Rating: MA / M
Warnings: Eventually blood and sex; sad feelings, and my bad writing.
Summary: Alfred is only a magician in training when his best friend rides to war, never to return. When it seems he can never reach the grand potential his mentor believes he can, he runs away and miraculously finds the focus and reason to his life; but at a cost. How do you protect someone who is connected intimately to you, just as the stars are connected in a constellation? USUKUS
Important Notes: Radu – Romania, Conrad – Netherlands
Their first meeting was insignificant. Definitely not something that seemed so very fateful or binding; but it was.
They had both been children, ages six and ten, when they bumped into each other in the middle of a courtyard filled with spring-blossoming peach trees. Alfred had been waiting for his Master, Radu the traveling magician, to return from an audience with the King of Flamberge. His Master had asked him to sit patiently on a stone bench in the shade of a young tree, but Alfred was curious of his surroundings.
“Excuse me,” the older boy had said when they ran into each other, turning the same corner and colliding together. The boy was taller than Alfred with messy blond hair that stuck to his sweaty forehead. He carried what looked like a heavy wooden practice sword. “Pardon me that was my fault.” The boy gave him a very slight bow, which made Alfred grip for the ends of his woven knee length robes, his orange boots digging into the dirt in bashfulness, before the other boy departed without another word.
Alfred had smiled to himself, hiding the expression in the tall collar of his robes as he ran through the small orchard, spending his time trying to catch falling pink blossoms. People here were very nice to him, and even though he hadn’t had much interaction, the thought had made him giggle and smile. It wasn’t long after that Radu found him, carrying Alfred’s discarded cap in one hand. “I shouldn’t be surprised,” Radu had mumbled under his breath, if not a bit affectionately as he pushed the plumed cap over Alfred’s blond hair, leaving only the young boy’s eyes and knobby knees exposed to the spring winds. “I hope you didn’t make any trouble while I was gone, hm?”
“Nope!” Alfred smiled, the apples of his cheeks red and round as he looked up at his Master. He set his hands on his hips, adopting a noble attitude. “Now you didn’t get into any trouble while I was gone, huh?”
Radu chuckled, a few pink blossoms catching on the brim of his hat and nestling within the rim. “Far from it.” He had smiled down at his protégé, and Alfred was going to miss seeing such a fond expression on the man’s face. “In fact, I’ve secured the position of Court Mage at this castle. Now we won’t have to move for a long while – just like I promised.” Radu pat the top of Alfred’s head. “So now you can have a home.”
“A home,” Alfred repeated with wonderment, his big blue eyes wide. He flung himself against his mentor’s knees, clutching the fabric of his striped trousers as an excited grin crossed his face. A home; he was finally going to have a home.
--- Line Here ---
The second meeting was more significant, but there was nothing they could do against the forces of a set fate. Alfred had settled into his new home well over the course of months as spring bled into summer and slowly crawled into the beginning of fall, while peaches were still ripe and ready for picking.
He spent his mornings with Radu in a secluded tower room with a musty library and desks with stained inkwells and groaning wooden chairs. “Being a magician is more than just knowing magic and performing magical acts,” Radu would say as he tapped Alfred’s open book with a crooked pointer stick, tracing over foreign letters and symbols as he slowly began explaining what they were and what they meant. “Being a magician is being a scholar – a talented scholar with a heart of gold and the courage of a lion. You have those qualities, don’t you Alfred?” And Alfred would nod enthusiastically, adamant to have anything Radu asked of him.
In the afternoons, when the sun was hot and strong, making the tower study hot and unbearable, Alfred would spend his time in the orchard after eating a light meal. He charmed the servants into picking ripened fruit for him with a wide grin and a childish shine to his eyes as they placed the yellow fruit in his cupped hands. And it was on an afternoon just like that when they met again. Alfred was rubbing the fuzzed skin of a fresh peach against the fabric of his linen tunic as he turned down a row of trees to find his favorite spot for shade.
“Oh my!” the older boy had said this time as they collided. Alfred tripped over his own feet, falling at an awkward angle in order to save the peach in his hands. “Are you alright?”
