organizing their journey through the rest of the Indian province and even the Chinese province until they got to America. All they did in the next of their trajectory in the wagon was sleep. Feliciano would try to sketch, which was almost impossible in this bumpy road or he would actually strike up a chat with Ludwig. He loved how they were more open to talk like this now, about things such as what jackets they found the most annoying, how their own dancing lessons had gone and even how much they missed their mothers. Sure, they hadn’t gone close to romantic heights, but this growing friendship, of conversations where they filled in those missed years was just enough for Feliciano, and more and more he was really starting to enjoy Ludwig’s presence.

On the day they arrived to Bilaspur, the guards that watched over the gates to the hilltop village stopped them. They knew who they were and even the meaning to their presence, but the path to this man was to be done by foot, through a singular path that lead up to the very top, where a magnificent palace lay, shimmering in colors to delight, halting them both to the spot as they admired its richness along with the ones of the rest of the buildings that showered down, that introduced the village. All kinds of shades of blues, of silvers, jewels, arches, peeks, Spade symbols decorating every building, even the very people that peeked through the doors and windows to witness these new arriving guests. As Ludwig and Feliciano climbed, they got quite the crowd, following them, their eyes wondered, like they were the true jewels in this village, ignorant to all the richness they were already surrounded with. Ludwig kept Feliciano close, for it started to become rather odd, the kind of attention they were getting was almost like worshipping, unlike anything they had met with crowds such as this. They all knew why they were here and thus they followed them to meet him, children pointing and guiding, with excited laughs and skips that Feliciano was tempted to join, but Ludwig still maintained his strong hold that wouldn’t dare let him go too far.

The palace came closer and closer, more for them to take details in the decorated marbles, to each little intricate design, tall arches, imperial domes, expanded windows and doors, an entrance gate to match its high refinery. It was desolate, no one was there to welcome them as they hoped, not even guards, just the rest of the villagers behind them, waiting alongside them.

Suddenly, not from the gate, but from the sides of the palace, a young girl rushed forward with guards following behind her, out of breath, weak, hunching and close to falling exhausted on the floor, but her dark heavy eyes on them refused to let her so. She straightened, she presented, as elegant as her prestigious sari, lahanga and choli, but her gaze remained just as awed, silence continuing on between them for she was nervous at what kind of words she should use for the presence before her. She had to hasten, it was rather rude to leave them there with no kind of greeting or words.

“You both don’t understand the honor that we all feel to have you here in the village. We will all do what we can to give you the stay you both deserve.” She was still nervous, a lost look in her eye, clear to them that her mind was pensive on something else that was not really before her.

“The honor should be ours. Thank you for accepting our stay here,” Ludwig told.

“The village and the people are absolutely beautiful, and the palace, breathtaking. Any kind of stay here would be perfect, thank you,” he bowed and gave his usual charming smile, that caused the girl to grin largely in return, her ease coming, her nervousness slowly leaving.

“As kind as-” she had to cut herself before she continued, she was given clear instructions to not mention this.

“I really don’t mean to be rushing, but we were told to meet with a man named Neeraja Patel,” Ludwig wondered.

“Oh yes, I’m his younger sister, Priya Patel. I was sent to bring you inside, come along.” She signaled the guards and they in turn signaled others in the palace, thus the gates were opened for their entrance. She readily headed inside, looking back to them, giving them the assurance to come and for her to lead them as she should. They instantly did, leaving the crowds, Feliciano giving them a wave before he focused on keeping a tight hold of his bags as they went along.

More secluded, more calm, as if they stood away from the village. More richness was presented to them, all walls, all floors, each corner, decorated extravagantly, a new thing to spot with every gaze. Their eyes were so focused around them, on the mirrors, on the vases, desks, tapestries, that Priya had to keep constant looks to make sure they were still following her.

They handed their bags to some servants along the way, who brought them to their already assigned room, before climbing up, surely to the tallest part until they stopped before a large salon, as richly decorated as the rest, all kinds of pillows and blankets around the floors, along with plants and…were those winged blue tigers and…a peacock?

“Ah, you have finally arrived,” one man greeted aloud, spreading his arm and making his presence, although small, large enough to resonate across the whole area, seeming to pour out of the very large windows. He stood from his place, at the very center against the wall, covered by a rich jeweled veil and the most comfortable pillows at his vicinity.

