Stiles sighed. He flopped over from his stomach to his back. He was laying on one of the extra beds in Derek’s cottage. He had woken up a few hours ago but couldn’t make himself get up. How had everything become so messed up? Stiles swallowed the lump in his throat down. Maybe he should have been honest with Derek in the first place. It didn’t really seem like Derek cared that Stiles was the next in line for the throne for the Beacon Kingdom. Derek had just looked betrayed.
Stiles shook his head and stood up. He walked out of the room and stopped abruptly when he saw the four of his housemates in the living room. They, in turn, stopped their conversation and looked up. Isaac snarled at Stiles before turning and going outside. Boyd made a face that didn’t seem too disapproving, more calculating actually. Erica winked at Stiles, which made him blink in response. She offered a small chuckle before she and Boyd followed behind Isaac. That just left Derek and Stiles. Stiles shifted uncomfortably under Derek’s gaze.
“We need to talk,” Derek said after a minute. Stiles blinked and looked up at Derek. Stiles quickly closed his slack jaw and nodded a few times. Derek made a small “follow me” motion with his head and turned to exit the cottage. Stiles stumbled after him before remembering how his legs worked.
They walked past the fence that surrounded the land and in to the forest. It was quiet in the cover of the trees. Sunlight streaked through in patches here and there, casting golden light on to the green plants. Stiles heard the far off chatter of birds and even the chirping of some bugs. It was calming and comforting. Stiles shifted his gaze to glance at Derek. The male’s jaw was clenched tightly. Stiles recognized the tension as Derek’s attempt not to scowl. To anyone else, Derek would seem angry and displeased. But Stiles thought that he just looked like he had no idea where to begin. Stiles chuckled to himself as this was probably the case. In the past twelve days that Stiles had been here, Derek didn’t say much more than two sentences. Stiles was convinced if Derek strung together three or more sentences, he would explode from the effort of it. The sound of Derek’s voice nearly startled Stiles.
“What were you doing in the woods in the first place?” Derek asked.
Stiles inhaled deeply, “We were supposed to go to the Animas Kingdom to speak with someone about extending the market periods. The Beacon Kingdom gets most of its goods through trade with Animas. Because we have a port and Animas doesn’t, all of their exports go through Beacon. Their craftsmen are the best in the world and it shows in their products. My father and I felt that it would really help the merchants and craftsmen of Animas if we could have longer to trade their products,”
Derek nodded slowly, “So Turow’s men ambushed your carriage. But why were you running?”
“It would have been fine,” Stiles mumbled, “If one of his men—Walcune I think he called him—hadn’t found the royal seal tucked away in one of the packs,”
“They knew that one of you was valuable,” Derek commented.
Stiles nodded, “They just didn’t know which one. My face has never actually been made public—no one knows what I look like, just that I exist,”
“I’m the only heir,” Stiles shrugged, “I guess they think that it’s safer if no one knows what I look like,”
Derek’s brow furrowed and the slightest hint of a scowl graced his features, “Why doesn’t the king just make more heirs?”
“Because,” Stiles hissed as he shot a glare at Derek, “My father loves my mother,”
“That doesn’t—the queen died a few years ago,” Derek mumbled as he remembered.
Stiles nodded once more, “My father refuses to remarry and he also doesn’t take any concubines. I’m all he has,”
“I see,” Derek said. They didn’t talk for another moment.
“My travel companions—are they—“ Stiles began softly.
“Dead,” Derek replied quickly, “I’m sorry,” he added after a second.
Stiles swallowed and blinked hard. That was the world that they lived in. It was a kill or be killed time—something that Stiles very much wanted to change during his reign. Life was too precious to kill so easily. Losing his mother had taught him that.
“You don’t have to apologize, Derek. It’s not like you,” Stiles said with a forced cheerfulness.
“You don’t even know me, Stiles,” Derek muttered after a moment.
“So tell me something,”
Derek looked at him strangely, as if Stiles had just sprouted wings and suggested they bathe in lava, “What?”
Stiles rolled his eyes, “Tell me something about you—about your family,”
Derek stared at Stiles for a long time before he opened his mouth to speak, but the sound of horse hooves began to echo through the air. Derek and Stiles both turned towards the sound.
