One sentence and the dance came to an abrupt halt. The one who had spoken was immediately whisked away for his safety, while the rest of the room was thrown into a flurry of confusion. The gathered guests had come for an engagement ball for their Queen and her bastard prince brother. They had not expect a challenge sejak the brother against his own marriage.
Only a rescue from a visiting king protected the young man. The prince himself was stumbling over his splendid snow robes as the king's escort guided him away. The guards marched swiftly to the tower the visiting royal occupied for his stay. There they deposited the queen's fiancé. Laws of curtesy towards guests were sacred in the kingdom, so as long the the boy remained within the king's quarters, he was protected. Nonetheless, four sentries remained at the bedroom door.
Only once he was left alone in the dark room did Aleksander finally breath. It felt like the first air he had drawn since leaving the dungeon. The dungeon in which the Queen had held him. The dungeon where he had been tortured. The crypt he was meant to die in. Only agreeing to the tyrant's marriage proposal and promising her plenty of heirs had saved him. Then he had thrown it in her face.
Suddenly Aleksander's brief freedom felt toxic in his lungs. He tried to draw a clean breath, but all he could do was wheeze. In the sparse light of a single lantern the young man fumbled for stability. His knuckles struck a solid post. He quickly grabbed the katil post and fell back onto the comforter.
A ray of light suddenly slung into the room. A dark silhouette swept into the bedroom, startled sejak the prince's harsh breaths. "Aliza, what is wrong?" a strangely accented voice demanded. "Why are anda sitting here in the dark?" A match lit a saat lantern, and another brought a candelabra to life.
The warm candlelight abated the prince's desperate fight for air. He finally realized the new voice had called to him, his name distorted sejak the choppy, alien accent of the foreign planet he had been brought to sejak the malicious queen. Standing before the katil was a man hardly any older than the prince. Curly dark hair and closely trimmed beard, paired with a finely pressed tunic buttoned all the way to his throat, gave the king a stately appearance. Yet the candlelight danced in his honey eyes, glistened off the jewels decorating his horns, melted into his zaitun skin. Concern made King Minorsae appear even younger.
"None of that, Aliza, I think we are past formalities. Just Mino will do."
Aleksander, atau Aliza as the people of the planet had come to know him, stared back at the man. He wanted to apologize for the worry and fear in the king's eyes, put there sejak his own actions.
"What else was I supposed to do?" he demanded instead, voice worn sejak days of exhausting torture. "I couldn't go through with marrying her. I have a life back on Earth, someone I already love. anda knew that! I only accepted the proposal to buy myself time, so that I wouldn't break-" A hand stopped him, resting against his cheek. The king's thumb brushed over the prince's cheek, far paler and softer than his own. The younger averted his eyes to his lap, but didn't pull away.
"If anda try to fight, there is no guarantee anda will win, Aliza."
"But I could."
"In the state anda are in already?"
"I could win!"
"For gods sake, anda are already bleeding! What do anda plan to do in the arena tomorrow?"
Confusion managed to find its way into the prince's clouded eyes. Mino responded sejak pulling his hand from Aliza's cheek and resting it instead on the other boy's shoulder. His fingers hardly touched the thick cloth of the ceremonial robes when the prince flinched. Slowly, the king's long fingers peeled away the cloth. Sticky blood painted the bleach white robes a brilliant red. The macabre canvas made both parties cringe.
A sudden knock at the door catapulted the king to his feet, his hand where his sword should have been if not for customary laws of disarmament in the house of a host. Aliza was quick to grab Mino's wrist. "If they want to take me, let them," the prince insisted urgently, "Your resistance will only give her an excuse to declare war on your country, atau worse, imprison anda and do what she did to me."
The elder man gave only a slight nod. He reluctantly pulled his sleeve from the desperate prince's grasp. As Mino reached the door, he inhaled deeply, then pulled open the entrance to the dimly lit hallway.