Beraht swore softly as he dashed into the first shop he saw, eager to get out of the rain. He supposed that’s what he got for what his ‘peers’ called ‘slumming it’ but honestly–he was walking a few miles, not travelling for days. Who needed a carriage to travel a few simple stores? And he hated when the clerks came to see him in the palace, that was just the epitome of lazy.

So of course the weather had gone from pleasant to maelstrom in the blink of an eye.

Disgusted, Beraht brushed what water he could from his clothes, muttering apologies to the clerks who came rushing up to clean up the mess on the floor.

Looking over his shoulder, he saw the storm would not be abating any time soon. For the time being, he was stuck.

Sighing, he turned back around and took stock of the shop into which he had fled. A jewel shop, he realized. Delicate glass shelves showed off the shop’s wares, glistening gold and silver, bits of brass and even showy steel pieces. Here and there glass sparkled; jewels had not yet really made it to market, the taboos on them so hard for the Illussor to let go of after so many years.

Eager for any distraction to pass the time, he caught the eye of a clerk, who gave him a sympathetic smile. “Would you like anything to drink, my lord? We have tea, brandy…”

“No,” Beraht said, shaking his head.

“Yes, my lord.”

Beraht gravitated toward the clerk, hoping for some manner of interesting conversation. The clerk bowed politely. “My lord, is there anything with which I may assist?”

“I do not suppose you can make the rain go away?” Beraht asked, even as thunder tried to drowned the words out.

The clerk coughed in a poor attempt at smothering a laugh. “Alas, my lord, I cannot.”

“Ah, well,” Beraht said, dismissing it with a shrug and glancing without real interest at the contents of the nearest case. “What have we here, then?”

Immediately, the clerk snapped to attention, all but gliding forward to open up the case for better to display the contents for him. “Wedding bands, my lord, all in the traditional style.”

“Traditional style?” Beraht asked, briefly confused. Five years and still so much of Illussor left him baffled. “The gold and silver, you mean?”

The clerk gave him an odd look, but then recovered himself, expression smoothing out. “Yes, my lord, but also the way they are all interwoven or interconnected. Symbolic of the bond, you see?” He wrinkled his nose. “We do, of course, offer more modern style–”

“No,” Beraht said absently, barely aware he had spoken, attention focused on a set of rings up long the top, tucked into a corner.

Jewelry was one of the many aspects of nobility with which he still was not comfortable. Growing up, he had been lucky to possess clothes. Even now, he wore none of the bits and bobs that they were forever trying to force upon him. His ‘equals’ in the peerage wore practically an entire store upon their chests at times, he swore. They looked ridiculous. His only concession had been to constantly wear his signet ring, and that was purely a practical matter–he hated to have to stop and hunt for it when his seal was needed to sign or, well, seal something.

He hated all of it, the same way he hated it when people fell all over themselves to please him–to please his title, rather. He did not know how the others did it; five–nearly six–years after being made the Duke of Torla, he still felt an imposter. Even Dieter wore his title and authority like a second skin, but Beraht could not even bring himself to care that the clerk was addressing him incorrectly. Who really cared if he was called ‘my lord’ or ‘your grace’ or whatever?

Despite his distaste, he could not tear his eyes from the rings. They were silver and gold, of course, but…aged, or something. They looked old, but he had the impression they were made to look that way, not actually old. One of those terms he should know, in his position, but did not. Whatever.

They were simple, but oddly handsome–small squares of gold, the barest amount of space between them, connected to each other by way of smaller silver squares. For some strange reason, he could see Dieter wearing such a ring–that very ring. He frowned, confused as to why he would picture such a thing. These were wedding bands–

His thoughts froze, chest going tight the way it always did when he thought of Dieter in such ways. Like his lover. It seemed…too tame a word, or something. Like they were other people, when he never felt like other people.

So, yes, Dieter was his lover. Of five years. That did not mean he wandered into a jewelry store and caught himself wondering what a ring would look like–

His chest went tight again, making it hard to breathe, and Beraht scowled. What was wrong with him?

“My lord?”

Beraht’s head snapped up, as he the clerk startled him from his musings.

“Is something wrong, my lord?”