“Get down!” Derek hissed, grabbing Stiles and pulling him to the ground. Stiles made a less than glorified sound but hid all the same. The two waited as the sound got louder and closer. They watched as two men came in to view. It was Turow and Walcune.
“Boss, I’ve noticed that lately the Royal Guard has been sniffing around the woods. Do you think they’re looking for that carriage from a few days back?”
Turow scoffed, “What’s it matter to us? We already sold off everything of value and there’s no one left to talk about it. For all any stupid Guardsmen will know, it was common bandits,”
“What about the boy?” Walcune asked softly.
“Dead by now—‘e was on Shifter land. You know the stories as well as I do,” Turow said. Their horses continued by and Stiles and Derek were left unnoticed. After another minute or so, Derek and Stiles rose from their hiding spots.
“I need to get to Animas,” Stiles murmured, “Can we go back to the carriage?”
“Weren’t you listening?” Derek hissed, “Turow and his men gutted that carriage for all it was worth,”
Stiles looked away from Derek, “I know, I heard them. But I have to see if it’s still there,” With that he turned and started to head in the direction Turow had come from. If he followed the path long enough, he would be sure to find where the carriage had been ambushed. Behind him, Stiles heard Derek sigh loudly before following after the younger male.
It was only about an hour before they found the remains of the wreckage. Stiles refused to let his hope die as he made his way over to what was left of the carriage. The curtains had been removed, the metal from the wheels had also been taken, and even the cushions from the seats had been grabbed from the carriage. But the seat remained intact. Stiles allowed a small smile to come to his lips. He felt around on the side of the bench and made a triumphant noise when he found the switch lever. The front of the bench came open with a slight pop and Stiles reached inside. He pulled out a long box that was the length of the bench. He opened it and his face brightened instantly. Inside the box, his sword sat just as he had left it in its sheath. He grabbed the sheath and wiggled his way out of the carriage. He walked over to where Derek stood watch.
“A sword?” Derek asked, his eyes falling on the black sheath, “You came all this way for a sword?”
Stiles simply nodded, “Yeah. It’s proof of who I am,” Stiles said. He pulled the sword out slightly and Derek saw the intricate engravings in the blade. But one of the focal points was the Royal Crest at the hilt of the sword. The sword clicked back in to place as Stiles slid it back in to the sheath.
“Now I can get an audience with the Animas king,” Stiles chewed his bottom lip, “Hopefully.”
Derek stared at Stiles for a moment before letting out a short breath and running a hand through his hair, “I’ll go with you—to Animas,”
Stiles blinked, “What?”
“Did I stutter?” Derek hissed, “We’ll leave at nightfall,” Derek said with finality in his voice. Stiles blinked once more. But he was smiling as he attached his sheath to his waist and scampered after Derek.
They were about an hour and a half away from Derek’s cottage. Stiles leg was only beginning to ache, but he would tend to that once they got back.
“Derek,” Stiles said, unable to stand the silence, “How do you know about Kukishinden Ryu? I mean, it’s based out of the Eastern Continent. I don’t really take you as a traveling kind of guy and there are only like two people here on the Western Continent that know about it—“
“My dad,” Derek interrupted, “He went to the Eastern Continent when he had just come of age. He learned it then,”
“So you learned it from your dad?”
“Yeah,” Derek let out a small huff that could be seen as a chuckle, “He was always commenting on the barbaric fighting styles of the Western Continent. He would say that only the Easterners knew of true grace,”
“Your dad sounds like my dad,” Stiles commented softly, “When he goes out to train with the knights, he always comes back grumbling about all their wasted energy in their movements,”
“Your father,” Derek hesitated, “He’s a good king,”
Stiles was struck speechless. He looked at Derek for a good moment before looking down, “Thanks,” Stiles chewed on his lip once more, “I’m sorry I didn’t tell you,”
“Tell me what?”
“That I’m—that I was—I mean,”
“Stiles,” Derek stopped him, “I understand. You don’t know anything about me or my ties to the Kingdom—you couldn’t risk it. Like you said, you’re all the Kingdom has,”
“Oh, yeah, you’re right,” Stiles mumbled.
