The night before the tournament, John couldn't sleep at all. He knew that he had to sleep; he knew that without sleep he would be competing with no energy in front of the entire kingdom, and that was precisely why he couldn't close his eyes. He was so stressed out about that stupid tournament, he kept going over scenarios in his head, he kept imagining, what if? What if he got knocked out in the first round, what if, dispute his stubbornness, John never got to fight Sherlock? What if Sherlock's bribes didn't work out, and he was beat before he got to fight John? And let's not even mention the public embarrassment that went along with losing this tournament. He had been picked from all of the servants, he had been entered, he had broken Greg's nose just for a chance in this tournament, and now he really wish he hadn't heard of it at all. John would much rather be fast asleep like Greg was right now, anticipating the tournament with excitement, not dread. He wished that it was Greg that was going to fight, going to risk his entire reputation and maybe even his life for the sake of other people's entertainment. It was terrifying, it really was, but the only thing that kept John in line was the idea of making Sherlock pay. He didn't know if it would be tomorrow, the day after tomorrow, or the day after that, but one of these days Sherlock was going to suffer at his hand. There will be no bribing for John; he wasn't looking for gold he was looking for the satisfaction he got when he brought tears to that conceited prince's eyes. Oh this was going to be wonderful. But still, he kept tossing and turning, listening to the chorus of snores that echoed off of the walls, all of the servants who didn't have a care in the world. Well, John did, he had a bit too many cares. But maybe he was so stressed about not being able to sleep that he couldn't sleep. Funny how irony works. When finally John fell asleep it felt like he was woken not a minute afterwards, being shaken awake by the mummy that was Greg, his numerous bandages tightened tightly across his face.
"Today's the day!" he exclaimed in his nasally voice, shaking John by the shoulders with the biggest smile on his face. John really wished he had a broken nose right now instead of a sword, and he pulled the blanket over his head with a groan.
"I don't want to anymore, you do it!" John exclaimed.
"Come on John, think of Sherlock! He's probably so excited to get up and get going; he's probably thinking he'll buy his way through this tournament like last year!" Greg exclaimed. That was enough to get John angry, at least angry enough to rip off his blanket and jump out of bed.
"NOT THIS YEAR!" John exclaimed, and there was a chorus of agreement from the sleepy servants.
"Now get dressed, get ready, brush your teeth, comb your hair, have a good breakfast, make sure your armor shines, chop chop!" Greg insisted, clapping his hands and thrusting John's clothes into his hands. John spun around in a terrified circle, not knowing what to do first. Maybe he should've prepared better the night before, because now he was lost as to which impossible task he should do before breakfast. So he started with getting dressed, and then he brushed his hair to a standard even a royal couldn't refuse. When he looked somewhat decent John made sure his armor was nice and shiny, no dents, no scratches, and he made sure his sword was acceptably dull for the tournament. Even though they fought with real weapons it was mandatory that said weapons couldn't kill, this was just for fun. But John felt more like throwing up than jumping with joy, probably the opposite of everyone else in the servant's quarters. However sleepy they were there was an air of excitement, and all of them were rooting for John. However exciting this tournament maybe, work always came first, to the chatty bunch all moved down towards the dining hall, John shuffling in their midst, nodding whenever someone talked in his direction and pretending to hear everything that was said. In reality his ears didn't seem to be working, everything felt like a blur. His arms hung like iron at his sides, his legs moved like jelly, he might throw up if he concentrated hard enough, this whole contest was making him feel less like a champion and more like a child in his father's armor. When they arrived at the dining hall it was empty as usual, the early morning sunlight sifting in through the stained glass windows stretching to the ceiling. The woodwork gleamed lazily, and the magnificent table sat untouched in the middle of the room, waiting for its setting. John tried to help, he really did, but every time he even touched a plate it seemed that someone would grab it out of his hands, insisting that he stretch or rest or mentally prepare himself. John just wanted to work, he wanted to keep his head out of the arena for now and at least try to pretend that nothing extraordinary was happening after breakfast. But no, apparently lifting a plate was too much effort for the servant's champion, so he was just pushed aside and seated on a bag of potatoes while everyone else worked. Every time someone would pass they'd give John some sort of good luck, whether it was a mere pat on the back or a long speech about how they knew he was going to win. John just smiled and nodded and thanked them, but in the end he felt like he was going to go mad if he was forced to just sit there and take all of this. So he grabbed an unmoved platter of fruit, set aside as if it hadn't made the cut, and moved through the pack of servants, all who gave him rather funny looks. The door had been closed, but John decided that he could just leave from there, surely they'd all understand. He needed alone time, and he was going to use this lonely bowl of fruit to get it. As soon as John reached the door handle though, there was an exclamation of surprise, but it was too late, John already stepped out the door when he heard Greg cry "No, wait!" It was too late for John to turn back now, the bowl of fruit sitting innocently in his hands, and so he found himself facing not an empty table, but the pathetic prince himself. As soon as Sherlock saw John he got to his feet so quickly that his knees hit the wood, causing the entire table to shake violently. There was an expression of upmost embarrassment on his face as he steadied his wobbling chalice, the juice brimming dangerously along the rim.
