Tir clung to the back of the grey horse as it sped along next to his companions, as a loud crash of thunder could be heard in the distance. It had been quiet a while since Tir had ridden, and he found himself having to concentrate on keeping firmly in the saddle as the horse galloped. Despite that, he couldn’t help but continue to glance at the broad back of Tristan up in front of him.
Their conversation had been interrupted by the large crash of thunder as rolling grey clouds began to accumulate around them and a strong wind sprang up as if out of nowhere. Tir had been shocked, but apparently Tristan had been expecting such a thing and with only a quick, penetrating glance at Tir had ordered everyone to saddle up. Horses had been provided for Tir, Drake, and Marek, although Marek had absolutely refused and quickly climbed onto Feras. Drake, being more diplomatic, had taken the offered horse, leaving Tir little choice but to follow suit. Now he wished he had climbed up next to Marek, knowing his backside was going to feel the effects of such a hard pace.
Tir looked up to see both Feras and Ebony lazily circling above them, Ebony almost lost in the dark black clouds that were accumulating fast. He couldn’t help but worry about them in such a heavy winds and the dangers of lighting. He wondered how far they were going to reach shelter, until a large grey wall appeared in the distance. Tristan led them toward the walls of what Tir assumed was the capitol, slowing their horses as the first large cold rain began to fall.
Tir shivered a little, having become accustom to the hot dry climate of Terma, he had forgotten how cold rain could actually be as it began to pour down on them. They were quickly let through the gate as Tristan slowly led them through the narrow streets of the huge city. The streets were uncrowded in the cold rain, and people quickly moved out of the way of their party, many bowing when they saw the face of their king amidst the guards surrounding them. Tir sensed no fear, but more respect coming from the people as they quickly passed them by.
Now that they had slowed their pace, Tir found himself staring openly at Tristan. It was the first time he had ever seen the man and now he was so close to him. He didn’t know what to feel for this strange man that looked so very similar to him. This man was responsible for his creation, and yet he knew very little about him. His mother had rarely spoken about the man that was his real father, only to say that he was a good and honorable man. Yet what honorable man sired a bastard? It was a question he had never dared to ask his mother, and a question that still bothered him. His life would have been easier if he had been his father’s true son and not the bastard son of the Prince.
Tristan hadn’t seemed exactly happy to see Tir. He had seemed more upset than anything else. The fact that he said he had been looking for him implied that he had known that Tir had been sold. It made Tir more than a little worried about what had happened to his own family. He doubted that his father and brothers were as he had left them. He couldn’t help but worry about what had happened to them.
Tristan quickened their pace, waking Tir from his thoughts as they reached the wealthier district of the city, where the streets where considerably wider and had less people as the rain continued to pour down. By the time they reached the palace Tir was thoroughly soaked and shivering as he concluded that the leather rider’s clothes, so comfortable in Terma, were far from suited to the downpour they were now in. He looked above them to see both dragons coming down into the palace courtyard, kicking up even more water as they landed, and everyone backed away. Tristan led them off to the right of the courtyard, to what looked like an enormous old chapel connected to the palace complex. With the help of some of the guards, the huge iron double doors were pushed open to allow the dragons to enter, along with everyone except the guards, who promptly worked to close the huge heavy doors.
Tir looked around at the huge room with high arching ceiling and beautiful stained glass windows. The entire room was empty except for the raised area in the back that contained a large, finely crafted table and chairs. The entire room had been covered in a thick layer of dark brown sand that felt warm to the touch. It was obvious that Tristan had done his best to make the room as comfortable for the dragons as he could.
“I hope you don’t mind using this for your dragons? This is one of the older chapels that are no longer in use in the palace. I had all the furniture cleared out, sand brought in to cover the floor, and then heated it with my powers. I will have to renew the heating each day, or perhaps you can. I tried to make it as close to your dragon pens as possible,” Tristan said as they were provided towels by waiting servants.
“Of course, thank you, we hadn’t expected so much,” Drake said with a smile. “Ebony is very pleased with the room, she is quite taken with the stained glass windows.”
“I’m glad. I had several suites of rooms converted next to this main one, since I know that you like to stay close to your dragons, although I can also arrange for rooms set up for you in the main section of the palace,” Tristan said.