“You were out on official business. I’m assuming the Animas Kingdom was expecting you and your party?”
Stiles nodded, “Probably days ago. I wouldn’t be surprised if they’ve sent a messenger back to my father saying that I haven’t arrived yet,” Stiles groaned, “He’s going to be so mad at me!”
“I doubt that,” Derek said softly, not looking at Stiles, “If we leave tonight, we can get there by midday tomorrow,”
“All right, it will probably take a day to get an audience with the people I need to talk to. I don’t have any money,” Stiles said with sudden remembrance, “But we can sell some of the embellishments from my clothes to pay for an inn for the night,”
Derek raised an eyebrow at Stiles, “Good idea,”
Stiles smirked back at him, “Everything I do has a purpose—even how I dress,” Stiles’ eyes widened, “Oh no! My trousers! They’re maimed from that arrow that idiot Walcune shot in to me! I can’t wear those to meet with the king!”
Derek literally rolled his eyes, “Stiles. I had Boyd mend your trousers days ago. He’s much handier with a needle and thread than one would think,”
“But the bloodstains—“
“Herbal soak, also courtesy of Boyd,” Derek countered.
Stiles narrowed his eyes at Derek, “What other things can Boyd do that I’ve missed?”
A devilish glint came in to Derek’s green eyes, as if he had just remembered a private joke, “You’d be surprised. Each of us has our own little—quirk,”
“What a strange troupe you are,” Stiles grumbled as they entered the clearing where Derek’s cottage sat.
Isaac would hear none of their plan and promptly left the cottage. Erica began to pack small bags for them to take. Derek went to change and Stiles also moved to his room. His scarlet clothing had been laid out for him and he smiled. He lifted his trousers and marveled at the craftsmanship that Boyd had done. You couldn’t even tell that the leg had been cut away. The scarlet of the fabric also wasn’t any darker where the hole from the arrow had been mended. There was no evidence that Stiles had ever been shot by an arrow. Well, other than the slowly healing wound on his thigh, that is. Stiles pulled his clothes on. He fastened the tunic up the middle as it was crafted and buckled his belt across his waist. He also buckled his sword’s sheath to sit on his hips. The weight of it at his side was comforting. He grabbed the brown traveling cloak that had also been laid out and fastened it at his neck.
Stiles walked out of the room adjusting his clothes. Erica let out an appreciative noise.
“Well, now that you’ve cleaned up a little, I can see a prince in you,” She purred.
Stiles gave her a lopsided grin, “I sure hope so. It would be embarrassing for a prince to not look the part,”
Erica smiled and opened her mouth to comment before her gaze moved to the left of Stiles, “Well, speaking of looking the part,” She muttered. Stiles blinked and turned to see what she was looking at.
Stiles swallowed hard as he spotted Derek. Stiles would never have even imagined that Derek would own such clothes. They seemed to be from a station much above Derek’s. Although, Stiles really didn’t even know what station Derek really belonged to. Derek had changed to clothes very similar to Stiles’ own clothes. The cloth itself was the darkest, richest black that Stiles had ever seen. The linings were done in gold embroidery. Instead of the panel fastening up the middle like Stiles’ own tunic, Derek’s front panel went across his breast. There were three bright gold buttons that shone stark against the fabric and an insignia that Stiles had never seen before stitched in to the black fabric. The tunic remained unbelted and yet it was fitted so well that it pulled in at Derek’s waist. The tunic had a tall collar, going up to the middle of Derek’s neck. His pants hung straight as if they had been pressed. The seams along the side were also done in the same gold as the tunic. Derek also had a sword strapped at his side, the sheath deep obsidian. He pulled at the cuffs at his wrist and looked up. He found Erica, Boyd, and even Stiles staring at him.
“What?” He asked, voice and face deadpanned.
“Brooding,” Erica whispered, “I like it,” She smirked and turned to go get their packs. Stiles blinked at Derek who stared right back.
“What?” Derek repeated.
“N-Nothing,” Stiles stammered, looking down quickly, “I didn’t know you had—what I mean is—that is,”
“So am I good enough to stand with a prince?” Derek asked with a smug smirk.
