Over a thousand years ago, Mirina was a land plagued by wars and destruction. The coveted land that stood between the southern enemy and the northern allies was home to the most bloody battles in history. With either side of Mirina being flanked by treacherous mountains, the kingdom was the only means possible for the violent southern countries to try and gain access to the prosperous northern lands.
It seemed every other day the kingdom was facing another threat coming into their borders, leaving nothing but death and dust in its wake. The people and the land were suffering, and there seemed to be no end in sight to the violence.
One mage watched in sorrow as his home and family were taken from him during one of the most horrific wars Mirina had faced yet. His heart ached in agony for all that his people and himself had lost, and despite being one of the strongest mages in existence, he felt powerless.
In a fit of despair, he called out to the Gods, begging them to give him the ability to end the wars and keep his kingdom safe for generations to come. Into the sky he screamed, arms raised in the air as clouds and lighting shifted and burst above him. All the pain and sorrow he felt, he cried it out tenfold at the Gods.
That night he dreamed of a spell. A spell that could save them all.
The mage crafted a magnificent dais out of stone, his blood and sweat seeping into the rock he spent days carving with care. All the while he spoke the words of the spell that had been seared into his brain from the dream, the magic seeping into the very stone itself.
When he finished, the mage prepared himself for the final step.
He gathered a few trusted friends all while riding a horse adorned with flowers and blooms, hailing them to be witness to the future of their homes. They all followed him to the dais and listened intently as he spoke.
“One soul to erect our haven, but strengthened further by thirteen pieces of one each on the day of our Solstice,” he told them, “From here henceforth, use this spell and forever be blessed with a safe haven.”
His friends were confused, unsure what the mage was planning, but they listened and didn’t stop him when he stepped up into the center of the dais with a gleaming knife in his hands.
“On this day, my friends, the mark of Solstice is upon us. The veil between worlds is at its most thin. It is only on this day that we can draw from the next realm the magic needed to save Mirina and the people living within her. I have lost all but my life to these wars, but I would happily give it away so that others may never know my pain. Please, do not let my sacrifice go in vain. If there is any legacy for me to leave behind, it is this gift. A chance to protect you all and this land forever.”
The ancient language of magic spilled forth from his mouth, the very air vibrating around him as he chanted and weaved his spell. The others watched awestruck as his hands all but danced before him, creating a seal none of them had ever seen before. Filigree patterns glowing before him holding such beauty that their breath was stolen from their chests.
Suddenly the chanting cut off, and the mage spared one last loving glance at the land around him before smiling softly.
With that, the mage plunged the knife deep into his heart.
The dais glowed blue beneath his body before a great force burst out around them all, shooting into the sky and spreading out above them in a fantastic explosion of light. The light was seen descending over the entire kingdom, reaching out to the borders and touching the dirt there and leaving deep blackened marks in the ground.
At first, nobody knew what had happened. What had the mage killed himself for?
It wasn’t until the next time a southern army came up to their borders that they found out.
Thousands of soldiers, ready to come in and plunder the kingdom were stopped in their tracks and thrown backwards as they tried to enter past the marks in the ground left by the blast of light. Eventually the army gave up after days of attempts. Every army to come after that met the same fate.
Mirina was protected.
At first the people worried that the Shield surrounding their kingdom meant they could never leave, but soon found that if only a small number of them approached at once, they could cross as if no shield had ever existed. Soon the kingdom rejoiced knowing that they would no longer be host to the region's wars and plunders, but they knew that all spells weakened over time and they wondered when the peace would end.
The mage’s friends then knew that the words spoken by the mage were instructions. Thirteen pieces of one. The beginnings of a blood magic ritual.
One year later, thirteen of the kingdom’s most powerful mages gathered to share a piece of themselves, performing the same ritual that the original mage had created. The Shield was made anew by their energy, and the thirteen all lived to see many years to come.
The original mage had given them the true gift of protection, and was thus named The Guardian of Mirina, his place assured among the Gods for his sacrifice.
Over a thousand years later, the same ritual continues to be performed, and the Shield remains.
Guardian protect us.
The sweet aroma of Mirina’s cherry blossom trees filled James’ senses as they entered the borders of the city, bringing with it the feeling of home that they all had come to associate with the symbol of their grand kingdom. While the trees could be found all over Mirina, here by the Capitol the sweet smell was coupled with the salt of the ocean that ran the length of the Northern city walls.