“No, this will be all we need I think, although I would ask that you keep everyone away from the central room here. Dragons are very protective of their territory and have been known to kill anyone trying to trespass,” Drake said.
“Of course, with the little one I would imagine they are even more protective,” Tristan replied, looking at Ebony with a face filled with admiration.
“Yes, that is why Feras has come as well,” Drake answered.
“Yes, I understand completely. I remember much of our discussions back when I visited you before. I do hope that we will have time to talk more during your stay,” Tristan said, turning his attention from Ebony to Drake. “It is too bad this has happened, hopefully we can bring about a peace treaty quickly. I will leave you to change and get settled. I will have a page stationed at your door, so if you need anything they can see to it. Dinner will be in four candlemarks or so. I would like to take Tir with me now. I am very grateful for to you for bringing my son back home,” Tristan said.
“Please you can’t.”
Suddenly all of the advisors that had been politely standing in the background came forward, their anxiety and fear apparent in their faces. Tir walked up next to Drake, wondering what was going to happen next. The last thing he had expected was Tristan to demand him back and call him his son. The political implications of what Tristan was doing were evident even to Tir. Bastard or not, for him to acknowledge him was something that would cause problems for a man that only had a daughter and no sons.
“Enough, you all know my feelings on this matter. As for Gemma, I already know her feelings, since she has been extremely vocal on the subject. I will hear no more about the matter, Tir is my son and I would have acknowledged him when he was born except for the insistence of Kasarahthat that I would upset her husband. I will not turn away from my responsibilities,” Tristan said, a deep frown on his face as he spoke firmly to his advisors, who look far from pleased.
Tir looked on in absolute astonishment at Tristan, surprised by his words. He hadn’t expected the man to acknowledge him. He knew that many people probably knew that he was Tristan’s son, but to openly acknowledge him and claim him as his son was something totally different. It could cause problems for his legitimate heir in the future, especially if the Queen didn’t give birth to a son.
“Excuse me, but you really don’t have to do this,” Tir said, stepping forward a little, looking up at Tristan hesitantly.
“What do you mean, you have nowhere to go now and I will not allow you to be a slave or a servant in another country,” Tristan said, his attention turning towards Tir. “It is obvious you have the gift, you will need training.”
“I’m not a slave or a servant, anymore, Your Majesty,” Tir said, shaking his head and glancing back at Drake. “Once the King of Terma found out who I was, I was freed. I have also been given a title in Terma and lands. I have a place now there, and I wish to stay there.”
Tir felt Drake’s hand on his shoulder, pulling him back towards him the few feet that had separated them, speaking without words what was between them as Tristan’s eyes widened slightly. Tir nodded a little at the look in Tristan’s eyes, acknowledging the question there.
“We will need to speak of this more, but not now. We are all soaked and I’m sure your dragons need attended to. I would like to speak with Tir privately, later perhaps, after the formal dinner is over with,” Tristan said after a moment, his voice uncertain and a deep frown on his face.
“Of course,” Drake said smoothly even as Tir nodded, holding back from asking all the questions that where whirling in his mind.
Tir watched Tristan leave, feeling as if someone had just hit him in the head. Tristan had turned out to be totally different than he had imagined him to be. Far more serious and stern, and there was an air of command around him that Tir had felt overwhelmed by. He couldn’t imagine his mother being in love with such a man, and yet he had felt that there was something more about him that Tir wasn’t seeing. He was sure he didn’t want to be openly acknowledged as his son and have it hanging over his head. Especially considering how all of his advisors had been acting when Tristan called him his son. He was lost simply being a Marquis in Terma, the thought of anyone thinking him a prince, even a bastard prince, was more than he even wanted to contemplate.
“Come on, let’s get the dragons unloaded,” Drake said, smiling down at Tir reassuringly without saying anything.
Tir nodded, turning to see Marek was already untying the hatchling from Feras. The little one struggled a little trying to get free faster, screeching in her penetrating voice as Marek cursed. Tir couldn’t help but smile and hurriedly climbed up Feras to help. They freed the hatchling, who promptly jumped off her father’s back without a backward glance and tried to bury herself in the warm sands.
“Ungrateful brat,” Marek said, looking down at the long red scratch on his hand.