Alfred got up, accepting the outstretched hand of the other boy to pull him onto his feet. “I’m fine, thank you.” He was seven now, his birthday a small thing that had ended in an extra dessert on a hot summer night. The peach was heavy in his hands as he suddenly seemed to remember his manners. He gave a small bow to the boy (as he found that he would have to do that a lot to everyone he would meet in the castle walls). “I’m sorry,” he said, “I wasn’t watching were I was going.”
The boy had a crooked smile, Alfred noticed, as he let the tip of his wooden sword fall to the grass in order to lean on it. “It’s okay,” he said with his crooked smile beneath sharp green eyes – Alfred wasn’t sure if he’d ever seen anyone with eyes that green (maybe he was a fae – that’s what the stories Radu mentioned said). “I’ve seen you around before. Are you new to the castle, then?”
“Oh. Yes. My name is Alfred, I’m Radu’s apprentice.” He was about to give the boy another short bow, but stopped at his dismissive wave and a chuckle.
“You don’t have to bow to me, you know.” He grinned at Alfred in a way that was both kind and superior. “My name is Arthur,” he said, holding out his hand for Alfred to take, courtly manners drilled into him even at the young age of ten, “The second son of Duke Richard, however I’m training to become a Knight under the King’s service.”
Alfred perked in curiosity, and as he would learn in the future, curiosity wasn’t always the best attribute to have. “Oh! Is that why you have that wood sword? Wow, a Knight! I’ve heard so many stories about Knights, you know!”
They stood in the shade of the peach trees sharing fruit and stories between themselves, until the sun started to dip behind the stone walls of the castle, cooling the land considerably, and Radu came searching for Alfred, scolding him for being late to his studies, and even though it was nice to see he was making friends his studies should always, always come first.
That day was the first time Alfred saw the tower as a prison.
--- Line Here ---
“This is how I know Radu’s predictions aren’t always right,” Alfred said as they walked down an overgrown path of the noble’s gardens. “He said there wouldn’t be clouds for three more days, but look – they’re covering up the stars right now.”
It was a chilly April night, the warm spring winds merely an undertone to the frost that still clung to the morning dew. Arthur’s eighteenth birthday was only days away and he would be sent off on the other side of the country to train under the regiment of Sir Conrad Hansen – the King’s most trusted military advisor and friend.
Over the years they had grown close, or as close as their circumstances allowed. Arthur was a well-liked member of the royal court, if not a little overshadowed by his occupation and weak lineage, and Alfred was always, always, in his tower study, pouring over books and practicing the art of conjuring the unbelievable. Radu was positive that someday Alfred would outshine him, but Alfred wasn’t so sure.
Arthur clapped Alfred on the shoulder. “Don’t worry about it so much.”
They weren’t the best of friends; they disagreed on many things, fought over stupid issues, and were hard pressed to find a middle ground for all of their faults, but Arthur was the only friend Alfred had at the age of fourteen. He had wanted to give him a spectacular, if not memorable, farewell. “Well I am going to worry about it, because my whole plan is ruined now.” Alfred pulled his cloak tightly around himself, pressing his nose into the high necked collar and sighed through his nose. “And it was such an awesome plan, too.”
“What did you have in mind?” Arthur was taller than him, lean and muscular with years and years of combat training and physically demanding days. He was a handsome soon-to-be-man, and on more than one occasion Alfred had found himself envious of Arthur for being so regal and chivalrous and good looking (but it was okay, because in the end Alfred was the scholar with a heart of gold and the courage of a lion, not Arthur).
Alfred shrugged. “Radu’s been teaching me about astrology, and it’s really interesting.” Alfred stopped in the center of a grassy expanse on the far edge of garden, away from the symmetrical walkways and hedges, to stare up at the cloudy sky. “I wanted to show you the constellations.”
If there was one thing they shared, it was an interest in the more fantastical things of life. Alfred had always wanted to believe the tales and fables that Radu told him of, wanted to believe Arthur when he said that the name Alfred really meant that he could hold a counsel with the elves; he wanted to believe that there were actually benevolent gods and spirits that would grant wishes – could grant him freedom. “I know a few of them,” Arthur said slowly, standing next to Alfred to stare up at the blank sky. “I don’t know what ones you would find in this season though.”