“Yeah,” Stiles mumbled, “Good enough—more than good enough,”
“All right you two,” Erica called as she returned to the room, “Here are your packs. There’s a set of sleep clothes, some rations, and a few extra things I thought you might need,” She handed each one a small buckskin sack. Stiles threw his over his shoulder. Stiles was adjusting the strap when he heard Erica whispering to Derek.
“Be careful,” She whispered, “You probably won’t be back by the full moon. We’ll be fine, but I’m worried about you,”
Derek took his sack from her, “Erica, I’ll be fine. I’ve gone through a good number of full moons in my time—this one won’t be any different,”
Erica gave him a look, something akin to a small frown, before nodding and stepping back. Derek led Stiles out of the cottage.
“So, are we toughing it out on foot?” Stiles asked, adjusting his travelling cloak.
“Oh no, you’ll get the best treatment,” Derek said smugly, “Your royal highness,”
Stiles groaned outwardly, “You’re having too much fun with this,” Stiles looked up as Boyd came around the cottage leading two horses. One was a roan gelding, his coat a light brown very similar to Stiles’ eyes. His mane and tail were a white colour. The other horse—Stiles had never seen a horse that just seemed so powerful. It was a warhorse to say the least. The horse was easily fifteen hands tall. It’s coat was as black as the fabric of Derek’s tunic. Derek placed his hand on the horse’s muzzle and the bloodstock neighed appreciatively.
“He was my father’s horse,” Derek muttered to no one in particular. With that, Derek fastened the black traveling cloak around his neck. He pushed it out of his way as he put one foot in the stirrup and hoisted himself on to his mount. Stiles followed suit, pulling himself on to his horse.
Derek grabbed a hold of his reins and turned sideways to look at Stiles, “Don’t fall behind,” With that, he snapped the reins and squeezed with his thighs. The black stallion reared up on to its hind legs with a loud whinny before lowering and starting at a fast canter. Stiles was stunned momentarily before kicking his gelding’s flank, spurring him to follow behind Derek.
Boyd stood and watched them depart. Erica came and stood next to him. She rested her head on his shoulder and he wrapped an arm around her waist.
“They’ll be all right,” Boyd murmured reassuringly.
Erica nodded, “I hope you’re right,”
Derek and Stiles traveled at a consistent canter for about five miles. Then they slowed to a walk to allow the horses to cool for three miles. They stopped to feed and water the horses, then continuing to walk on foot for another two miles. By then the sun was starting to lower over the horizon.
“Stay close,” Derek muttered, checking the horses, “When night falls, that’s when it gets really dangerous,”
Stiles nodded and turned his gaze skyward. The moon was nearly full—only a small sliver of darkness remained at the edge of the orb. His gelding made a low whinny and bumped his head against Stiles’ shoulder. Stiles ran his hand soothingly down the front of the horse’s muzzle. They walked silently, the only sound their feet and the smooth clicking of the horse hooves against the occasional stone. The sun finally vanished and darkness covered the forest like a wool blanket. The canopies of the trees blocked out most of the moonlight. A small streak of silver broke through the foliage here and there, but it was mainly the inky blackness that was night.
Stiles tripped more than once in the bleakness. He squinted against the night and could just barely make out Derek in the darkness.
“Hey Derek,” Stiles called, “Why don’t we camp out for the night?”
“Why?” Derek replied.
Stiles rolled his eyes, “Because I can’t see anything. I don’t know how well you might think you know these woods, but there is no way we aren’t going to get lost at this rate,”
The sound of Derek’s horse stopped and Stiles assumed that meant they were stopping.
“Tether your horse to mine,” Derek commanded.
Stiles blinked, “What good is that going to do us?”
“Stiles,” Derek said in his harsh voice. Stiles sighed dramatically and pulled his pack down from where he had attached it to his saddle. He grubbed around until his fingers fell over a length of rope. With just his sense of touch, he deftly tied a lead to his horse’s bridle. Stiles started to step forward and stopped.