"John!" he exclaimed, as if he had no idea the servant would be setting his table. John frowned, walking over to the table and setting the fruit down in an unoccupied spot at the table, his stomach growling loudly at all of the food presented. John didn't try to pretend to be impressed with Sherlock, he didn't bow or even smile, he just stared at the prince with a solid expression of boredom, hoping Sherlock wouldn't be able to see the nerves below the mask.
"Sherlock." John muttered, the only thing he could think to say. Sherlock himself looked very nervous, his hair was combed nicely and his clothes looked freshly ironed, but there was an unnatural paleness settled in his already pasty cheeks, his hands shaking ever so slightly at his sides.
"Are you um...hungry?" Sherlock wondered, looking at John with wide eyes, trying desperately to come off as...polite? That was suspicious, especially since they hadn't spoken a word to each other after that argument. Their words stood, and John hoped Sherlock went over John's hateful speech in his head every night, regretting everything he's ever done to deserve such a realization.
"Hungry, yes. But I've got an excellent bowl of lumpy oatmeal waiting for me as soon as this whole..." John started.
"Eat with me." Sherlock said before John could finish, as if he wasn't in the mood for listening to rants like this. John eyed him suspiciously, as if he had poisoned it or something.
"Why would I eat with you?" John wondered. Sherlock looked like a startled deer, his face so pale John might've mistaken it for a linen sheet.
"It's um...the tournament. You need your strength." Sherlock muttered. John still had his doubts, but he moved ever so closer to one of the chairs, terrified to actually sit in a seat made for royalty.
"Will your father be upset if he came in here and found me eating with you?" John wondered.
"You are to compete today, he'll understand. And if not, well, the blame shall fall on me." Sherlock decided, sitting rather awkwardly down in his own chair and watching John hopefully. He looked startlingly unimpressive, pathetic even, as he watched John with those large eyes, his fingers shaking as he rearranged his silverware.
"You'd get in trouble on my behalf?" John wondered cautiously.
"Sit John, don't make me order you." Sherlock insisted, pointing at the chair in front of him threateningly. John just laughed, shaking his head with the first real smile he had managed all morning.
"Oh I think we both know how that'll turn out." he decided, but nevertheless he pulled out the heavy wooden chair and sat, looking across the table at where Sherlock sat, fumbling to scoop from the large bowl of scrambled eggs.
"You'll need your proper nutrition, and that horrible oatmeal won't do. You deserve a feast." Sherlock decided.
"Aren't we supposed to be competitors?" John wondered, hastily scooping some hash browns onto one of the golden plates. He felt like he was violating all sorts of laws just eating from their table, it felt a lot worse than when he ate in the garden. This table had always been reserved for royalty; John had never seen anyone lower than a noble sit in these chairs and dine with the king. Although the throne stood empty John still felt like he were being watched, judged even, be all of the past kings and queens that had sat in his chair.
"Yes, we are competitors, and that's kind of what I wanted to talk to you about." Sherlock agreed, poking his fork around in his eggs but not seeming to want to eat anything. After that little speech about nutrition John wondered why Sherlock didn't heed his own advice and eat a little bit. Maybe both of their stomachs were feeling a little bit deflated at the moment.
"Ah, I see, this," John gestured to the food in front of him to make some sort of point, "This is all because you want something from me. That's how you get your way huh, throw all of your wealth and power in someone's face?" Sherlock just blinked, seemingly the only thing he could do at the moment, and took a sharp breath, not able to process a response quick enough.
"No John...I wanted to ask something of you." Sherlock muttered, which was proving John's point exactly.
"Yes Sherlock, go on." John said with a sarcastic smile, continuing on with his hash browns no matter what his whining stomach told him.
"As you know the tournament is today and I've won for the past eight years, and I just wanted to make sure...um..." Sherlock let his sentence hang, trying to pick the next words carefully.
"Make sure that I'll accept your bribe?" John wondered. Sherlock shook his head rapidly, not even looking fazed by the question.
"If we do meet in the arena, whether it be the first or the last match, I just wanted to ask that you um..." Sherlock dropped his voice, looking nervous, "That you let me win." He said in a whisper. John could only laugh, laughing so hard he smacked the table and listened to all of the silverware rattle. Because obviously this was a joke, this had to be a joke; there was no possible way that Sherlock could ask John to just give up. It would be one thing if he offered gold, another if he gave a good reason, but to just ask nicely was downright laughable.
"What's so...did I make a joke?" he wondered, blinking at John in confusion.
"No Sherlock, no I don't think you meant to it was just really funny. The idea that I would let you win, that's so petty." John decided, wiping a tear of joy from his eye and continuing on with his breakfast. Sherlock dropped his fork, giving up on any attempts of nutrition and leaned over the table so that his face was just behind John's chalice.