“I think she is just really cold, she also didn’t like being tied to Feras like that,” Tir said.
Marek snorted as they both went over to help Drake finish unloading Ebony. When they had finished both dragons buried themselves the best they could in the sand, curling close to one another.
“They will probably sleep for the rest of the day. Dragons don’t like rain, or cold for that matter.” Drake said with a fond smile as he looked at Ebony.
“I don’t like them either,” Marek said drily.
“Let’s find the baths,” Drake suggested, looking around.
“Out that door over there, maybe,” Marek said, just as a knock came from that door.
“Good guess,” Drake said, walking over to the door.
Tir turned to go through their packs, looking for clothing for them all, when he heard a familiar voice behind him. He whirled around to see his ears had not deceived him as he looked at his red headed brother standing with his head bowed in the doorway, wearing the blue and silver uniform of Recura.
He found himself running towards the door and sweeping the small, slender boy up in his arms, feeling his brother stiffening in surprise.
“Please, My Lord could you let me go?” came Elgin’s muffled voice.
“Elgin it’s Tir,” Ash whispered in shock from beside the two, looking at Tir with wide green eyes.
Tir looked over to see his other brother and grabbed him, pulling both of the twins close to him even as tears began to flow down his face. He heard a muffled sob come from his chest and the stiff body relaxed against his own as his little brother clung to him. The last thing he had expected was to find his brothers as pages in the palace, and the way that Elgin was now clinging to him didn’t bode well for what had happened after he had been sold. He could feel Drake and Marek’s presence behind him as he disentangled himself from the twins.
“Your brothers?” Marek asked quietly.
“Yes,” Tir said simply.
“I take it Tristan has set up several rooms for all of us?” Drake asked with a gentle smile as he looked at the two young twins that clung to Tir.
“Yes My Lord.”
“Good, why don’t you take us to them? Then you can stay with Tir and talk with him,” Drake suggested.
“But we are to attend to you,” Ash said hesitantly.
“We are completely capable of taking care of ourselves,” Marek said evenly, looking down at the two red haired brothers coolly.
“Yes, My Lord,” they both squeaked, looking up at Marek, afraid.
Marek turned and went over to their packs, and after a moment looking through them picked one of them up and causally tossed the large bag over to Drake, who caught it easily before picking up another one. He walked back over to door and looked down at the two.
“Well lead on, I want to soak in a hot bath for a couple of hours, I haven’t been this cold in years,” Marek said.
“We should carry those, My Lord,” Ash said, holding out a hand for Marek’s bag.
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Marek said with a shake of his head.
“You two are a little small and we are use to doing a little work, just lead the way to the baths,” Drake said in a soothing voice.
Tir nodded to them and they started off down the hallway. It only took moments for them to stop and open up a door leading to an exquisitely decorated room of rich mahogany. Marek and Drake both entered the room, dropping their bags to look around. Tir went over and went through one of them, pulling out some clothing, and then turned to his brothers, who were standing in the entranceway.
“Take your time, Tir, we’ll meet back in the dragons’ room,” Drake said, looking over his shoulder at Tir.
“You might want to introduce us to them later as well,” Marek said without turning as he poked his head into one of the other rooms.
“Of course, thank you both,” Tir said, smiling a little at Marek.
He could sense that the man was more than a little uncomfortable with the emotion coming from him and his brothers, and knew his cold mask was hiding that. Yet despite that, the casual comment of introductions spoke volumes of Marek’s interest in Elgin and Ash. He knew without a doubt that Marek wasn’t as irritated as he was acting, and was more concerned than anything.
“Come on, show me to another set of rooms,” Tir said, leaving Drake and Marek.
“Don’t they want separate rooms?” Elgin asked, hesitating as Tir firmly led them out of the room.
“We will all probably stay in that room, but right now Drake and Marek are going to give us some privacy,” Tir said with a smile.
“You’re staying with them? In the same room? But… but…” Ash stuttered, stopping.
“A lot of things have changed for me, since I left,” Tir said.
“Father really didn’t sell you, did he?” Elgin asked, looking up at Tir pleadingly.
“Where did you hear that?” Tir asked cautiously.