“Derek, I really can’t see,” he hissed in to the darkness. He heard Derek let out a tight breath and then the sound of his boots were echoing in the air. Stiles only saw Derek when he was right in front of him. Derek grabbed the rope from Stiles’ hand, their fingers brushing momentarily. Stiles inhaled sharply at the contact—Derek’s hands were rough and warm. Stiles’ nose picked up the scent of wet earth and his brow furrowed in confusion. It hadn’t rained in months, were they near a stream?
Derek moved away from Stiles and Stiles heard some shuffling as Derek tied his gelding to the saddle of his charger. The large black horse gave a satisfied neigh, as if he had been waiting to pick up the pace.
“Get on,” Derek said from beside his horse. Stiles could just make out Derek in the stream of moonlight that was breaking through the treeline. Derek was facing Stiles and holding the horse steady. His eyes seemed to glow red in the darkness.
“You want me to get on your horse?” Stiles asked, his voice shaking. That horse was huge! There was no way it was going to let someone like Stiles ride him. Derek sure—he exhumed power and control. Stiles was like a mouse among lions.
Derek made a sarcastic snort, “No, I want you to get on my back—yes get on my horse,” he hissed. Stiles stuttered in to action. He moved forward, trailing his hand along the mount’s flank so that he knew where Stiles was the entire time. Stiles looked skeptically at the distance between the ground and the stirrup. Derek cleared his throat, which made Stiles jump slightly. In the darkness, Stiles couldn’t make out the smug grin on Derek’s face.
Stiles placed his foot in the stirrup, his grip tightening around the saddle horn. Stiles took a deep, steadying breath before jumping up from the ground. He tried to pull himself up on to the mount, but he was such a tall horse! Stiles wasn’t able to get high enough to swing his other leg around. He bounced slightly on the ground before trying once more. Stiles let out a small noise as he felt Derek give him a small boost. Stiles was easily able to swing his leg around this time and sit in the saddle. The horse huffed slightly as he adjusted to the sudden momentum of Stiles’ mount. Stiles gripped the horn tightly. He blinked and looked down at Derek.
“Thanks,” He muttered.
“If we keep going, we’ll reach Animas by dawn,” Derek tilted his head up towards Stiles, “That is, if you think you can handle such a rigorous schedule, my prince,” Derek ended with a deep and mocking bow.
“Yeah—no I mean—I’ll be fine,” Stiles stuttered. With that, Derek made a clicking sound with his tongue and the party moved forward. Stiles was glad, at that moment, that it was nighttime. He felt a heat to his cheeks and the tips of his ears. It was strange—someone calling him their prince. Because no one knew who he was, no one had ever addressed him as such. He barely left the palace except for outdoor training with Sir Argent. To have Derek calling Stiles his prince, as if he was willing to follow and serve Stiles—it made Stiles feel like he was flying. He knew that Derek was just making fun of him, but if one day Derek would trust Stiles enough to actually see him as his prince Stiles knew that he would immediately accept Derek. Stiles was left alone to his thoughts for the rest of the journey.
Right as dawn broke, Derek and Stiles had stopped to water the horses and let them rest for an hour. Stiles was jostled awake when Derek nudged his shoulder. Stiles must have fallen asleep some time when he sat down next to Derek. Stiles sleepily rubbed at his eyes, his nose picking up the faint scent of damp earth. He frowned and looked around.
“Did it rain?” He asked.
Derek turned his gaze on him for a moment before looking back at his horse, “No, why?”
“Because it smells like the earth after it has just rained,” Stiles mumbled, “What a nostalgic scent,”
Derek was silent for a moment before hoisting himself up on to his horse. He looked down at Stiles, “Let’s go. We aren’t far from the Animas Kingdom,”
Stiles nodded listlessly and rose from his place. He gently stroked the neck of his gelding before pulling himself up in to the saddle. The two started off at a fast trot.
The sun had only been in the sky for a couple of hours when the outer walls of the Animas Kingdom came in to view. The large doors had been opened and the portcullis had been raised to allow visitors. Derek and Stiles passed through, their horses slowing to a walk. Stiles looked to the tops of the walls and spotted a few guards posted there. The keen eyes of hawks and other birds of prey looked back at him as they entered. Stiles swallowed hard and returned his gaze to staring at Derek’s broad back.