The buds were just about to bloom it seemed, their ripening usually coinciding with the Solstice that was just a few short days away. James felt lucky to have made it back to the Capitol with some time to spare after their latest skirmish battles at the Southern border. The Ackronians seemed to have no sense of good timing, and James would have been loath to have missed the party.
His horse let out a loud huff from under James, snorting as he too caught wind of home being near.
“Almost there, boy. You didn’t miss your pampering after all,” James said with a laugh, knowing that Aston and the other horses enjoyed the festival almost as much as the humans. There would still be much work to do in preparations though. If James knew their High Mage at all, he would probably be a right mess fretting over the bigger aspects of the celebrations. And James liked to think he knew the High Mage quite well.
The trip from the city gates up to the castle normally only took about half an hour for anyone on horseback, but for James and his soldiers it would be at least an hour or two once the streets filled with the adoring public that was excited to see their army return triumphant once more. Normally James was more than happy to take his time waving to the masses, but he found himself a bit too eager to get up to the Mage’s tower this time around. It had been a month-long campaign at the border, and he had only had letters to stay his loneliness. He wanted to see Q before he was all but consumed by the Solstice preparations.
Even with his impatience growing, James still smiled for the crowd, waved and blew kisses, and even collected a few flowers with the intention of giving them to his lover upon arrival. Even Aston held himself regally, head propped up and a prance to his steps as they made their way up the streets. Appearances hardly mattered to James in the past, but when one was officially courting a royal family member, it was advised that he act the part as if he were a royal too. At least that’s what Mycroft kept saying. Well, threatening anyway.
At long last, James and his men reached the castle. Tanner,the head of the stables, came over quickly to gather his horse, while the rest of his men went to the barracks for some well deserved rest. One of the squires appeared next, helping James to remove all his armor and scurrying off into the castle with it to give it a good polish.
James sighed in relief, rubbing at his aching neck and shoulders where the straps had dug into his skin. All that was left on him was the basic soldiers tunic and leggings and his sword, tucked into his belt. He was probably filthy and smelled, but he didn’t want to delay much longer. Besides, he could ask one of the maids to fill a bath in their room later that night, one that he could share with his mage. That sounded like a much better idea than to go into the royal communal baths and chance running into one of Q’s brothers there. It already felt like they could see through him under normal circumstances. Doing so naked made it ten times worse.
He was hardly dressed for court, but he had no plans of going anywhere near there today if he could help it. It had been a month. A month . He knew his priorities lay elsewhere from that stuffy room reporting to the Queen. She’d understand. He hoped.
It wasn’t like he’d be allowed to keep his position of Commander much longer anyhow, if Mycroft and the Queen got their way. The Ackronians had been trying to sneak their way into their Southern borders for generations now, their attempts were a waste of life in James’ opinion, and with the Shield ever present around the Kingdom the attempts would always just be that. Attempts. With or without James at the head of the Shield Guard.
The dew wetted his boots, clearing away the dust of the journey as he began to stroll through the beach grass that grew around the Capitol. He could feel the tickle of the long spiky strands against his calves, another familiar feel of home. The storms in winter were always frightful, but even that was something he could easily overlook by all the other perks of living near the sea.
Even now he could see the long expanse of jeweled blue in the distance, palms and fronds dancing in the wind on the edges of the shoreline. Every sunset was spectacular here, always seeming to find new colors to present to the world at the end of each day. James was far from a poet, but he couldn't help but appreciate the colors even more when they glowed golden against Q’s skin through their bedroom windows.
He smirked to himself, wondering if he’d manage to drag his lover back to their rooms in time for sunset that night.
James rounded the castle for a bit, trying to randomly choose one of the various entrances to make his way inside. He did like to keep things as random as possible, just because he knew that it drove Sherlock mad when he couldn’t manage any deductions based on purely random intents. Closing his eyes before grabbing a dish for breakfast, letting Q’s various valets pick out his clothing for the day, or even just parting his hair slightly differently for no more reason than he knew it would drive the middle brother insane.
Ever since he began to officially court the youngest of House Holmes, James had learned many ways to manage the other family members that came along with the territory. Most of that he learned from the one he was courting in the first place, and the rest he learned from John. It always served James well to always have some sort of upper hand around the elder brothers, even if it was a very small upper hand. Anything to keep those know-it-alls on their toes.
Eventually he walked through one of the servants doors, only because Sally the cook was stepping outside at the time and had the door open. Easily he slipped inside, pleased to find himself in the kitchen. Perfect.