"John this isn't a matter of who won, it's about dignity, honor. My father only enters me in this tournament because he expects me to bring glory to the kingdom, to our family name. He doesn't know what I am, what a disappointment I've turned out to be. If I lose in front of him I'll be ruined. I'm asking not as your prince but as your friend, please, I'll give you gold." Sherlock insisted, his eyes swimming in emotion. But John just shook his head, grabbing an apple out of the fruit basket and getting to his feet, a smile still on his face.
"Sorry Sherlock, but no sob story and breakfast date is going to convince me to just give up. This is a glory thing for me as well, I may not have an entire kingdom riding on my back but I've got friend here, servants who want to see one of the lowest of the low rise to the top. I need to bring glory to those who have none, recognition to the people who work in the shadows. I'm sorry if that cuts into your daily dose of fame." John snapped, throwing the apple into the air and catching it again. Sherlock seemed at a loss for words, just where John wanted him to be. "I guess I'll see you in the arena then." John decided, winking tauntingly at Sherlock before turning off.
"No, John, wait!" Sherlock called. John kept walking, wanting to make Sherlock as desperate as possible. "JOHN COME BACK!" Sherlock yelled, but John was already out the door. To his surprise, Sherlock didn't follow, and as soon as the prince was out of sight John's confidence faded away. Suddenly the hand holding the apple lost all feeling, and before he knew it the apple dropped to the floor at his feet, rolling along the stone floors. John watched it go; too numb to go and pick it up, so he wandered down the corridors alone, knowing that no one was here to see his fear. At least he wasn't the only one scared, or at least he wasn't the one with the most fear. Sherlock seemed close to tears, he seemed to know that John was a worthy opponent and he wasn't going to back down, and that scared Sherlock more than he'd probably like to admit. But that didn't make John feel any better about his own eligibility; he knew that even though he was better off than Sherlock he was probably a lot worse than half of the men competing. To them john was just a bug they wanted to smash under their boot, they wanted to fight real competitors, not servants who trained with sticks. But nevertheless John had somehow made his way into the tournament, and before he knew it he was trying to strap his armor onto his chest, wiggling into his chainmail, fastening the straps on his shin guards, trying on his helmet just to see how it would feel. John held his sword in his hands, balancing out the weight, slicing it through the air a couple of times, practicing blocks and jabs and strokes until he impaled one of the bed posts. He then put his sword hastily away, as if worried someone might see. When finally John pulled his helmet off the rest of the servants started to arrive, looking, if possible, even more excited than before.
"Oh my god John you just keep breaking every barrier we've even set!" Greg exclaimed, patting John on the shoulder with a metallic clang.
"I'm sorry...what did I do?" John wondered, his legs wobbling as he watched Greg.
"Dining with the prince!" one of the men exclaimed.
"And then telling him off!" another added.
"It was brilliant!" Greg insisted, his smile wide beneath his bandages.
"Well I'm glad you feel that way, but Sherlock isn't a prince, he's a pest." John decided.
"You're on first name basis with the prince, and he didn't even try to punish you!" one of the men exclaimed from the back.
"Yes well, I think we're on mutual terms at the moment. At least until this whole tournament thing is over." John admitted.
"You're going to beat him so badly!" Greg said excitedly.
"You're going to make him cry." Someone said from afar. John just smiled timidly, shrugging in defeat.
"I really hope so. Until then, however, I just want to make it down to the arena without throwing up on myself." John admitted.
"What, are you nervous?" someone asked, as if they were genuinely surprised.
"Nah, he's not nervous, he's only going to fight in front of the entire kingdom!" Greg exclaimed obviously. The other man looked ashamed, sulking off to his bunk to make his bed. John just groaned, not wanting to think of any of the pressure that was sitting on his shoulders right now. Then again, at least he wasn't Sherlock; at least he didn't have a reputation. IF John went down it would be passable, sure, a servant who we've never seen before, there was no way he would get by. But the eight year reigning champion getting taken down in a single sword stroke by that same servant, well that was news worthy. That was plain humiliating, and it was the kind of embarrassment that lasts with the kingdom for as long as it takes for Sherlock to prove himself. So, in that case, never. Unless Sherlock wanted to prove himself through acts of selfishness and immaturity, the only two emotions he seemed to possess. John had almost felt flattered when Sherlock offered to eat breakfast with him, he was almost under the impression that Sherlock cared about his wellbeing. But once again, John was proved wrong, and just like that he was thrown right back into that never-ending spiral of hatred for the prince. Sherlock Holmes was going to get what he deserved, even if that justice came in the form of someone as insignificant as a servant.
YOU ARE READING
Sherlock is the youngest son of a powerful family dynasty, with all the pressure of being the perfect prince sitting on his shoulders. However, he builds his good reputation on lies and tricks, and he dreads the day when his failures will come into...