The Animas Kingdom and Beacon Kingdom were different in many ways. But one of the most important differences was the citizens. In the Beacon Kingdom, the population was fleshed out with humans of all shapes and sizes. In the Animas Kingdom, the citizens were animals—humanoid creatures but with the faces and characteristics of animals. They walked on two legs and had arms with thumbs. But the people of the Animas kingdom had the faces of leopards, lizards, birds, and even some sea life—however they usually tended to work in the harbors of the Beacon Kingdom.
Derek and Stiles moved through the busy streets at a slow pace, careful of those walking near them. Derek slowed down and kept his horse next to Stiles’.
“Let’s stop at the inn and leave our horses at a stable,” He said just loud enough for Stiles to hear him over the crowd, “Then we can head towards the palace and request an
audience,” Stiles nodded in response and followed Derek as they made their way towards the inn.
Derek paid for the room with some coins from his purse. They left their packs and cloaks in the room before venturing out again. In order to make it to the palace, one had to go through the busiest part of town—the marketplace. Stiles had been to the marketplace in Beacon, and it was surprisingly similar to the marketplace in Animas. However, in Animas it was much louder, and the smell was much worse. They traveled through the marketplace, stopping here and there for Stiles to ogle something or play with a toy. Derek didn’t say much, but he seemed to be comfortable at least.
Stiles had stopped to look at a stand with differing crystal arrangements when the owner of the stall reached out. Stiles was startled when the clawed hand wrapped around his wrist. Stiles looked up in to the face of the owner. The person was of coyote descent. Their ears were straight and angled towards Stiles. Their eyes were a milky white—alerting Stiles to her blindness.
“You are a child of Beacon,” she mumbled, “Yes—a child of Beacon and yet you are a River Child,”
“What are you saying?” Stiles whispered, suddenly intrigued. He never was one to walk away from a mystery.
The coyote woman shook her head, “You are a River Child who smells of the Earth. Why do you smell of Earth, River Child?”
“I was just travelling in the forest—“
“The forest!” The coyote woman hissed. Her grip tightened on Stiles’ wrist and he winced as her claws created small crescent moons in his skin, “Darkness lurks within the forest, River Child,”
Stiles’ brow furrowed in confusion, “I don’t understand,”
“You have already tasted the darkness—just a child when you met the Earth,” she muttered. Her voice was starting to sound desperate and fevered, “Beware of the Black Dog, River Child, soon the moon will be full and the blood on his teeth is far beyond dry,”
“Beware of the—I’m sorry?”
“Beware of the Black Dog!” The coyote woman yelled before her speech broke down in to the high pitched wails of an animal. Stiles, frightened, yanked his wrist away from her grasp and stumbled backwards. He landed with a thud against someone who placed their hands on Stiles’ shoulders to steady him.
“Stiles, is everything all right?”
Stiles looked behind him and in to the green eyes of Derek Hale. He was frowning slightly and looking down at Stiles.
“What were you doing?” Derek asked, releasing Stiles.
“This woman—she was—“ Stiles began.
“Stiles,” Derek murmured, “What woman?”
“There in the stand,” Stiles turned around to gesture with his hand and froze in his place. The stand where the coyote woman had been was nothing more than a few stacked crates.
Derek shook his head, “Come on, don’t you have important business you need to attend to?”
“You’re right,” Stiles mumbled, slowly tearing his eyes from the place the woman had just been, “Sorry, I’ll try not to get lost,”
“Do you need me to hold your hand?” Derek asked, a bemused smile on his lips and one eyebrow raised at Stiles.
Stiles flushed slightly and frowned, “I’m not a child, Derek,”
“The Kid Prince,” Derek said thoughtfully, “That wouldn’t go over very well, would it?”
Stiles rolled his eyes and shouldered past Derek, “Let’s go,” he grumbled. Derek couldn’t help but to smirk and follow behind Stiles. A few paces forward Stiles looked back to see if Derek was following him. Stiles’ light brown eyes slid sideways to look for the woman again, but she was still nowhere to be seen. Stiles glanced once more at Derek before looking forward where he was walking. It had only been for a moment, but Stiles thought that the insignia on Derek’s tunic looked like a wolf’s head.
Beware the Black Dog