He added two cooling pastries to the bundle in his hand that he snagged off a tray when the other cooks weren’t looking, and snuck out into the halls, angling his way up to the Northern tower.
The castle was a maze of halls, courts, gardens, balconies, ceremonial rooms, armories, servants nooks, bedrooms, libraries, and gods knew what else. It was a sprawling estate, half of it facing the Capitol and the other half the sea, all conjoined together with open pillars and walkways from one section of the castle to another. It was a wonder the governing body got anything done in a prompt manner, what with it taking half an hour to walk to the next room. He’d lived in it for years now and still found new rooms when he was busy trying to confuse Sherlock. It did help a bit with his randomness though.
He gave up on randomness for now, choosing a more direct course since Sherlock would no doubt know where he was headed first no matter what route he took. Besides, he didn’t want to delay any longer.
The closer he got, the harder it was to hold back the grin on his face. By the time he made it to the base of the tower, his cheeks hurt from holding it back.
If it weren’t for the various mages coming down the stairs, James might have made his way up with a bit more haste, but appearances and all that he kept his pace controlled until he reached the upper floors of the tower.
This was magic’s domain, and he could feel it like static in the air as he stepped inside. The room that he was in was very large, needing to house the Royal Mage’s, all their projects, all their precious magical artifacts, and their obscene collection of tomes and books. From outside the castle, this tower did not look nearly as big, and James had always assumed some sort of spellwork was at play. The walls almost did feel alive, hundreds of years of magic being used in this room was bound to have some odd effects. At least that was what Q muttered absently when James had finally asked him about it.
All around him were mage’s puttering about, some with opaque jars nestled in their arms, others with books all but swallowing their faces, and then there were the few that were carefully weaving spells with flourishes of their arms and the trails of iridescent mist following their fingers.
There was an undertone of urgency in the way they all moved, another sign of the upcoming Solstice. The mages’ held the most important role in the ceremony after all, the fate of the entire Kingdom and all those under her protection lay in their sparkling fingers.
Speaking of sparkling fingers…
James finally let the smile drift onto his lips as he caught sight of his mage at his normal post, the center of the room. His robes fluttering around him, delicate silks in the colors of his House decorating his slim frame. There was an elegant stream of navy blue swirling before him, following the elegant sweeps of his arms as he continued casting over a long line of knives laid out on the table.
As eager as he was to run over and sweep Q up in his arms, he kept his distance as the spellwork continued. He’d interrupted enough spells in the past to know that it was a very bad idea to startle a mage who was busy casting. Last time it had taken months for James to grow back his eyebrows.
Eyebrows aside, it was always stunning to watch Q work. Some spells could be as simple as a few spoken words, while others took precise and practiced motions along with the words, the effect sometimes making it all seem like a dance paired with a song. At least it felt that way with Q who carried a natural elegance to his movements and had an almost musical lilt to his voice. It must have some effect on his magic, seeing as he was the best. There was a reason someone so young was holding the position of High Mage, and it had nothing to do with nepotism.
The blue mist continued to swirl above the knives, the metal of the blades starting to glow white with heat as the spell began to hit its crescendo. James could make out a fine sheen of sweat on Q’s brow as he continued to chant the words in the earthy language of magic. It had either been a long day of spellwork for Q, or this was a particularly draining spell if it was showing physically.
James looked down at the hilts of the knives, noting that they were cased in decorative mother of pearl, built for beauty rather than for durability. Not blessed knives for the soldiers then. These were ceremonial. Solstice.
Soon the blue mist drifted down onto the knives, appearing to absorb the magical particulates into the blades and disappearing completely as the metal turned back to a polished silver. They looked completely normal again, not a hint of the magic that had been worked into them.
“Rather anticlimactic, not even an ethereal glow?” James commented as Q’s arms fell to his sides, finally done with the spell.
Q whipped around at the sound of his voice, his eyes as wide as the smile that broke out on his weary features, “James! You’re back,” he said, already running towards him to throw himself at his lover.
“Hello, darling,” James whispered into the mess of curls under his chin, breathing in the scent of the younger man like he had the cherry blossoms and sea salt. Home.
“It’s wonderful to see you. We weren’t sure if you would be back in time for the Solstice. Have the Ackronians receded then?” Q asked between peppered kissed over his face and neck.