“The King told us when we were brought here. He said father had sold you and was going to sell us as well. Father had been acting really strange after you left and wouldn’t tell us anything. He said you had run off, but we knew you would never do that,” Ask said in a rush, suddenly hugging Tir.
“Come on, let’s get to whatever room you were going to take me to and I want to hear everything that has happened since I left,” Tir said, looking down at his brothers, wondering what they had gone through while he was away.
Both boys used to be so cheerful and outgoing, and yet now they seemed fearful and far more subdued than Tir would have ever imagined. Elgin in particular would have never clung so fiercely to him before, it just wasn’t in his independent nature. As he followed along behind them he looked closely at them. Physically at least they looked as they always had, slender boys who looked younger than their eleven summers, having inherited their mother’s delicate structure just as Tir had. Ash’s crimson hair, a hallmark of their father, was considerably longer now, reaching the middle of his back in a long think braid,. Thankfully Elgin still kept his hair short making it easier to tell the difference between the identical brothers, who even seemed to have freckles in the same places. The only change in them was their once tan skin, acquired from always playing outside, had faded, leaving them a pale creamy white that would have been the envy of any of the harem boys back in Terma.
They led him into a room similar to the one they left the two riders in, with the only slight differences in furniture and tapestries. Elgin led them into a room where a huge bathing tub set in the center of the room with a white tiled floor, already filled with steaming water. Tir began to strip immediately as Ash added some cool water to the extremely hot water. By the time Tir slipped into the warm waters he was shivering a little. He look at his two brothers again as they stood near the tub.
“Tell me everything that has happened after I left, and then I will tell you what happened to me, ok?” Tir said.
“Why don’t you go first,” Elgin said stubbornly, some of his old personality showing through, making Tir smile.
“Because I’m older,” Tir replied, an old answer that use to infuriate his younger brother.
“That’s not fair,” Elgin said his eyes narrowing and an indignant expression coming to his face, even as Tir began to laugh in relief.
Despite what had happened, his brother’s spirit seemed to be fine and his fears hadn’t completely overwhelmed him. Elgin still wanted to be first in everything, and the old response from the past seemed for the moment to shake Elgin of his present circumstances.
“Don’t fight!” Ash said, close to tears as he looked at Elgin. “We finally got him back Elgin, I don’t want him to leave again.”
“I’m not going to leave you two again. I didn’t leave in the first place,” Tir said firmly, reaching out to put a wet hand on Ash’s small shoulders.
“Then what the king said was true?” Elgin demanded.
Tir sighed, looking at Elgin for a moment. He hadn’t been sure what to tell the two, not wanting to hurt them any more than they already had been. He had been completely willing to lie a little and hide some of the truth from them, after hearing exactly what had happened to them. Yet it seemed Elgin was going to press him until he told his story first.
“Alright Elgin, I will tell you what happened to me first, but no questions until after I have heard your story as well. Agreed?” Tir asked.
Elgin nodded along with Ash. As the warm waters seeped into Tir’s skin, warming him, he told the boys a very edited version of enslavement and eventual freedom. He spoke only briefly of his time before arriving at the palace and left out much of his duties as part of the harem. He only spoke of Drake and Logan freeing him and left out much of his story about the complex relationship he had formed between Drake and Marek and their dragons, not because of embarrassment, but simply to avoid the endless stream of questions that it would elicit from his brothers. Questions that he was willing to answer, but not when he was waiting so impatiently to find out what had happened to them.
“Then why are you staying in the same room as them if you aren’t their slave anymore?” Elgin demanded.
“Tir, you didn’t have to, well you know. . .” Ash asked tentatively, blushing furiously, leaving little doubt to where his younger brother’s mind was.
“No questions, remember, not until you tell me what has happened,” Tir said firmly, rising from the now cooling waters as Ash handed him a towel.
“Fine, but you will answer them, right?” Elgin said sulkily.
“Yes, but first I want details, Elgin, lots and lots of them. Where is father and why in the world are you here at the palace?” Tir said, looking at the oldest of the twins with a steady gaze.
Suddenly the sulkily defiant little boy pretense fell completely away as Elgin’s delicate face crumpled and tears began to fall from his eyes, and Tir found his brother in his arms for the second time in less than a candlemark, sobbing as if his heart had been broken.