“No,” Beraht replied. “Those rings. I will take them.” He jabbed a finger at them, though he had no clue what he would do with them. Dieter would sneer and mock them. Stars, he sneered at the idea. Marriage was for other people. Not him and–Dieter would only laugh in his face, and why shouldn’t he? Whatever they were, it did not fit other–relationships–people–

But he could not make himself tell the clerk to never mind, and instead found himself a few minutes later holding a small black velvet box. It was light as anything, but somehow seemed to weigh very heavy indeed.

He realized the clerk was speaking to him, quietly nudging about money. “Charge it to my account,” Beraht said, the words a bit more comfortable on his tongue these days than they once had been.

“What account would that be, my lord?”

Beraht motioned absently, the light glinting on his signet ring. “Torla.” He did not see the clerk blanche at the realization of who Beraht actually was, his thoughts on the box, and his own lack of sanity, he did not even notice that the rain had stopped and the sun was slowly returning.


Two weeks later, he still did not know what to do with the damned things. He should take them back, or throw them in the well, or something.

Honestly, what had he been thinking? What was he still thinking? Was he thinking at all?

Beraht looked up with a snarl as someone dared to enter the bedroom without knocking–and swore when he saw it was Dieter, who had a matching scowl upon his face and a set to his wonderfully broad shoulders that only ever spelled trouble.

“Go away.”

“Still in a snit, I see,” Dieter said, using that tone Beraht hated and he knew Dieter was just trying to provoke him–

“Like you have any right to gripe about me being in a snit,” he snapped in reply, shoving the velvet box hastily away, standing up as Dieter stalked toward him.

“You have been even more of a pain than usual, Beraht, these past two weeks,” Dieter said, gray green eyes as hard and sharp as the steel of his blade. “Every word out of your mouth for the past two weeks has been an attempt to pick a fight with me, and when you are not doing that you are barking at everyone else. It normally only takes you a week to come to your point–so out with it, already, before I must kill you to get some gods damned peace.”

“If you want peace, go find one of your precious battlefields,” Beraht retorted. “Those always calm you down–” He broke off with a bellow of outrage as Dieter abruptly lunged, snatching him up and carrying him to their bed, throwing him down upon it.

Beraht struggled to sit up, kicking Dieter hard, catching him on the hip before Dieter finally shoved him back down, straddled him, and pinned his arms above his head.

“The minutes you let me go,” Beraht hissed, “I am going to kill you.”

Dieter ignored him, and shoved a hand into his clothes, almost immediately locating the velvet box.

Beraht went cold–then hot with fury. “That is none of your business, you starts refused bastard! Leave it alone.”

“It’s my business if it’s what has put you in a snit for two weeks,” Dieter replied. “Honestly, Beraht, what could….”

Beraht never thought he would see the day the Wolf was rendered speechless, and with an expression of shock plain upon his face. Dieter did not even seem to notice when Beraht pulled his arms free.

Sitting up slowly, Beraht braced himself on his elbows, not really certain now what to say. Every attempt at this in his head had begun and ended with Dieter mocking him, or something else much along those lines.

“Well, if I had known that was all it took to shut you up,” he finally managed, but the words did not come out sharp as he had wanted. They fell woefully flat, and somehow made the silence worse.

“This is why you have been a brat for two weeks?” Dieter finally demanded. Of course he got his tone of voice perfect. “Were you ever going to say something?”

“Stars refuse you!” Beraht snarled. “What was I supposed to say? It’s not as though–” he broke off, incapable of finishing the sentence. He could barely finish the thought.

Dieter’s eyes went dark, though, and the lines of anger in his face smoothed away–and Beraht thought he was probably the only one who could tell that Dieter was silently saying me too.

Because it wasn’t as though they had been raised like others. Normally. He had lived on the streets and whored himself out to survive. Life in the army had been little better. Dieter…Dieter had been raised to be the Kaiser’s whore.

Now look at them. First enemies, now lovers—trying to play at normalcy? It was laughable.

Except laughing was the last thing he felt like doing as Dieter took rough hold of his hair and dragged Beraht close for a brutal kiss.