“I am Neeraja Patel. I assume everything has gone well with your trip and arrival. You two must be hungry, join me for dinner, my servants have already prepared a table.” He ushered them down until they arrived to a separate room with a very large table flooded with all kinds of foods native to the province. Both Ludwig and Feliciano were overwhelmed, the food seemed to pile, and surely no matter what they did, they wouldn’t be able to take from everything, even if the scent was amazing and they were indeed eager to try what they could.

They sat, finding space next to each other, already plates presented for them to pick and serve, along with rich glasses of Mango Lassi, which Feliciano loved and even asked for more as they dined. Priya then sat and ate as well, joining in what Ludwig thought was rather frivolous conversations of this palace’s history, Feliciano asking about all kinds of architectural details, even how this placed worked with weathers. As Ludwig gazed around, hoping for a moment to ask, his eyes landed on Priya as he noticed something rather peculiar. She was stilled in a trance, her eyes lost in a definite looking, a direction that was in Feliciano’s sitting, her arms trembling as she was trying to reach to serve herself from the carrot and lentil soup. He was about to point this out and ask, but it was just as Feliciano noticed as well.

“Priya, are you alright?” He asked with real concern, enough to break her travel, for her to look around and ground herself once more, flushing in embarrassment.

In fear she kept her eyes to the table, beginning to pick up some plates. “Ye-yes, I am alright, thank you for your concern, but, will you excuse me to the kitchen, Neeraja, I’ll help the servants with cleaning.”

“Priya, you don’t have to-”

“I will!” Once she had the empty plates, she left, without a glance, without a care, like she had never been in the table in the first place.

“Is she…really going to be okay, sir." Feliciano asked.

Neeraja remained silent, focusing mostly on his drink, hesitant to say this, but surely Ludwig and Feliciano, from the moment they entered this village, must have noticed, must have been filled with questions that he knew it was best he answered that moment.

“Did you ever hear of Bilaspur?” He asked curiously.

“We have to say no. We never did until we came here,” Feliciano answered honestly.

Neeraja didn’t seem insulted or maddened, just understanding, placing his drink on the table, not interested in the food any longer.

“After all, you’re not native Spadians, it’s to be expected, but to be honest, I’m surprised the crown gave me the privilege of organizing your route, even letting you into this village, but Queen Arthur’s family has known mine for long, I even worked some time in Washington. I suppose he rather trust the Heartian royals with someone he himself trusted,” he smiled.

“That’s very nice, but why would there be doubt in coming here? This place is beautiful and everyone is so sweet.”

“Well…except…” Ludwig wanted to comment, but he didn’t know if he would be trespassing something sensitive.

“Yes?” Neeraja truly wanted to hear.

“The kind of…attention we get here, it’s…nothing like we’ve ever seen, people act…so strangely around us, like…they’re worshipping, yet everyone’s eyes seem so lost and perhaps even possessed…just like…” Ludwig gazed over to where Priya had been sitting, clearly mentioning what just happened to her, because it was the same he basically got from the rest of the village.

Neeraja managed to smile, taking from his drink, readying himself to tell. “This village is cursed, some of the lingering effects after the war of the blackened decades. We fear we might never be relieved of it no matter the studies I did back in the Washington castle. We’ve managed though, got us even a reputation,” he chuckled.

“What kind of reputation?” Feliciano wondered.

“Psychics, fortune tellers, oracles, whatever you want to name it when people know the destinies and futures of every people they meet and of the lands of the four kingdoms.”

Ludwig and Feliciano silenced, in deep bewilderment for Neeraja to be able to continue. “This village is full of them, each in different ways to foretell. Some can only see the bad, others the good, some can only see things that have to do with family, others with love or with journeys, some with teachings, hatred or even sacrifices. It’s not complete though. People in this village don’t get visions, just senses and feelings that they try to interpret to the best they can. My sister…” he faltered for a moment, worrying and wondering about her, hoping he could do something to help, to even rid this. “Is what we call a sabhee drashta, an all seer, she’s one of the only ones in the whole village who actually gets full visions, sees it as clearly as if it was a painting. That trance you saw her in, just another of her strong visions, been more vibrant since I told her you two were coming here.”

Ludwig and Feliciano looked to each other with question, wondering how they played into it to cause this.

“What about you? Do you have any of these visions?” Ludwig instead asked.

