The prince’s room is untouched, as it has been for months. Futile, Ike knows, but he steps inside, past the double doors, soundless on the thick rug that spreads from corner to corner. Nothing burns in the hearth, and so the room is dank and damp and frigid, closer to a dungeon cell than any kind of resting place for one of noble blood.
He knows the prince isn’t here, but it is required of him to check, part of his rounds, his duty as the sole member of his personal guard. Gingerly, he pats the covers to make sure the bed is empty, absently straightens the already-neatened pillows. A cursory inspection of the shadowed chairs beside the fireplace is all that’s left, and after, he leaves, letting the door shut behind him with a thud that echoes far down the hallway.
A shiver runs its way down his arms. Daein winters are relentless; even a roaring fire only does so much in the great and cavernous halls of the Keep.
(He’s glad for this to be finished. The royal wing is barren of life and eerie, silent and sinister. No others aside from Ike have even come near the secluded area of the castle. Cursed, they all say, since the death of the King and Queen. With only one member of the royal family remaining, it all seems woefully excessive.)
Even the heavy sounds of his footfalls cannot compete with the howl of the blizzard outside, resonating throughout the very foundations of the building. He walks automatically, almost instinctively through the winding halls, headed for the top floor, for the tallest tower. The wyvern roost.
(He passes through the dining hall and puts together a small meal; dried meat and fruit, bread and a small jar of honey for spread. Above him, the walls are decorated with extravagant tapestry; one for each of the Four Riders, each knight a legend in their own right. His father’s is still there, despite his desertion months ago. King Ashnard killed and Queen Almedha dead by her own hand before either could pick a replacement. The prince thinks little of it, wrapped up in his own thoughts and concerned with other, more cryptic matters.)
Ike clamors up the stairs, careful to keep the tray steady, and opens the door to the roost, where he knows the prince has taken residence. There are whispers, rumors all around, that he is mad, delirious with grief after the death of his parents.
But the prince is not mad. Ike may not understand, but he can see the clarity in the prince’s eyes when he speaks- only to him, as he refuses to entertain the words of anyone else- and knows that whatever his own concerns, it is a matter of the rest being unable to perceive rather than the prince seeing, hearing what is not there.
(He is reminded by the thin wreath of gold around the other’s head- he is king now, a prince no longer.)
Ike clears his throat. “My liege,” he ventures. “I’ve brought you some food.”
Immediately, a pair of eyes flash in his direction- not the prince, but the late King Ashnard’s mount; a great and beastial wyrm, easily twice as large as the biggest wyvern Ike has ever seen. Scarlet, mindless, the growl shakes the loose stones, the tower itself seeming to come undone. It almost makes to move, perhaps to rend Ike where he stands, but a pale hand stops it in its tracks, the prince’s palm placed squarely on the very tip of the monster’s snout.
“You startled him.” Quiet, admonishing. “He was almost asleep.”
Ike steps closer, setting the tray beside his charge. The prince leans against the dragon’s maw, fair skin dark and purpled around the eyes, dressed in his bedclothes and covered tightly by a rough, woolen blanket.
“Please eat, My Liege. No one else in the castle has seen you for days- we’re all worried.”
It takes minutes for him to reply, distracted by his inner machinations. He looks at his knight as if he has only just registered his presence. “... Don’t call me by that title. Use my name, Ike,” he snaps, and changes the subject. “You should apologize to him.”
The beast bares its teeth, but is otherwise still. Ike bows his head and follows the prince’s suggestion. “I’m... sorry.”
The prince had always held some strange affinity for the king’s mount, but since the death of his parents, he had been all but glued to its side, going as far as to sleep alongside the beast in the roosting tower, the rest of the war wyverns left to nest high in the rafters, if not elsewhere.
It snorts, the warm gust of air surprisingly welcome to Ike’s chilled form. The prince exhales sharply and smiles- a laugh, or something like it, Ike realizes. “He said ‘thank you’.”
“... Soren,” Ike says. “How are you feeling?”
“Fine.” His hands wander towards the tray, trembling as he ignores the splay of food and grabs the jar of honey, holding it to his chest. He dips his fingers in the viscous liquid and licks them clean with short, lapping strokes of his tongue.
Ike knows he treads delicate ground, even for him, Soren’s eternal companion, the two of them almost inseparable since birth. Violent outbursts had become something familiar since Soren had been forced to the throne. “Are you sure you should be here with your mount in this kind of weather? Surely you’ll fall ill in this wretched cold.”
Soren stops his frantic consumption of the honey to fix Ike with a reprimanding glare. “Don’t call him a mount. He has a name, Ike.”
“Yes, of course… Here with Rajaion, then.” He pushes the tray a little closer with his foot, hoping it will encourage Soren to eat something a bit more substantial.
“I have to stay with him. He doesn’t like the cold.” Thankfully, Soren does at Ike hopes, tearing into a piece of tough, dry jerky as he speaks. “And he gets lonely when I’m not around. Without my mother- I’m all he has to talk to.”
Guilt, Ike figures. The reason for Soren’s strange behavior. He drops down to the other’s side, cross-legged on the straw covered ground. “Shall I also stay here tonight, then? If you are so intent on keeping Rajaion company.”
He shows little interest in the fruit or bread, so Ike helps himself, thankful for something to do as he feels the heavy, watchful gaze of of the wyvern upon him. Soren nods the barest amount, and curls closer to Rajaion’s side. “... I think I would like that.”
Relieved, Ike sighs, and scrounges for another blanket within reach, drawing it around his shoulders. Keeping watch is comforting; he listens to Soren’s shallow breathing as he drifts off, his hand pressed to Soren’s back as some small measure of comfort. Rajaion, too, falls asleep, both of them forming a slow rhythm, merged with the constant scream of the outside wind into a droning, tuneless melody.