Beraht would have those kisses no other way, and this time he went easily as Dieter pushed him deep into the bedding, just as rough in his turn as he worked to divest Dieter of his clothes.


“You look as though you have not slept a wink,” Esta said by way of greeting, looking torn between concern and amusement.

Beraht made a face and only sat down across from her, in his usual seat at the breakfast table where they all gathered each morning.

Esta laughed and pushed the teapot closer to him, signaling a servant to bring him a plate of food. He eyed her suspiciously, noting the pleasant expression, the folded hands upon the table.

“Whatever it is you want to ask me to do, the answer is no.”

“It’s just a ball,” Esta said. “You’re a popular figure, and it will do them some good to–”

“Fine,” Beraht cut in, before he lost his nerve entirely. “But you owe me, Majesty.”

She looked at him in surprise—Beraht was not normally inclined to ask for anything in thanks, unless it was Dieter doing the demanding. Typically, they had to force their show of thanks upon him. “Of course, Beraht. Did you have something particular in mind?”

Beraht drew in a breath, then spoke before he could convince himself not, “I need you to plan a wedding for me.”

Esta froze over her porridge. “A what? Whose wedding?”

Beraht glared at her, and fervently hoped that the way his face felt hot did not mean he was turning red. “What do you mean, whose?”

To his complete astonishment, Esta dropped her spoon and gave a shriek. “You and Dieter are getting married?” But that’s wonderful! Of course I will help you plan it. Did you know when you wanted to have it? Autumn? No, that would be terrible by Krian standards. Spring? Perhaps a winter wedding?”

“Stars, I don’t care, just stop—”

She was not listening to a single thing he said, Beraht realized.

He poured more tea and wondered if it might be simpler to kill himself now, and avoid Dieter rending him limb from limb for letting their wedding turn into whatever was causing that glint in Esta’s eye. He was about to simply make a strategic retreated, when the door opened, and Matthias and Kalan wandered in, cheerfully arguing about the latest bill to go up.

“Good morning,” Matthias greeted as he sat down next to his wife, looking amused when she returned the gesture absently, too busy muttering and jotting things down upon the paper a servant had just brought her. He glanced toward Beraht. “What has gotten into her so early?”

Beraht gloomily resumed sipping his tea. “She’s plotting my demise.”

“Demise?” Kalan repeated, brow quirking. “Esta!” he called loudly. “What are you doing to poor Beraht?”

She broke off in her muttering, drawn by the sound of her name. “Why, he’s asked me to help plan his wedding. Winter, I think. It has a masculine feel to it, don’t you think? Spring would be too frilly.”

Matthias and Kalan did not reply, too busy gawking at Beraht.

Beraht glared back, daring them to say one. Single. Word.

Matthias coughed. “Congratulations. I’ll try to restrain her.”

“Thank you,” Beraht said.

Kalan smirked. “To have been a fly on the wall for that proposal.”

Beraht kicked him under the table, and hefted the teapot in warning.

“To judge from that bruise on his neck,” Matthias drawled, “I would not have wanted to be anywhere near their walls.”

Kalan snorted his tea, and Beraht contemplated murdering his king.

Esta drover her elbow into Matthias’ stomach. “Not at the breakfast table! Honestly, Matti, were you raised in a stable?”

“Worse,” Matthias replied. “A palace.”

Outright war was prevented between the royal couple only by the opening of the door, as Dieter entered to join them for breakfast. Silence fell as he sat down next to Beraht, and he gave them all a look until Matthias finally broke it. “We are just informed congratulations are in order, Dieter.”

Dieter nodded in acknowledgement, and picked up the teacup that Beraht pushed toward him.

Esta smiled. “Beraht has asked me to help. I was thinking perhaps a winter wedding?”

“Summer,” Dieter countered.

“All right,” Esta replied calmly. “Did you want it here at the palace, or on Torla or Korte lands? Probably easiest to have it here. What size did you want it?”

Beraht threw up his hands as Dieter fell into debating with Esta, and threw the contents of the sugar bowl at the shamefully sniggering Kalan and Matthias. Finishing his tea, he fled the breakfast room and went in search of a place to hide until all this craziness was finally over.