“There are plenty!” Alfred said, suddenly filled with vigor and excitement. “There’s Crater, and Leo, and Hydra, and Ursa Major!” A thoughtful look crossed his face as he curled a fist before him, his fingers flexing before brought his hand towards the sky and flicked his wrist, his fingers spreading wide. Small sparks flied from his hand, settling gently in the air to glow as tiny pinpricks against the gray canvas behind them. “Leo would be right about here,” Alfred said softly, pointing out a small group of glinting sparks and tracing between their points. “There’s his head, and the tail here… legend says the lion was –”
“Strangled by a great hero, for his hide could not be pierced by any metal.” Arthur looked away from the diagram in the air above him to stare at Alfred. “How are you doing that?”
Alfred made tired noise. “It’s just tiny bits of fire,” he answered morosely. “It’s a parlor trick.” He wasn’t any good at the kinds of things that mattered. Not like Radu was. He couldn’t summon creatures, couldn’t conjure a decent flame, couldn’t even build the most simplistic barriers because they were composed of elements he wasn’t sure even existed, and to have Arthur so amazed by something to stupid as sparks – Alfred felt useless.
“That’s more than I could ever do,” Arthur pointed out and Alfred made a face. Arthur wasn’t even slightly magically inclined, and if he was, it wasn’t in a very extroversive way. “You’re only fourteen Alfred, give it time. You’ll be great one day.”
His comment went unheeded as Alfred’s attention delved back into the model above them, speaking with fervor about one of his favorite subjects. There was no point in spending his last moments with his friend speaking about could-bes. Not when they weren’t likely to happen.
--- Line Here ---
On his sixteenth birthday, Alfred was subject to the idea that he would never see Arthur again. In nearly two years, the letters and well wishes from his only friend slowly trickled off until there was hardly any word from the young nobleman at all. Sometimes Alfred sought out Arthur’s father, the Duke, and asked for news of his son, but that was the only extent of his efforts.
The Kingdom was at war and every day was a possible day to herald the song of Arthur’s death. It was something Alfred didn’t want to hear, didn’t want to think about. He excluded himself into his tower, only leaving on the hot afternoons to sit beneath the peach trees to talk to the servants that tended them.
And as every year passed, Alfred could see Radu growing more and more disappointed with him. At seventeen he was fluent in three languages, and literate in a dead dialect; he could name constellations from across the world from memory, could find them on a map and in the sky. At eighteen he had a firm grasp on mathematics and how to apply them to everyday life and situations, he moved on from mythical creatures to real ones, learning of foreign countries and their habitats, landscape, and politics. When he was nineteen he learned of philosophy, delving deep into the rhetorical questions of their days and attempted to understand the whys and the how.
But even as his twentieth birthday came, Alfred wasn’t a magician. He was a scholar with a heart of gold who could perform parlor tricks on command. Radu saw this, and yet he pushed Alfred, demanded excellence, progress, he demanded magic. Alfred didn’t see the point. Radu was a magician – he was powerful, the elements bent beneath his will, men and creature both trembled at his prowess, and yet he was in the service of a simple King, teaching a stupid boy to be exactly as he is.
It was on Arthur’s twenty fifth birthday – his seventh year of absence, a simple nagging memory in the back of Alfred’s overstressed mind – that Alfred escaped. By the light of the moon he conjured a briar from the earth, its stalks thick and unnatural as it slowly climbed up the side of his tower. It was gnarled and hissing, curling over the edge of his windowsill, blossoms budding and blooming with a furious snap of angry red color before wilting away.
He packed everything he could into a burlap bag that slung over his shoulder. The briar’s vines were strong and secure in his hands as he slowly climbed down, nulling the pain in his mind with a concentration that melded mind and body as the thorns ripped at his palms, his blood smearing on the stone walls as he descended.
No one saw him leave, slip out of a shallow hole dug in the corner of the noble’s gardens, and run wildly through the countryside like a man freed after years of imprisonment. His hands would be forever scarred from his efforts, and he knew, if he tried hard enough, he could rid himself of the pain and puckered welts, but he didn’t – he wanted to remember it – always.
Even though he might have escaped one fate; he could never escape the grand scheme. No one can.
--- End Prologue ---
Unimportant Notes: Hello guys! I’ve been sitting on this AU for quite some time and I really like it and am excited for it! I’ve really wanted to write some fantasy/high-fantasy stuff, or at least try my hand on it, so… here I am. :U (Also, yay for role reversals! It definitely makes this fun to write!)