“I’m a rare cas. I too was also a sabhee drashta, but while I was in Washington I met with other priest as well as the Jack. They taught me a way I can better control it. I’ve learned to hold them and practically submerged them until I see nothing…some things are just better off not knowing.” He turned solemn, eyes lost to memories of visions and how they had affected in his lifetime, things he rather not remember, distracting himself in tapings against the glass he was drinking from.

“Have you given your sister the same teachings?” Feliciano asked.

“She’s in the process, but it’s not an easy one, but after she gets the hang of it, we’ll start offering classes for the village to help.” He hoped dearly for that.

“And…” Feliciano was doubtful to mention, but after those looks he got and after realizing what it was, he wanted to know, he wanted a peek, “what did they see about us to…get like that?” He paused, trying to ease his figure to not show his small desperation and his deepest curiosity for what Neeraja would be willing to say, revealing great paths of their future that Feliciano would be fine if even a hint was told. Maybe it could reveal something big, get them to prepare, maybe even understand his relationship with Ludwig more.

Neeraja didn’t give an expression to know, he turned away, focusing on his drink for now. “I don’t know, I haven’t asked them so they haven’t told me. Everyone who knows me knows that I really dislike talking about this…but, I do admit, whatever it was…must have been something grand, something that would truly bring this reaction for when the moment comes to all the four kingdoms.” He tried to imagine, just as Ludwig and Feliciano did, not understanding how they, two mere arising rulers, one with an early power activation, another with two much power to control also tied with a lot of mystery, with a lot of teachings still to be taught, as well as a delayed coronation because Feliciano had refused a promised marriage to the Aces, could one day do something to bring an entire village of future seers into silence, into worship, into ultimate thanks and the most loyal attention and servitude.

No more words were given to the matter. Neeraja motioned them to follow him to his map room, where he would show them their official route to Washington.

The rest of the trip was meant to be done in a carriage ride, one they would start tomorrow, riding from Bilaspur until they reached Hong-Kong in the Chinese province, where they would switch carriages and meet a group who will accompany them. There was only one stop in Shanghai for supplying and preparing, because from there on they would walk into the American province, until they arrived to the very walls that surrounded Washington, Neeraja explaining that it was built many centuries ago as protection for the big city during the war of the blackened decades. Once there, the guards will surely lead them to the Spadian castle. As it had been with Ludwig and Feliciano’s peculiar journey, it was away from common routes, secretive and surely no large cities to attract the attention of any wandering Khaos’s men. Ludwig approved of it and as soon as they both understood well, Neeraja lead them to their room, a big one that was just the size of theirs back in Berlin. It had a large open balcony door with only but a dense curtain to cover it, letting in the most comfortable breeze. Once they were alone, Ludwig and Feliciano decided to spend their time by the balcony, studying this village and its wondrous architecture, even the beauty of the jungle it was surrounded with. They remained silent, occupying their attention to the wind, to the colors their vision took and just ultimate peace. They were already dressed in their sleeping robes, their luggage prepared for their exit the next day. They could sleep out here if they wanted, but it was still an active night that would surely keep them awake if they dared to. Ludwig would break from this view from time to time to gaze over to Feliciano, who was still, his expression pensive, no other movement from him, not on a sketchbook, even as Pookie nuzzled expecting his attention.

“You’re thinking about these people’s visions,” Ludwig quickly identified.

Feliciano laid his face on the rail of the balcony, letting his breaths being the only thing to cause in him movement. “Why wouldn’t I? It’s quite unsettling to know that this very village I’m looking down on knows how the rest of my life will go, everything that vexes and will continue to as I live on…I kind of wished they would tell us something…I really wish I knew more."

“Why would you? It’s as Neeraja said, some things are just not worth seeing or knowing,” Ludwig said with the same expression as Neeraja had told them, in his own solemnity.

“Then…for those things that are not worth seeing, maybe they could tell us how to avoid them, how to stop them, get us prepared and just…make some things clearer.” Feliciano sometimes wished it could be that easy, without all this dilemma, questioning and uncertainty.

“It’s destiny, Feliciano. I believe that no matter what we do…there’s no exact way to stop what is awaiting us. If we would know all these things, we would just be anxious and always fretting on how we could stop it, but fate has its way of always conceding what was meant. Maybe it’s just best we leave it a surprise, a wondering we can find on our own, with different things to look forward to. Our answers will arrive in their time.”

For minutes on they remained in silence, in the rushing wind, in the tiredness th