James captured his lips for a lingering kiss that no doubt was drawing the gazes of the other mages in the room before pulling back enough to carefully look over his lover’s face, “They pulled back quite suddenly a few days ago. We left half our army there in case they try anything again soon, but with the Shield in place we doubt they’ll be able to manage much damage. The Queen agreed that I should make my way back in time for the ceremony, so we all but ran our horses into the ground getting back.”
Q smiled ruefully, “She’s worried about appearances then.”
James rolled his eyes, “So it would seem. I can hardly complain though, not when it means I get to share a bed with you tonight.”
Q hummed happily, pulling James by the hand back to his work station that held the knives. He plucked one up carefully for inspection, “Unfortunately, there’s still a lot of prep work to be done by everyone. I’ve just about finished these, but I still have to have a few run throughs with my mages to make sure no one slips up during the ceremony. Max especially, since he’s new this year and all that. Blood magic is not something to trifle with, so you may not get to see much of me as it is.”
As much as James’ fingers itched to reach out and touch the row of shiny knives, he kept his hands to himself. Well, almost to himself. He still let his other hand linger at the small of Q’s back, thumb caressing the knobs of his spine. He ducked down to run his lips over the little dip where Q’s slender neck met collarbone, sucking against the skin there, “And here I was wanting to see all of you.”
He could feel the shiver that ran through his young mage at the contact, but he was as stubborn as his brothers when it came to his job and didn’t cave in. By now he surely had earned the respect of any fool who at first didn’t believe he deserved the high ranking position, but sometimes the urge to prove oneself was a tough thing to let go.
Of course, James understood, and was even expecting as much. Hence his small bundle that he pulled out with a flourish, “Well, I don’t have to be Sherlock to assume that you have been working hard all day and have not taken a break for a meal since, oh, dinner last night?” he asked, pulling out the pastries and shoving them under Q’s nose.
The mage looked slightly embarrassed as he took hold of the crispy and glazed bread, “You may be correct in that assessment. Thank you for these.”
“Ah, can’t forget these either,” James said, pulling out the flowers he’d gathered. As he handed them to Q he pulled out one single bloom and tucked it into one slightly controlled curl behind his ear, making the mage blush brightly.
“These are lovely, sir knight,” Q said with a huff of laughter, pulling another bloom out and tucking it into the sheath for James’ sword.
Their love was nothing new by this point, having it been a long and drawn out courting over several years, but somehow it always felt fresh between them. Like the butterflies had yet to leave their bellies and the sun still showed brighter in each other’s presence. James found himself drowning in love at the very sight of his lover, even when he was pale with exhaustion and his hair was frizzy from the humidity of the potions brewing all around them. Utterly beautiful, especially when he was expertly handling those knives between his clever fingers.
“Darling, I know you have a lot to do, but running yourself into the stone isn’t going to help anything. Your hands have a slight tremor already, how much magic have you had to use today?” James asked as he gently pulled the mage away from the table.
Q glared at him, but allowed himself to be led a few feet away, “I know my limits, James. I’ve had to do a series of spellwork, yes, but putting it off isn’t an option either. It needs to get done in time for all of us to recharge fully for the ceremony.”
James sighed, shoulders sagging in defeat, “Alright. Find a stopping point soon though, before you pass out and scare your underlings. The Queen will be expecting us all for dinner I imagine, and I won’t hold back John if he comes up here searching for your sorry hide because you skipped another meal.”
The roll of his eyes was equal parts exasperated and fond, “I’ll be there, I promise. Now, speaking of my aunt, I imagine that you ignored all sense of protocol and etiquette upon arrival and did not hold an audience with her before sneaking up to my tower,” he said, poking James’ chest with his forefinger, “You best go find her before she takes away her blessing for our courtship.”
James captured the finger in his grip, pulling Q’s hand to his lips to lay a kiss on top of the ring that held his family crest, “Neither the Queen nor the Gods could wrest you from my arms.”
“Yes, yes, very romantic. Now get going before she sends Mycroft up here looking for you. I don’t need him hovering over the preparations anymore than he already is,” Q said as he started to push the knight away.
“Three candle marks until dinner,” James called over his shoulder as he sauntered out of the room, “And four candle marks until I will demand a personal audience with the High Mage back in his quarters!”
He let the door shut behind him before Q could reply. With a smirk firmly upon his lips, James began to make his way out of the tower. It wouldn’t do to keep her majesty waiting. Well, any longer than he’d already made her wait that is.