The King & His Shadow

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The Crown Prince of Holania slipped through the gardens, an ashen figure in a sea of scarlet, azure and lilac. His surcoat, breeches and tunic were all mourning shades of grey, his cloak a wave of obsidian velvet. The sun bled warmth across the spread of his shoulders and a chill breeze kissed colour into his cheeks. It was a perfect spring day, and Kiokharen hated every minute of it.

Kio crossed the courtyard, swatting aside the bees and dragonflies that flapped about with the ubiquitous buzz of spring. For weeks the castle had been alive in preparation for the change of season, excitement pulsing in anticipation of new life. Now all the floral garlands and silken streamers had been leached of their colour, replaced with the monochrome veil of grief.

A slab of white marble parted the swell of peonies; Kio's stride slowed as he approached. His chest tightened, his fingers shook. He could not raise his eyes to read the words on the slate—nor those on the smaller stone nestled beside it.

The prince brought a hand to his face. His thumb dug into his temple as he fought to steady his breathing. 'My dear Moyna,' he choked. 'What could I possibly say?'

Kio was aware of the tremor in his shoulders, of the waver in his voice, as he stood before the memorial stone. He had been more composed at the funeral pyre—more princely. Shock had rendered the pain distant and surreal. But today he was no longer the masked, stoic son of Holania—just a mess of emotion worthy of his father's rebuke.

'Your family returned to your estate in Honnah,' Kio began after clearing his throat. 'Couldn't bear to be in the capital, they said. I don't blame them. The halls are empty without you. It's like the whole damned city has just ... stopped. The markets are on hold, the spring festival, cancelled. They flock daily to the gates, you know. Commonfolk from all across the kingdom. Holania misses you, Lady Moyna Berne. I miss you.'

Kio closed his eyes and dipped his head in a lengthy solemn bow.

'I loved you.' His voice was a choked whisper. 'You would have made a wonderful queen, and I daresay an even better moth——'

The words died on his tongue.

Kio closed his eyes and breathed himself calm, just as Moyna had taught him. In through the nose, slow and deep. Out through the mouth, deliberate and mindful. Name something he could smell, another he could fe——

Kio startled as a hand slipped into his. Rei-Hai Shaw appeared beside him, hair shining crimson like the spring blooms.

'I came as soon as I heard.' Rei's voice was subdued in shared heartache.

Kio wanted to ask what mischief the young man was up to in Holania but saved his words. Instead he squeezed his hand.

'Thank you,' the prince said.

Their hands dropped and Kio made for the castle proper. Rei followed two steps behind. They did not speak as they continued through the west wing of the palace, which was silent and devoid of servants to appease the grieving prince. Ten days had passed since Moyna's passing; life would return to normal on the morrow.

Kio ushered Rei inside his chamber. The shorter man passed him in a shroud of black. The prince lingered as he closed the door.

'Have you been sleeping?' Rei asked. 'You look ill. You should——'

Rei was silenced by the slamming of their lips. Kio squeezed the smaller man close. Rei pulled back to breathe Kio's name, hand cupped along the prince's cheek, faces close and noses brushing. A momentary rest; Kio eagerly pushed for another kiss and found lips pliable to his touch.

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